Accusations of Racism are fashionable these days. Paris got more attention that Baghdad? Racism! Someone honestly questions the use of color in affirmative action? Racism! A while ago, the Guardian carried a piece implying that the word “Expat” was only used for white people, and the term “Immigrant” was for “inferior races”. I call bullshit.
I’m not implying that racism doesn’t exist. I’m saying that often it’s used lazily. Instead of doing the hard work of finding a real reason for a difference in behavior, it’s simply easier to accuse people of discrimination based on color. The Expat vs Immigrant debate is a great example.
It just so happens that white people tend to live in developed nations
The accusation is that even though the dictionary definition of “Expat” is “a person who lives/works outside their native country”, it’s almost exclusively used to describe white people living in third world countries. “Expat” doesn’t have a negative connotation. “Immigrant” on the other hand, so it is claimed, is only used to describe those from the third world going to “the white man’s land”. And the reason for this apparently is racism.
First of all, there is truth in how the two words are used. That much is correct. I disagree however, that the reason is racism. Often a behavior that ends up disproportionately affecting people of color is inaccurately labeled as racism. And here’s why.
The word “immigrant” is commonly used for people seeking out a better life in another country – a life that their native land cannot provide them with. So yes Indians settling abroad in Europe or the US are overwhelmingly immigrants because in most cases, they are seeking a better life than what India can provide them with. The same is usually true of Arabs and Africans.
“Expat” however, doesn’t have this connotation. So an American citizen settling in Europe is usually called an expat. A French citizen living in India is certainly not staying for the higher living standard. So they’re not called immigrants, but expats.
It just so happens that white people tend to live in developed nations, so they don’t move out of their country seeking a better life. It’s therefore rare to think of a white person as an “immigrant” in a third world country.
So while “Expat” is overwhelmingly used for white people, and “Immigrant” is mostly used for asians, arabs, and black people, the two terms are not racist in nature. It’s economics and not race that informs the choice of words. For historical reasons there’s a strong link between economics and race, but that doesn’t mean it’s racism.