What is meant by race, ethnicity and racialisation and how does it impact migration?

Race is defined as a social construct rooted from the judgement of how we see ourselves, such as skin colour, hair type, facial features and other physical characteristics. Ethnicity is defined in sharing the same cultural values and norms, historical experiences, religious interests and geographical origins. It is underlined (Hall 1989 cited in Fulcher and Scott 2007: 200) that ethnicity derives from ancient experiences and events that highlights the problem of prejudice and discrimination, inevitably will embed in our minds and the minds of the next generation. Racialization is an approach where we are defined by race, country of origin and ethnic culture. Racism is suggested to be an example of racialization where one person from one racial background is treated differently than one person from another racial and ethnic background determined by knowledge, social hierarchical status and historical feuds, resembling the prejudice and discrimination experienced by those of ethnic minorities by members from the hegemonic superior society.

Three theories are used to help us concentrate on our understanding of race. The first theory is the  theory of race and citizenship that concentrates on how race can increase our chances to obtain citizenship and to our human rights as being denied the freedom and opportunity to vote, voice our opinions and access to health and education. This theory flashbacks to the African Americans’ endurance of slavery and the James Crow era seeing racial segregation between black and white communities, the colonization of British India aka the British Raj. The melting pot stems from the notion of assimilation where a migrant is expected to adopt the norms and values of their adopted homeland.

Lloyd Warner (1936 cited in Fulcher & Scott 2007: 203) argued the ethnic melting pot affected Eastern European Jews, Germans and Irish migrants who settle in US cities including New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. However, the ethnic melting pot failed to apply on black migrants as they were socially bruised and scarred by historical constraints of racial oppression and slavery. As a result, black migrants find themselves to be at the bottom line of the racial pecking order on an unconscious level.  The second theory is the relationship between race and colonialism and it concentrates on methods of making one racial group inferior by a group which is superior (Cox 1948 cited in Fulcher & Scott 2007: 205).  One method that illustrate this theory is the application of science to hamper their spaces for economic and social progress through racial profiling. The third theory is racial discourse, where a set of ideas, beliefs and representation where we can be manipulated into identifying ourselves as British regardless of our racial and cultural differences.

Migrants from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds come to first world countries like USA and Britain in search for a better life and take advantage of the opportunities available which are often took for granted by inhabitants. Unfortunately, they found themselves hibernating in lower class neighbourhoods and obtaining low paid menial jobs. For example, a study on Chicago conducted by Lloyd Warner who concentrated on the race and citizenship theory in America’s Deep South (Drake and Cayton 1945) saw the rates of black migration was very high during the Great Migration period between 1916 to 1919, as motivated by the heavy demands of jobs in labour. African-Americans are assumed to move to northern US cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York with the intention to escape from the trauma of slavery and the James Crow era in the Deep South, only to find themselves living in “ghetto” communities  such as the New York’s Harlem district and the Chicago’s Black Metropolis, to find a sense of belonging, simultaneously felt they were bullied into living in these communities by white estate agencies who hold unconscious racist ideologies and hostilities towards them.

African-American migration was unique rooting from the era of slavery, that illustrates in the transatlantic triangle where they  were abducted from Africa only to be treated as property to be brought and exchanged between slaves owners to work in the Caribbean and North America through the use force and intimidation. Although slavery was legally abolished, the exclusion experienced by black people persisted and were maintained in the lower end of the social hierarchy although they were able to progress to middle class and gain academically orientated jobs (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 209 – 11).

Shelia Patterson (1963 cited in Fulcher & Scott 2007: 217) carried out a migration study in Brixton, a district in central Lambeth and learnt that migrants especially, African Caribbeans are likely to settle there and inform their fellow relatives and acquaintances to migrate there at any opportunity. Brixton also attracted many migrants because of the large quantity in accommodation. Populations in West Indian migrants increased from 5,000 to 10,000 by the early 1960s as it had been suggested they were motivated by  mass of job opportunities available to them (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 219). Nevertheless, there was a deprivation in employment opportunities between 1956 and 1959 and thus, unemployment rates in Brixton increased dramatically. There were competitions between white and black people and the main issue was housing. West Indian and African Caribbean buyers and tenants are argued to have more potential to be charged more than their white counterparts and more likely to have disputes with their landlords because of racial hostility and homelessness may occur (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 219).

African Carribeans are rumoured to suffer the worst in housing by living in crowded lodgings and other poor accommodations than their poor white counterparts. Some found themselves buying property, only run down houses to rent out to other West Indian migrants to prevent them from enduring same level of racial hostility and intimidation from their white landlords. It was the same for Sparkbrook, a district in Birmingham, where Pakistani migrants were rented accommodation by Pakistani landlords (Rex and Moore 1967 cited in Fulcher & Scott 2007: 219). It is believed (Zorbaugh 1929 cited in Fulcher & Scott 2007: 219) that both Sparkbrook and Brixton were seen as the zones of transition where the values in housing have been collapsed to a point where it was certain for poor migrants with families to settle in. In Brixton, West Indians were more likely to buy properties in poor neighbourhoods and simultaneously on a subconscious level, create false perceptions from their white neighbours by making stereotypical assumptions that they are deviant and looking for trouble.

Members from Black, Asian and ethnic minorities move into the inner cities to associate with those who are from the same ethnic backgrounds to achieve a sense of belonging and create an external “family bond” in territories known as enclaves. However, others prefer to live in inner cities to mix with those from different backgrounds to feel a sense of vibrancy and be part of the multicultural salad bowl. South Asians will settle in the London Boroughs of Ealing, particularly Southall, Newham, Redbrigde, Hounslow and Tower Hamlets where Bangladeshi Sylhets habituate in Brick Lane whereas Black Africans, Afro Carribeans and West Indians settle in Brixton, Peckham and other parts of London within the Boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth and for those from Irish backgrounds settle in Kilburn. Some however, relocate to settle in other ethnic diverse places outside London such as West Yorkshire particularly Bradford, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool and Greater Manchester. Religion is suggested to play a part in preserving their sense of identity as West Indians are devoted churchgoers and majority of those are Christian shaped in divisions of Pentecostals, Presbyterian Baptists and Roman Catholics as opposed to South Asians who are majority made up of  Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs even though there were two central places of worship in Birmingham (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 221).

It is argued (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 221) that the black race symbolises evil, filth and demonic threat to the white hegemonic society, which can be suggested that the media, mostly influences from America that injects massive dosages of negative stereotypes into the veins of the white society blinds our views on the black and brown people rather than our personal views and experiences. There was limited contact made between the black and white communities in Brixton, influenced by an unconscious level of segregation. As for example, black men would attend dance clubs held at the Lacarno Ball in Streatham Hill, but the white women there reject their offers to dance. National policies were set up to prevent black men attending rock and roll festivals unsupervised and it was a similar situation in the USA in the 19th century where states implemented acts that would prevent black people from having the same access to public services as their white counterparts. This was seen as one of the reactions to the new-found freedom experienced by black members since the eradication of slavery and hence, opportunities in jobs and education increased.

Immigrants and racial groups were prone to be victims of racial hostility by the white society especially, those who live in predominated white areas as a result of participating in the “white flight” leaving them experiencing feelings of  vulnerability, alienation and intimidation and those who are infected by the ethnic melting point could lose their ethnic identity. A study conducted in 2005 (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 223) stated that the majority who fully or partially identify themselves as British, although they acknowledge their ethnic origin. However, 22 per cent of black people feel they do not feel British at all. Racial prejudice was also reported in study. 60 per cent of black people and 54 per cent of Asians tolerated verbal abuse. 24 per cent of black people and 18 per cent of Asians experience physical assaults and racial harassment and thus, some of them even contemplating of returning to their home countries also known as the motherland as a result.

Racial minorities and immigrants are often on the receiving end of the resentment for the causes of poverty and unemployment suffered by the members of the white society rather than being admired for their strong work ethic . As a result,  found themselves a potential risk of racially motivated victimisation.  White people retaliated against black people in events like the Notting Hill riot in 1958. Racial violence against Asians with Islamic beliefs have exacerbated by the 9/11 and the 7th July London Underground bombings created a plague of moral panic where Muslims are branded as “terrorists” and would be stopped and searched in the London streets and train stations (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 226). It was argued new a form of racism emerged in the 1970s that covered the biological racism of dominance known as xenophobia, prejudice against those who are culturally different (Barker 1981 cited in Fulcher & Scott 2007: 224). Attitudes among members of the British society associate with the British way of life, consisting of team spirit and harmony. Migrants feel they will be spared of cultural hostility if they are willing by a subconscious force to assimilate into the British way of life, resulting them to turn back on any customs, beliefs and values their way of life that associates with their ‘Motherland’.

The murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 was one of the profilic racially motivated murders in the UK and was recorded in the MacPherson report as evidence of institutional racism. Institutional racism is defined as mistreatment and denial in providing services to people because of their racial and ethnic backgrounds. It is obvious that institution racism is to blame for academic under achievement in ethnic minorities particularly, those who come from African and Afro – Caribbean origin as they are classified as educationally “inadequate” and  “troublemakers” (Fulcher & Scott 2007: 226). It illustrates that racism is not only seen the public sphere, but is more seen in the private sphere by members of authority who are subconciously fixated with the negative racial stereotypes particularly in schools and in policing.

On the whole, this essay highlights more on the negative issues concerning race, ethnicity racialisation and migration rather than the positives, on the basis of globalisation, which was ignored. It appears to be obvious the unforgettable events of slavery and racial segregation continues to be the main catalyst for persistent feud among the black and white communities although it continues to neutralise overtime. The media exaggerate the negative stereotypes influences on our ways of looking at race and ethnicity rather than influences from personal narratives and experiences shared by members of our adopted external families, friends and members of charitable organisations and think tank policies that aim to tackle and neutralise racial prejudice and discrimination. Race and racialisation has affected migration in various angles particularly, being denied of our human rights, the opportunities to progress from one social hierarchy to another regardless of employment and education, the loss of identity among migrants who felt had no choice to make distressing sacrifices to aid their survival in a foreign environment that is turning against them.

[1]Barker, M. (1981) The New Racism (London: Junction Books).

Cox, O.C (1948) Caste, Class and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics (New York: Doubleday & Cox.)

Drake, S.C and Cayton, H.B (1945) Black Metropolis (New York: Harcourt Brace).

Fulcher, J and Scott, J (2007) Sociology 3ed Oxford University Press, Oxford, Ch12

Hall, S. (1989) ‘New Ethnicities’ Black Film, Black Cinema, ICA Document 7 (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts).

Patterson, S (1963) Dark Strangers (London: Tavistock).

Rex, J. A and Moore, R (1967) Race, Conflict and Community: A Study of Sparkbrook (London: Oxford University Press).

Warner, W.L (1936), ‘American Class and Caste’, American Journal of Sociology, 42.

Zorbaugh, H. (1929), ‘The Gold Coast and the Slum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).


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