Thursday, November 13, 2008

Immigrants and minorities can't be as successful as the normal people, by definition?

How can it be otherwise if every successful minority or immigrant group is excluded from the definition of "minority" or "immigrant"?

Four years ago I I wrote about the growing use of the word "expat" to mean an immigrant from a civilized country. I found it silly then and I find it silly now, but apparently a lot of people find it useful to have two different words for desirable immigrants (the kind that they themselves are, or would be if they went to live abroad) and undesirable immigrants (for some people pretty much everyone else, for some people the immigrants of a different skin color, for some people the immigrants who don't work, etc.)

I am surprised that the desire to have two different words is so strong. I mean, I also find myself, or for example some random German doctor, a lot more desirable than an illiterate goatherd from Kurdistan, but not to the point where I would consider it beneath me to share the word "immigrant" with him.

The social need for two separate words is obviously strong enough that HS journalists write the words "real immigrants" to mean people who are not like Elisabeth Nauclér. Their two examples of real immigrants are both Somali, so I am not sure whether you need to be black, Muslim or Somali to quality.

If we really invent two different words in Finnish and start using them in public, it will of course cause endless hours of fun defining who is an immigrant and who is an expat, based on the place of birth, citizenship, race, ethnicity and reason for being in Finland. Are people from the industrialized non-white countries expats? And from non-industrialized white countries? What about semi-industrialized? What about non-white people from white countries? People who were born in the third world but are now citizens of first-world countries? A Turkish professor, as opposed to a Turkish kebab cook?

But that's not my problem, I'll gladly leave the definitions to the people who actually want two different words. The problem is that at this point we don't have two different words, so if you reserve the word "maahanmuuttaja" (immigrant) for the more colorful folks, you don't really have any word for the other group.

The other problem is that the word "immigrant" is used in the normal way (that is, to mean all the immigrants) in the official statistics, which causes the people who use the word "immigrant" selectively to misinterpret said statistics. Usually along the lines of "oh my God, this says that there are 132 632 foreigners living in Finland, how can we support 132 632 unemployed Somalis?", when in reality only 4831 of them are Somalis of any employment status.

It is natural that in the public discourse about immigration the "unreal immigrants" are invisible. They are mostly just regular folks living regular lives, who cannot be used to demonstrate how bad the immigrants are, or how bad the Finns are towards the immigrants, or how tolerant one is, and who have little use for the whole integration system. The result of this invisibility, however, is that people are never sure what and who they are talking about when they are discussing immigration-related statistics.

So maybe there is a point in having separate words, and separate statistics? Since Helsingin Sanomat obviously thinks so, I have a modest proposal: now that HS has established that we have one unreal immigrant and no real immigrants in Eduskunta, how about publishing some separate crime statistics for the real and the unreal immigrants?

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