I’ve been thinking about what I am. Not in the really big question kind of way. I haven’t quite got there yet. But in the small, self-obsessed kind of way. I have emigrated to Copenhagen, Denmark. We did this because we wanted a better life and for an adventure and to broaden ourselves as people. A bit similar to the Grand Tour, perhaps, that rich people did a while ago as a rite of passage before settling down in huge piles in the countryside. This is ours.
But we moved for a better life: better work/life balance, better quality of life, better quality of air, better welfare system. My husband got a job here and I am hoping to find one too. Therefore we are economic migrants. So technically: we are immigrants in Denmark.
Yet we are white. So what? It shouldn’t make a difference. But of course it does. No-one suspects us of being foreign (gasp). We fit in. We could be Danish. And therefore even though our Danish is rather shoddy (me) and barely there (husband), people treat us like Danes. For the first 5 minutes at least. And so we don’t experience that many strange looks or tutting or shaking of heads or even comments, that I know non-white people sometimes do in Denmark, whether they are Danish or not. I have white privilege. So is it right for me to say I’m an immigrant with all that that means?
In the UK we have immigrants from all over the world, particularly in London. It’s what makes it a truly brilliant place to be. Immigrants of all sorts of colours and creeds and preferences. Is it easier to be a Polish immigrant because they’re white? Right now, probably not. There’s a huge backlash against Eastern European immigrants in the UK. They are seen as a threat to people’s livelihoods. It’s not the usual reasons associated with ‘fear of migrants’. They are not impoverished, they are not likely to commit crimes because of their poverty or any other reason, they keep themselves to themselves, and work hard. And save hard. And don’t really bother many people. Many of them are educated to a university degree. But many of them are not, and they are doing jobs in the UK that involve other skills and crafts: carpentry, construction, decorating, cleaning, child-minding. They are white. But they are discriminated against and looked down upon by some people in our society. Is that now the sad definition of being an immigrant?
There are a lot of wealthy immigrants in the UK too. They don’t like to be referred to as immigrants, and certainly, it would appear that they are often not included in people’s negative rants about immigrants. It would appear to be down to wealth: the wealthier the immigrant, the less of a ‘problem’ you are, at least according to the tabloids and their readership. Perhaps they would call themselves expats. Expats is a term the Brits love to use about themselves when they live abroad. All those who’ve moved to Spain and France? Expats. I’ve read a lot of about why it is that Brits abroad use the word expat instead of immigrant. I loathe the word and all that it represents. It smacks of colonialism, as if we are above the ‘native’ population somehow, just sitting in our big houses observing the masses with a cool glass of gin and tonic.
I would happily – and have done so – referred to myself as an economic migrant, an immigrant in Denmark. But I feel that my white privilege stops me from really understanding what is to be considered an ‘indvanderer’ in Denmark. Of course it does. That and the fact that I’m middle class and wealthy and am moving to Denmark because I want to, not because I have to or need to. I can see why others may not want to share that term with me as my experience is probably very different to theirs. To pretend I know what it’s like to be them could be insulting. My lived in experience is likely to have been very different to theirs.
SO this is why a new term is needed: Whimmigrant. A white person who moves to another country on a whim, for a better life. Done.
But wait – what? Is it necessary to distinguish? Is it right to? We talk about immigrants as if we are/they are a homogeneous mass with the same poor backgrounds, same desperation to move to the global north. Of course this is not the case at all. And to assume that an immigrant is any one thing is to be naive and ignorant. There are many immigrants around the world who seek to go to another country to access education, more jobs, or improve their standard of living, who are not doing so because they are poor or desperate.
I am happy and proud to call myself an immigrant. If others want to call me something else, then fine. But I won’t seek to distinguish myself, for to do so would surely be another version of using ‘expat’ and another way of signalling to the world I’m different, I’m one of the good ones. No, thank you. Not in my name.