It is the race, stupid!

Alphia Abdikeeva, CiDH ProIgual

Academics, policy-makers and rights advocates often ponder which of the identity markers is decisive for measuring social disadvantage of minority groups: class, faith, sex, citizenship/nationality, disability, or race? The simplest thing to do to in order to find out, it appears, is to cross-compare each factor.

Let´s start with disability and class. Who is more disadvantaged: a poor person with a disability or a rich person with disability? Clearly, money can buy many things. Although it may not be able to buy health, it can certainly buy healthcare. So, class would appear to easily trump disability.

Now let´s compare religion with a few factors. Who is more disadvantaged: Christians or Muslims in Europe? Many may immediately answer — and there is sufficient research to support it — that Muslims are more disadvantaged. But then who is disadvantaged more: citizen (usually convert) Muslims, let´s say, in France, or immigrant Muslims in the same country? Or, to twist it a bit, who is more disadvantaged, a Muslim woman who is a citizen, or a Muslim woman who is an immigrant? The answer still seems rather obvious: immigrants are more disadvantaged.

But are all immigrants disadvantaged in the same way? Do immigrants from, let´s say, Eastern Europe, which would be undoubtedly poorer in their majority than West Europeans, find themselves in the same disadvantage as migrants from Africa or Asia? Are immigrants from South America, let´s say in Spain, in the same place as Africans or Asians? For some reason, it seems like a resounding no.

Now let´s pay a virtual visit to a country of immigrants, the USA. It is a widely held belief that immigrants can make it in America if they work hard. And perhaps more than any other place the USA boasts a number of prominent personalities who were born elsewhere but did very well for themselves in the new home country. So, let´s compare immigrants from Asia or Eastern Europe with citizens … of African-American descent. Who is more disadvantaged in the USA? For some reason, it feels that nationality does not play as decisive a role anymore.

Now let´s go down the map, to South America. Technically, most countries there are poorer than countries in Europe or North America. They also have their own inequalities, quite possibly class-based. But which groups are still more disadvantaged, let´s say in Brazil: white (Hispanic) or black/mixed? The answer comes out almost automatically: black people. Some Brazilians even comment, informally, that everybody has a place in society strictly in accordance with his or her race. There are exceptions, obviously, like rich football players or movie stars, but they are what they are: exceptions.

So, it seems rather obvious even to an unarmed (by scientific methodology) eye that race consistently comes first as a decisive factor of social disadvantage in society.