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Discrimination against credentials in Black bodies: counterstories of the characteristic labour market experiences of migrants in Ireland

  • Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies


Black Africans across Europe who report higher levels of discrimination in employment encounter systemic resistance in their career pursuits. In this article, discrimination in the Irish labour market is creatively challenged by centring race, and juxtaposing the experiences of migrants of Black African descent against their White counterparts based on information from 32 semi-structured interviews of first generation migrants from Nigeria, Poland, and Spain. Five characteristic experiences identified by synthesising migrants' interpretation of their journeys to paid employment are presented. The typologies in these trajectories reveal whiteness as a hidden resource that advantages Whites. It also illustrates the prevalence of an ascription of deficiency to Black workers and their credentials. These findings are presented through composite characters following critical race theory's counter-storytelling.
Article available at:
Ebun Joseph (2019) Discrimination against credentials in Black bodies: counterstories of the
characteristic labour market experiences of migrants in Ireland, British Journal of Guidance
& Counselling, DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2019.1620916
Discrimination against Credentials in Black Bodies: Counterstories of the
Characteristic Labour Market Experiences of Migrants in Ireland
Ebun Joseph
University College Dublin
Black Africans across Europe who report higher levels of discrimination in employment
encounter systemic resistance in their career pursuits. In this article, discrimination in the Irish
labour market is creatively challenged by centring race, and juxtaposing the experiences of
migrants of Black African descent against their White counterparts based on information from 32
semi-structured interviews of first generation migrants from Nigeria, Poland, and Spain. Five
characteristic experiences identified by synthesising migrants’ interpretation of their journeys to
paid employment are presented. The typologies in these trajectories reveal whiteness as a hidden
resource that advantages Whites. It also illustrates the prevalence of an ascription of deficiency
to Black workers and their credentials. These findings are presented through composite
characters following critical race theory’s counter-storytelling.
Keywords: Migration, Cross-Cultural Issues, Inequalities, Labour market, Discrimination
The participants’ narratives reveal that migrants encounter five different types of pathways when
accessing employment in Ireland. This is presented in this study as the five characteristic labour
market experiences of migrants which includes: going round in circles, expunged past, guilty
until proven innocent, marking time and progressive mobility.
John: Do you think Black African workers are disadvantaged in Ireland? …I met
a Nigerian woman with a Master’s degree obtained in Nigeria who said a Career Advisor
encouraged her to look for care or retail jobs because she won’t get the kind of roles she
is seeking.
Phil: What is wrong with that? They are paying jobs.
John: Exactly what I told her at first. We have to appreciate having jobs in
today’s economy. She however reminded me that those roles require Level 5
qualifications while her university degree is a Level 9. That means working four
academic levels below her highest academic attainment. She says it’s common among her
community and it’s happening because she is Black. As someone who is White, if this
happened to you, would you think it is because of your race or gender?
[Operations Manager, John O’Connor, discussing with Phil, the Human Resource Manager.]
Studies across Europe that measure the experience of discrimination indicate that the highest
levels of discrimination based on ethnic or immigrant background is in the area of employment,
and is higher towards non-white minorities (Second European Union Minorities and
Discrimination Survey EU-MIDIS 11, 2016; McGinnity, Grotti Kenny & Russell, 2017; Zschirnt
and Ruedin, 2016). These studies show the experience of discrimination is recurring and skin
colour, foreign sounding first or second names, accent and nationality of origin were the main
reasons cited by respondents for their experience. These innumerable encounters are not simply
experiences, rather they have implications on labour market performance, career choice and
pursuits (Joseph, 2018). In light of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8which is
to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all by
2030, and the UN General Assembly proclamation of 2015-2024 as the international decade for
people of African descent (UN Resolution 68/237), there is an urgent need for studies which
examine the labour market patterns of people at the bottom of the economic ladder and also pays
attention to the significance of race. [Read at DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2019.1620916]
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Ebun Joseph Twitter:@ebunjoseph1
... Other social markers and experiences might further identify a minority group such as white Muslim women, white traveller communities, or white European migrants (through language and accent). In the literature, minority ethnic/race usually provides a way to define groups that look different and/or have separate ancestral roots (Crenshaw, 1989;Acker, 2012;Joseph, 2019). For this review, we have included various terms to identify self-defined ethnicity, migration status and other minority groups such as religious and traveller groups. ...
... Several studies identified institutional and structural racism as the root cause of such differential experiences (Birks et al., 2017;Joseph, 2019;Howells et al., 2018). These are particularly evident among black ethnic minorities, where the advantages of 'whiteness' and 'white hierarchy' act as hidden sources of privileges at work (Howells et al., 2018;Joseph, 2019). ...
... Several studies identified institutional and structural racism as the root cause of such differential experiences (Birks et al., 2017;Joseph, 2019;Howells et al., 2018). These are particularly evident among black ethnic minorities, where the advantages of 'whiteness' and 'white hierarchy' act as hidden sources of privileges at work (Howells et al., 2018;Joseph, 2019). These further interact with an ascription of deficiency to black workers' credentials and qualifications (Tinarwo, 2017;Joseph, 2019). ...
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There are long-standing concerns of inequalities in the workplace among minority ethnic (ME) workers in the UK health and social care (H&SC) sectors. ME workers contribute significantly to H&SC delivery. However, there is considerable evidence of substantial negative experiences among this group across various workplace indicators and outcomes, including (mis)treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities with higher infection rates and related deaths among ME health and care workers. A rapid review methodology was employed to examine the work experiences and outcomes of ME workers in H&SC in the UK, focusing on low paid workers. The review identified fifty-one relevant outputs, detailing the nature and extent of inequalities across recruitment, career progression and treatment at work, including bullying and harassment. The findings highlight the impact of the intersectionality of gender, race and migration status concerning the ways inequalities are manifested and operated through individual perceptions and institutional and structural racism.
... Moreover, the host country language skills of the African migrants were also associated with higher socioeconomic mobility (Attias-Donfut & Dimova, 2011); getting employment (Behtoui & Leivestad, 2019;De Jong, 2019); better labor market outcomes (Castagnone et al., 2015); and a lower occupational downgrading upon arrival and subsequent occupational recovery (Fellini & Gueto, 2019;Obucina, 2013;Toma, 2016aToma, , 2016b). Yet, the African migrants' language skills of the host country and their educational qualifications were less valued in the European labor market compared to other migrants (e.g., Attias-Donfut & Dimova, 2011;Joseph, 2019;Tesfai, 2019). It is also important to highlight the role of the migrants' resettlement contexts (e.g., migrants in the UK and France compared to their counterparts in other European countries), especially due to previous colonial legacies in which the migrants share a similarity in languages and educational system since such contexts influence the migrants' career/labor market success (Castagnone et al., 2015;Cerdin et al., 2014;Fellini & Gueto, 2019;Obucina, 2013;Toma, 2016aToma, , 2016b. ...
... However, this argument might not always be the case. Our review revealed that even education attained in Europe by African migrants and their language skills of the host countries are less valued in the labor market compared to other migrants' education and skills (e.g., Attias-Donfut & Dimova, 2011;Joseph, 2019). This signifies the presence of more severe discrimination against Africans' experiences, skills, and educations despite possessing the necessary resources to succeed in the labor market. ...
... Moreover, evidence from our review also showed that most organizations are less likely to provide career opportunities to migrants, particularly, migrants' skills and positions are more likely to be redundant, and as a result, they quit or face a reduction (De Jong, 2019;Joseph, 2019). Such situations are more severe among African migrants compared to others. ...
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Although a significant portion of African migrants resides in Europe and contribute significantly to European economies, they are underrepresented in social sciences research. As a result, our understanding of the antecedents of their career success is limited. To address this gap, we aim to perform a systematic literature review of the antecedents of the career success of African migrants in Europe. We build upon the Career Resources Framework to organize and synthesize our findings drawn from 22 peer-reviewed articles published between 2011 and 2019 selected following the PRISMA method. Results revealed education, the host country's language skills, belonging to diverse social networks, stronger cultural competencies, and higher career clarity are positively associated with career success. However, African migrants experience the most severe labor market discrimination in terms of employment and career prospects in Europe which dramatically calls for further scholarly attention. We discuss the findings and outline future research agenda.
... The media appearances where I speak about racism in Ireland see some of the harshest threats and criticisms I have encountered, and it comes from a cohort who argue that race is not an issue in Ireland. This is despite the higher rate of employment-based discrimination reported by Black Africans in Europe (EUMIDIS 11, 2016), higher unemployment in the Irish labour market (McGinnity et al., 2017), harsher prison sentences of migrants (Guiney, 2018), harsher and more punitive border regulation, or the fact that the labour market participation of most Black Africans in Ireland starts with a downward mobility which can last for up to two to eight years depending on their route of entry into Ireland (Joseph, 2019). Considering some of the major changes which have taken place all over the world, this is understandable. ...
... When the latter was analysed, it showed that when controlling for the highest level of education attained, the Nigerian migrants who all had Black phenotype appeared to fare far worse than all the other groups. They were also seen to mainly start their labour market journey with a downward mobility compared to their White counterparts of Spanish and Polish descent who experienced lateral mobility and were able to obtain better job opportunities in a shorter timespan (Joseph, 2018;2019). ...
... This allows institutions remain unaccountable for their lack of or limited racial diversity in the workplace. The second strategy is to share stories of a migrant deficit in the labour market (Joseph, 2019). These stories often contradict their previous views, for example, '. . ...
In this study, the statement ‘race is no longer an issue’ is used to examine how 32 migrants of Spanish, Polish and Nigerian descent understand the significance of race in labour market mobility in Ireland. Their responses showed that Black and White workers talk about race differently. It also revealed an ambivalence about race among the White workers. This article employs counterstorytelling technique to analyse and present these differences through stories which humanise the lived experiences of migrants navigating the Irish labour market. The article commences with a discussion of how whiteness provides unacknowledged privilege. This is followed by a discussion of critical race theory’s counterstorytelling as an analytical tool for examining social relations. The participants’ narratives and current realities are then synthesised and woven into dialogues to construct composite portraits that invite readers into the world of migrant workers. The two stories constructed in this article portray how stories can open conversation about race and racism. Story A contains stereotypes that are used to explain the lack of racial diversity in the workplace, while story B challenges the complacency about how race and racism impact on the disparity in outcome among different groups. Finally, the article highlights the importance of counterstories in labour market research.
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What-you-should-be-when-you-grow-up need not and should not be planned in advance. Instead career counselors should teach their clients the importance of engaging in a variety of interesting and beneficial activities, ascertaining their reactions, remaining alert to alternative opportunities, and learning skills for succeeding in each new activity. Four propositions: (1) The goal of career counseling is to help clients learn to take actions to achieve more satisfying career and personal lives—not to make a single career decision. (2) Assessments are used to stimulate learning, not to match personal characteristics with occupational characteristics. (3) Clients learn to engage in exploratory actions as a way of generating beneficial unplanned events. (4) The success of counseling is assessed by what the client accomplishes in the real world outside the counseling session.