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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
... 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.
... Groups that possess phenotypic whiteness typically see the world from the perspective of class because their race is not a problem, neither does it disadvantage them. Rather, they are beneficiaries of its largess (Joseph, 2019). Many of the champions of race on the other hand typically see the world and how it is structured through race-conscious lenses. ...
... That is because stories told have mainly been the privilege of those historically influential in knowledge generation. Yet, marginalised groups are clearly able to explain their experiences if given the opportunity (Joseph, 2019). They often articulate their stories in terms different from academic discourse, but they give us an understanding of what life is really like for those marginalised and stratified at the bottom of the racial ladder. ...
... The natural tendency is to believe and not challenge what we learn particularly through the formal education system. Considering everyone is not treated the same way (Joseph, 2019), there is a need to be conscious of how racial difference and sameness are treated in the Global North or South. This is not simply informational, it influences how groups are treated globally. ...
Despite the Irish experience of white-on-white racism, can any predominantly white country in the global North be free of white supremacy? It has been argued that the Irish became white. What was the cost of becoming white? What does Ireland endorse in accepting this construct of whiteness? This article attempts to answer these questions with a contemporary analysis of the wages of whiteness in Ireland against the backdrop of Irish history. It argues that the recategorization of the Irish as white and the subsequent change in positioning on the racial ladder came at a price of subscribing to white supremacy. It presents white supremacy as the unacknowledged, everyday positioning of white superiority, as opposed to white extremism, and argues that whiteness is employed as a determinant of Irishness. The article ends by arguing that history can either reify or debunk white supremacy, and calling for a decolonized narrative in Ireland.
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.
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The UK higher education sector has seen decades of escalating injustices that academic trade unions need to confront head-on. As one of the biggest, most visible public higher education systems in the world, the UK is ahead of the curve in a global process of commercialization of higher education. The main academic workers' trade union, University College Union (UCU), has been on strike for 22 days in total over two periods since November 2019 with demands to end casualization, increase pay, and abolish gender and minority pay gaps. Yet, the strike also coincided with the outbreak of coronavirus, which has pushed universities around the world into online teaching. In light of these unfolding development, this article reviews increasingly established injustices in UK higher education and shows the links between casualization, digitalization, and outsourcing of academic labour.
This chapter’s conclusions reflect, in the light of contributors’ stories and the conversation they engaged in after sharing them, on the potential of bringing diverse autoethnographic voices together in a collection like this, for illuminating: the lived experiences of intersections of class, gender and ethnicity as experienced by three generations of ‘clever’ girls/women; notions of transition, ‘liminality’ and becoming; and imaginings of what it might mean to be ‘ordinary’ in a society characterised by increasing levels of inequality, polarisation and practices of ‘othering’. Gail Lewis has referred to the creation of spaces ‘where the erstwhile unspeakable may be spoken, and the established norms of intelligibility (whatever their specific shape in specific sites and arena) may no longer provide the traction determining what is deemed legible and comprehensible’. This chapter reviews how far the ‘assemblage’ of the edited collection, made up of a rich and stimulating set of autoethnographic stories set in their broader social, cultural and economic contexts, might act as a ‘jumping off point’ for readers’ own memories, reflections, analyses, theorising and writing—a transformative ‘line of flight’ perhaps, away from ever-widening inequalities and towards new connections.
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This article analyses labour market differentials among migrants looking at the intersections of race and nationality, as well as migrants’ perception of the racial hierarchy in Ireland. Drawing on three sources of evidence including 32 semi-structured interviews with Spanish, Polish and Nigerian migrants, the Irish 2011 census, and the database of an employability programme for migrants accessing employment and training supports from 2009 to 2011 (N = 639), it unveils the racial order in Ireland and how this disadvantages Nigerian (and by extension Black African) migrants. The three sources of data are examined within a critical race theory and racial stratification framework. The article provides a comprehensive landscape of the racial dichotomy – that is, White-over-Black ascendancy – in Ireland. The centring of race in the study illuminates the Irish organisation of racial inequality; it bypasses traditional ways of presenting data on labour market differentials as these often conceal the experiences of workers at the bottom of the social strata. It reveals the implications of racial hierarchies for workers along the labour supply chain and the whiteness of the top tiers of the Irish labour market.
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