How You’re Being Prejudiced Against Immigrants Without Even Noticing

Sometimes I get asked whether I’ve ever been a victim of prejudice here in the Netherlands. I guess all the news about populism and immigration laws have left my fellow Brazilians with the impression that Europeans are throwing tomatoes against immigrants on the streets.

My answer is always the same: no, I’ve never had anyone being utterly rude to me. No one ever shouted “immigrant, go home” towards me. First, because I’m sitting on a big pile of privilege: although not Caucasian, I’m light-skinned and highly educated. Although not Western, I come from the middle class of a developing country that’s pretty much westernized. Also, I’m not a Muslim, neither do I wear any religious symbols.

I belong to the class of “luxury” immigrants that are tolerated — and, depending on the country, even encouraged to come because it’s considered good for the economy. I’m the kind of immigrant that’s not even called an immigrant, as if the dirty I-word didn’t apply to us: they call us expats. You’ll never see an “immigrant job fair” or a “real estate agency specialized in immigrants” although, in practice, Westerners with higher education and money are immigrants, too.

Most of those who are prejudiced on the inside don’t have the guts to say their opinions out loud — at least not outside of the Internet or voting ballots.

Secondly, because most people aren’t assholes and they know discriminating others is bad. Most of those who are prejudiced on the inside don’t have the guts to say their opinions out loud — at least not outside of the Internet or voting ballots.

Prejudice, at least towards privileged immigrants like me, is manifested in subtle ways. The kind of prejudice I’m susceptible to is the one people don’t even realize they’re committing. It’s when people look at me and all they see is “Brazilian”, as if the place where I was born defined me completely; as if that was the only or most important thing to know about me.

I’ll give you some examples: it’s when my Christmas or birthday gift is always something that has to do with Brazil — like a book about Brazil or set in Brazil or from a Brazilian writer. After all, I’m Brazilian so I must only be interested in Brazilian things.

I don’t mean to be ungrateful, I find it sweet that you think of me when you see something related to Brazil. But I’d find it even sweeter if, every now and then, you’d also be reminded of me because of something I said, did or like. I’m a human being with lots of traits and interests, can you see them? Can you see Marjorie, the individual, or do you only see Marjorie, the Brazilian?

It’s when people assume I dance well and can teach them how to dance samba; or that I’m having the time of my life during a heat wave. Hey, just because I was born in a tropical place doesn’t mean I love sweating! Then I explain to them I’ve never actually enjoyed the heat back in Brazil. I feel much more comfortable in temperatures between 15 and 25C — only to get the same assumption from the same person next summer.

It’s when I tell people about my travel plans and they go like “why isn’t Brazil on the list?”, and then stare at me in disbelief when I say “I don’t think I’m going there anytime soon”. Again, since I’m Brazilian, I must be missing Brazil all the time and counting the days to be there, right? It makes no sense I’d wanna do anything else with my vacation days.

It’s when people assume I’ll become best friends with someone just because they’re Brazilian too. Hey, Brazil is a country of continental proportions with more than 200 million inhabitants, there’s gotta be more than just that for me to click with a person.

It’s when you decide to start a bilingual YouTube channel and people think it’s weird I’m making videos in English. I’m Brazilian, therefore I should only talk to Brazilians.

It’s when people ask my Dutch husband about how things are going at his job, and don’t bother asking me the same even though I’m right there, beside him — I’m a foreigner, so my work is probably uninteresting and unimportant, right?

It’s when people assume the only knowledge you can bring to the table is your native language. I know someone who lives in Sweden and teaches at the University of Stockholm. She says when she tells people she’s going to the university, they usually assume she’s a student (even though she’s old enough to teach). Then, when she informs them she’s a teacher, they go like “oh, so you teach Portuguese?”. Yeah, because that’s the only thing a foreigner could ever be qualified to teach abroad.

I remember when I got my first job in the Netherlands, writing content for a website whose main source of income was affiliate marketing. So I told someone that I was working with affiliate marketing, and they interrupted me before I could explain what the position entailed: “I know, telemarketing”. Because the only job I can have is at a call center speaking my native language, where else would I be useful? Never mind this person knew I have a master’s degree.

It’s when people ask my Dutch husband about how things are going at his job, and don’t bother asking me the same even though I’m right there, beside him — I’m a foreigner, so my work is probably uninteresting and unimportant, right? Why ask?

It’s when I apply for vacancies in which I match all the demands in the job description — but then I get a reply saying “while your qualifications are impressive, other candidates were a better fit”. How can I not be a good fit if I have everything you’ve asked? Just say it, man. Other candidates were a better fit because they have a Dutch name.

But the most absurd one was when an old lady asked me if I had ever seen a pancake. I felt like saying “no ma’am, it would never occur to us neanderthals to mix milk, eggs and flour”, but she asked it with such a genuine friendly smile that I wasn’t even offended. If anything, I felt sorry for her: how ignorant do you have to be to think the Dutch are the only ones who eat pancakes? So I just smiled back, nodded and moved on.

While it might seem like all the examples above have hurt me, the truth is that doesn’t bother me much — at least not anymore. After all, that’s a piece of cake compared to the prejudice that refugees or lower-educated immigrants face. But it’s there and it’s rather frequent.

None of those people are bad — except maybe for the recruiters dismissing a suitable candidate just because of his/her name. All others meant no harm and didn’t even realize they were stereotyping me.

We are all so much more than our nationality, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

If you don’t want to be that person, whether it’s towards immigrants or any other group, just stop assuming stuff about people and start actively listening to them. See them as the complex, nuanced individuals that they are; not a caricature.

We are all so much more than our nationality, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. We’re the sum of all those things plus our own temperament, experiences and encounters. Each one of us is unique, so curb your urge to confine people into boxes — especially if you don’t know the first thing about said box.

Post Author
Marjorie Rodrigues

Marjorie Rodrigues, 29, is a Brazilian journalist and master in Gender Studies living in Utrecht, the Netherlands, for the past 5 years. You can follow her travels on her blog, Not My Birthplace, and YouTube channel.

Comments

13 Comments
  1. posted by
    Kristin
    Nov 2, 2017 Reply

    Great read. The assumptions made by others must get so tiresome. I applaud the author’s ability to maintain her sense of humor.

    • posted by
      Marjorie Rodrigues
      Nov 5, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Kristin! Sometimes laughing is the best remedy…

  2. posted by
    Lola
    Nov 3, 2017 Reply

    The thing is that when reading your post is exactly how I felt when traveling in Brazil and people assuming things about me as a foreigner.

    • posted by
      Marjorie Rodrigues
      Nov 5, 2017 Reply

      Stereotyping is a human thing, I never meant to say Brazilians don’t have any preconceptions about foreigners… Of course they do!

  3. posted by
    Lisa
    Nov 4, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. It reminds me of a great TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie called “The Danger of a Single Story.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

  4. posted by
    Mae-Gene
    Nov 4, 2017 Reply

    I loved reading this! Often, it’s the subtle forms of racism and stereotyping that falls between the gaps because it’s not seen as straight-out racism. As a first generation Asian-Australian, it still astounds me when people at home (and overseas when I’m traveling) assume I don’t speak English. Or they make assumptions like “oh you must not have seen before”. Hopefully with time (and education!) we can encourage people to see beyond just people’s races. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • posted by
      Marjorie Rodrigues
      Nov 6, 2017 Reply

      OMG, people assuming I can’t speak Dutch! That’s another thing I face daily, but forgot to mention in the article.

      A couple weeks ago, I got a voicemail from the drugstore. The person left the message in English because of my non-Dutch sounding name.

      This week I was at a bar with a Brazilian friend, and some guys sitting next to us started hitting on us in English — even though they saw us ordering our food in Dutch and we told them we lived here for 5 years.

      Not to mention the surprised look I get from some people when they hear me speaking Dutch fluently. “oh wow, your Dutch is so good!” When I say “well thank you but I’ve been here for 5 years”, they go like “but still!”. Jeez, 5 years is more than enough time to learn a language. Are you guys just assuming foreigners are stupid and are never gonna learn?!

      I wonder if I’ll keep getting that even after living here 10, 15, 20 years, and can’t help but wondering how this feels like for people who are born here with a non-Dutch last name.

  5. posted by
    Sylvia
    Nov 4, 2017 Reply

    I totally get you! I can relate too! Assumptions and stereotypes could be quite dreadful to deal with! Luckily we can handle them gracefully!

  6. posted by
    paroma
    Nov 5, 2017 Reply

    As an Indian woman (brown) living in USA for the last 15 yrs and having traveled in Europe several times, I totally get what you are saying. Humiliating searches in airports, plus stupid comments and cultural appropriation in USA are part of my travel and existence. You are also so right about being a privileged immigrant! Even within immigrants, there is a hierarchy where caucasian looking ones get a free-er pass in the western world. Loved the post.

  7. posted by
    Victoria
    Nov 5, 2017 Reply

    I’m glad you pointed out the expat vs. immigrant detail. I also completely understand getting clueless questions. I was born in Ecuador and live in the United States. Sometimes I get asked if that country “has everything” like the US, and I have to ask them what they’re referring to…

  8. posted by
    Why Being Born Multi-Cultural is a Gift, Not a Curse
    Nov 7, 2017 Reply

    […] How You’re Being Prejudiced Against Immigrants Without Even Noticing […]

  9. posted by
    Emily
    Nov 7, 2017 Reply

    I really appreciate your point of view here. I’ve honestly caught myself making some of these assumptions about people over the years! thank you for calling them out!

  10. posted by
    Vick Fichtner
    Nov 7, 2017 Reply

    Hi Marjorie,

    I`m also a Brazilian living abroad. I`ve living in Barcelona for almost a decade. I`ve been through some of the same situations you talked about here. The samba one is a classic…

    I`m also “privileged”, caucasian, great education, 2 master degrees. Luckily I have almost never felt har prejudice for being from Brazil. Well, except for the time this jerk french guy said “Oh, you`re Brazilian? All Brazilian girls are hores, right?” to which I replied, smiling “Of course!!! Just like all the French men are gay, right?” …

    But one thing I get and that, opposite from making me feel better, really annoys me, is what I hear like 70% of the times I tell someone where I`m from. I`m from that weird, rare species called the gaúchos (irony mode on), the ones that “don`t look like Brazilians”. I have white skin, blue eyes, red hair.

    It`s just sad how ignorant people can be about Brazil. How until today, many people still think that all Brazilian women are mulatas dancing samba the whole time. How they have no idea how big, multicultural and rich our country is…

    (Desculpa pelo desabafo, mas me identifiquei!) 😉

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