Possibly the most racist word in the English language is ‘expat.’ Only white people can be expats. If anyone else moves to live outside the country of their birth they are called immigrants or something more derogatory. There is no doubt which word carries the higher status. The reason for moving, the length of the stay or the qualifications of the migrating person are irrelevant. The only prerequisite for earning the title of ‘expat’ is skin colour, which is why that word should be omitted from any civilised conversation.
Yet this particular term is only the tip of the racist iceberg. Historically and presently, there are many ways to describe people who travel to live somewhere different, including: explorers, settlers, colonialists, expansionists, emigrants, migrants, refugees ,and asylum-seekers.
These words are arranged on a spectrum of people with the least to the most melanin in their skin. They usually contain the assumption that white people moving to non-white countries have brave, adventurous or humanitarian motivations, while people travelling in the opposite direction have job-stealing, greedy, or possibly criminal motivations.
In Australia, the early English migrants who massacred indigenous inhabitants, claimed their lands and destroyed their ecosystems are widely considered ‘intrepid pioneers,’ whilst more recently people who attempt to escape persecution by relocating to this country are labelled ‘queue-jumpers’ and illegal ‘boat people’ and they have become so dehumanised that we accept locking them in off-shore detention centres for up to half a decade. Words matter, and it is time we dropped outdated and loaded labels and focus on the facts. Migrants are migrants.
The truth is that all migrants are courageous, all migrants are looking for something new and all migrants are running away from something. Syrians whose families have been killed and whose homes have been destroyed must decide whether it’s more dangerous to escape to another country or to try to avoid the bombs being dropped on them by their own government. Even in the midst of such a devastating war, leaving home can never be an easy decision. Whether you are fleeing chemical weapons or a difficult relationship, moving to a strange place involves putting all your faith in the unknown. It’s a leap into the darkness with squeezed-shut eyes, hopeful, outstretched arms and hands searching for something to grasp.
Every migrant leaves behind loved ones and comfortable routines to look for something else. Whether it’s excitement, wealth, opportunity, safety, love, acceptance, or a different climate, they want something not currently available to them in the nation where they were born. Everybody is different and each country has something different to offer.
Also, every migrant has something different to offer the country they choose to live in. Some have spending money or specialist skills and some have the determination to work as hard as they can to build a new life. Each one has a unique perspective which can add to the collective knowledge and culture of a nation.
If all humans preferred to stay at home, everyone would be living in Africa now, which perhaps could have worked out better for us and certainly would have been preferable for Earth’s other inhabitants, but this is just not the way we are. Through some combination of necessity and desire, we spread out. In 2018, it’s time we accepted this and adapt to our migrating nature in a humane way, treating everyone equally.
As the oceans continue to take over islands and coastal towns, the exodus will only increase and we will have to be ready. For our gene pools and our evolution, migration is and has always been an essential aspect of humanity.