“What is racism in the new EU anyway?” Examining and comparing the perceptions of British ‘minority ethnic’ and Eastern European ‘immigrant’ youth in Buckinghamshire

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Throughout the last twenty years, following accession to the European Union (EU), legal economic migrants (and their families) have the right to live and work in European member states. Economic migrants who are European citizens of member states now assume immigrant status and co-exist in countries with pre-existing immigrant communities that have affiliations to the former British Empire. With demographic composition changes of immigrant communities in Europe, difference and discrimination of populations from diverse cultural backgrounds has become a focal issue for European societies. A new, multi-ethnic Europe has thus emerged as one context for understanding cultural uncertainties associated with youth and migration at the end of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty first century. These uncertainties are often associated with the impact of new nationalisms and xenophobic anxieties which impact mobility, young people, and their families (Ahmed, 2008; Blunt, 2005). In this dissertation I seek to examine young peoples’ experiences of migration and school exclusion as they pertain to particular groups of immigrant and minority ethnic groups in England. In particular, the study explores the perceptions and experiences of two groups of diverse young people: British ‘minority ethnic’ and more recently migrated Eastern European ‘immigrant’ youth between the ages of 12-16. It provides some account of the ways in which migrant youth’s experiences with both potential inclusion and exclusion within the English educational system, particularly in relation to the comparative and temporal dimensions of migration. Young people’s opinions of inclusion and exclusion within the English educational system are explored in particular, drawing, in part, upon the framework of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other theoretical positions on ethnicity and migration in order to paint a picture of contemporary race relations and migration in Buckinghamshire county schools. The methodological approach is ethnographic and was carried out using qualitative ethnographic methods in two case secondary schools. The experiences and perceptions of 30 young people were examined for this research. Altogether, 11 student participants had Eastern European immigrant backgrounds and 19 had British minority ethnic backgrounds (e.g. Afro Caribbean heritage, Pakistani/South Asia heritage, and African heritage). The methods used to elicit data included focus groups, field observations, diaries, photo elicitation, and semi-structured interviews. Pseudonyms are used throughout to ensure the anonymity of participants and to consider the sensitivity of the socio-cultural context showcased in this dissertation. Findings of the study revealed that Eastern European immigrants and British minority ethnic young people express diverse experiences of inclusion and exclusion in their schooling and local communities, as well as different patterns of racism and desires to be connected to the nation. The denial of racism and the acceptance of British norms were dominant strategies for seeking approval amongst peers in the Eastern European context. Many of the Eastern European immigrant young people offered stories of hardship, boredom and insecurity when reflecting on their memories of post-communist migration. In contrast, British minority ethnic young people identified culture shock and idealised diasporic family tales when reflecting on their memories of their families’ experiences of post-colonial migration. In the schooling environment both Eastern European immigrants and British minority ethnic young people experienced exclusion through the use of racist humour. Moreover, language and accents formed the basis for racial bullying towards Eastern European immigrant young people. While Eastern European immigrant youths wanted to forget their EU past, British minority ethnic young people experienced racial bullying with respect to being a visible minority, as well as in relation to the cultural inheritance of language and accents. The main findings of the research are that British minority ethnic young people and Eastern European immigrant young people conceptualise race and race relations in English schools in terms of their historical experiences of migration and in relation to their need to belong and to be recognised, primarily as English, which is arguably something that seems to reflect a stronghold of nationalist ideals in many EU countries as well as the United Kingdom (UK). Both of these contemporary groups of young people attempted both, paradoxically, to deny and accept what seems to them as the natural consequences of racism: that is racism as a national norm. The findings of this study ultimately point towards the conflicts between the politics of borderland mentalities emerging in the EU and the ways in which any given country addresses the idea of the legitimate citizen and the ‘immigrant’ as deeply inherited and often sedimented nationalist norms which remain, in many cases, as traces of earlier notions of empire (W. Brown, 2010; Maylor, 2010; A. Pilkington, 2003; H. Pilkington, Omel'chenko, & Garifzianova, 2010).
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Cambridge
    SupervisorJo-Anne Dillabough (Supervisor)

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