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The People You Don’t See: Immigration and Apartheid in Fortress Europe

Ashley Dawson





We are currently living through the greatest age of mass displacement in the world’s history. According to the Geneva-based NGO Migrant Watch, over 130 million people – 2.5% of the world’s population - live outside the countries in which they were born. In addition to this exponential increase in scale, international population movements are also increasing in diversity. At the same time, the world’s advanced economies have become dependent on the work of migrants, who form a group of second-class citizens working in jobs with the lowest wages, the least security, and the most dangerous conditions.

The consolidation of European citizenship along lines that explicitly exclude both long-settled and fresh migrant populations lodges authoritarianism at the heart of what was supposed to be a new space of sovereignty. While proponents trumpeted the project of European unification as one of inclusion centering on the erasure of internal borders throughout the community, the Maastricht Treaty established criteria of citizenship that made unification simultaneously a process of exclusion for the sizeable immigrant population residing permanently within Europe’s borders. The diverse models of belonging that characterize European nation-states have been replaced by legal definitions of community-wide citizenship predicated on ius sanguinis, or hereditary (white) belonging. Like its South African predecessor, in other words, European apartheid establishes patterns of racial domination grounded in a politically enforced system of ethnic pluralism.

Moreover, as was true of South Africa’s homelands policy, this form of apartheid creates a contradictory designation for non-white Europeans, who are seen neither as outsiders nor insiders, but as insiders who are officially considered outsiders. While this designation does not completely eradicate the possibility for subversive rearticulations of belonging, it does make exclusion, policing, and related forms of violence integral parts of the public sphere. As real and symbolic forms of border control ramify throughout the territory of the ostensibly open body politic, immigrants are subjected to intensifying insecurity. The diffusion of such insecurity ensures that non-European residents of the EU will have to contest spiraling forms of in/visibility.

Focusing predominantly on filmic and literary representations of immigrants, this paper explores the impact of the European Union’s consolidation on non-white Europeans since 1990. The project is an extension of my book Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain, which surveys the growth of Black British culture from 1948 to 2000. In my book, I discuss efforts to Black Britons to refashion British identity in the teeth of waves of anti-immigrant legislation and sentiment from 1960 to the present. Despite my use of diasporic theory, my framework for this project was predominantly national, focusing on the remaking of the nation as key terms of belonging such as race and gender were challenged. While conducting my research, however, I began exploring conditions in other European nations and, ultimately, in the impact of the European Union on non-white citizens. This comparative approach led to research and the recent publication of an article on anti-racism in Italy. The BEST conference would provide a tremendous opportunity for me to develop my interest in a continent-wide analysis of Black European culture and anti-racism.

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