White men’s privilege in emerging economies isn’t measured. It should be

Prof. Melissa Tandiwe Myambo of University of Johannesburg has this interesting piece:

On the same day I interviewed a white Dutch man living in Gurugram, just south of New Delhi, I spoke with a black Congolese migrant. Their contradictory experiences speak eloquently about the impact of skin colour on shaping migrants’ everyday experiences.

The Dutch gentleman, who is in his 30s, told me he increased his business team’s success rate in closing business deals just by showing up.

If you bring a Western guy … then they really feel important, so if I come in there I almost feel like a God. […] Honestly, every meeting where I have been, they give me business afterwards … I always see that the business is increasing when I’ve been there. Not that because I’m so good, [but] because I’m a Western guy.

The Congolese gentleman had been living in India for about a decade. He had recently lost his job and been evicted from his apartment. He suspected that in both cases his dark skin was to blame. Africans have a very hard time finding housing in South Delhi’s more middle-class colonies because people don’t like to rent to Africans. Africans also reportbeing vulnerable to sudden evictions and being harassed for rent money even when it’s not due.

The Dutch man’s white privilege makes him more effective in the workplace. It also imbues him with special status in the gated residential community where he lives with his family. He rents rather than owning an apartment, but was invited to sit in on meetings with homeowners – a privilege not extended to Indian tenants.

The Dutch and Congolese men’s experiences are echoed in many emerging market economies. My research focuses on migration and globalisation, primarily on what I call “frontier migration”: the movement of people, capital, technology and ideas from a more “developed” economy to one that’s less “developed”. Through my work in India and earlier research in South Africa, I have concluded that migrant experience is over determined by perceived socio-economic class and what the migrant looks like – eye shape, height, hair texture and race.

Traditional economists cannot quantify or measure the effect of white male privilege in facilitating business dealings or obtaining employment in emerging market economies. This is because white privilege cannot be easily measured. Ironically, part of whiteness’ privilege derives from its position as the “norm” against which all else can be made visible for dissection. Meanwhile, it remains almost invisible itself.

Being white matters quite a bit…It is not just in economic activity but even economic policy…

This para nails it:

“Fairness” is associated with being high-caste. This is often correlated with a higher socio-economic status, so lighter skinned foreigners also benefit from this positive bias. A white South African man told me he feels “very welcome” in India because most Indians perceive him as a white Westerner, not an African.


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