Photo for Racial harassment and mental health:

Right: Large numbers of Bangladeshis have settled and established themselves in Brick Lane over the years. (Photo: James Cridland via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.) Left: The streets of Brick Lane at night — the neighborhood is now considered the curry capital of London. (Photo: Tony Hisgett via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Racial harassment and mental health: The paradox of integration

Renee Luthra spoke to the Center for the Study of International Migration about how immigrants' integration into a new society can paradoxically expose minorities to higher levels of alienation.

By Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)


UCLA International Institute, May 04, 2018 — The two sides of the Atlantic have spent the last two years reckoning with the consequences of Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, respectively. In addition to causing fluctuations in the value of the pound and recoloring British passports, the EU referendum vote and the election of Donald Trump have each been linked to rising numbers of reported hate crimes in the United Kingdom and the United States.

On April 23, 2018, Renee Luthra, professor of sociology at the University of Essex, visited the UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration to share her research on the impact of racial harassment in the U.K. since the EU referendum vote.

Highly educated second-generation male immigrants, noted Luthra, have reported experiencing higher levels of racial harassment in the U.K. She described this pattern as the “integration paradox,” in which integration into a society actually exposes an individual to higher levels of alienation.

Integration heightens racial harassment

“Most research on racial harassment is very statistical and impersonal,” said Luthra, explaining that studies often rely solely on police reports and hate crime numbers to draw conclusions. “[Hate crime statistics] alone do not provide information on who actually experiences harassment, nor its consequences,” she said. To better understand the dynamics of racialized harassment, Luthra conducted face-to-face interviews with dozens of members of the United Kingdom’s Chinese, Pakistani, Indian-Sikh, Indian-Muslim and Bangladeshi communities over the last two years.

“We focused our survey on England, where 96 percent of the U.K.’s minority population resides,” Luthra explained. “What we found was that 1 in every 10 ethnic minority respondents reported racial or ethnic harassment in the last 12 weeks,” said the speaker. That number is disturbing, she observed, but lacks the nuanced information required to tackle the root of the issue. In order to more accurately identify causes and consequences, Luthra adapted her research to account for factors like location, income level and gender.

“First, we found that male members of ethnic minority groups report higher rates of racial harassment than women,” said Luthra. She explained that her initial surprise at this statistic stemmed from the context of the Muslim communities she was surveying, where she’d assumed many women’s traditional wardrobes would expose them to high levels of harassment. However, men tend to leave the house and enter the public sphere — where most racial harassment occurs — more than women do in these communities.


Renee Luthra presents research on racial harassment at the Center for

the Study of International Migration. (Photo: Kevin Sprague/UCLA.)

“This led us to consider the ‘integration paradox’ theorized by Dutch researchers, which states that ethnic and racial harassment reporting is the result of three things: You are exposed, meaning you are seen in a public space. You have expectations of standard behavior [dependent on your culture], which cause you to perceive certain treatment as disrespectful and problematic. Finally, you have to have the confidence to report incidents of harassment to police or law enforcement,” the speaker explained.

“If you took two people from our dataset and changed one aspect, such as gender, age or level of education, you would achieve wildly different predicted levels of experienced harassment,” she related. The speaker found that younger people, more socially active individuals, highly educated people and those with larger incomes were the groups most likely to report experiencing ethnic and racial harassment. The higher numbers of incidents reported by these groups is related to the conditions identified by Dutch sociologists, she remarked.

Geographic and generational contexts

“Discussing generational context is also hugely important,” said Luthra, who explained that immigration researchers have only begun to consider generational differences over the last 15 years. Through her research, the speaker concluded that second-generation immigrants in the U.K. tend to be more socially active, more highly educated and more wealthy than the preceding generation, all of which increase their likelihood of reporting racial abuse and harassment.

“Finally, we sought to identify geographic vulnerabilities that might shed light on patterns of harassment,” said Luthra. She did this by classifying ethnic minorities as “living among whites” or “living among co-ethnics” in her observations. As it turns out, an individual’s choice of neighborhood has a major impact on their quality of life.

“Living amongst whites makes you much more likely to experience and report harassment, while living with co-ethnics reduces this risk,” observed the speaker. Luthra theorized that this was because ethnic minorities living in predominantly white areas stand out more among their neighbors. This increased risk comes at a cost to their mental health: the survey found that individuals living in areas of high white concentration reported more stress and anxiety than observably identical minorities living in areas populated by people of the same ethnic origin.

“It seems counterintuitive that people who integrate into mainstream English society feel more alienated, but when you think about the intersection of public exposure and social expectation, it makes sense,” said Luthra, ending her lecture by turning back to the integration paradox.

“Ethnic and racial harassment impacts individuals differently depending on factors like gender, income and generation, and has long-lasting effects across households and within ethnic minority communities,” she said. A nuanced conversation on racial harassment that understands victims as people with individual perspectives, not as statistics, is necessary in order heal these deep-seated wounds, Luthra concluded.

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Published: Friday, May 4, 2018

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