Fitting in at the Top? Stigma and the Negotiation of Belonging Among the New Immigrant Elite in France


While assimilation theories implicitly assume that immigrants’ acceptance as ‘one of us’ derives from their high levels of socioeconomic attainment in destination countries, little is known about the subjective experience of national belonging among the new immigrant elite in Western Europe. In this article, I assemble an analytical framework to study perceived acceptance within the national imagined community among immigrant-origin individuals who have already achieved high socioeconomic attainment at destination. Empirically, I look at subjective experiences of stigma and national belonging through in-depth interviews with forty-two professionals of North and Sub-Saharan African origins in France. How do these high-status individuals experience stigma, and how do they negotiate and claim inclusion as worthy members of the French imagined community? Respondents generally perceived only moderate levels of racial stigma in their daily lives, and I find that upper-middle class culture empowered them to use cultural elitism to deflect racism as intellectually backwards and illegitimate. However, I also find that self-identified Muslim respondents faced widespread religious stigmatization that cast them as outsiders to French society. They responded to this stigmatization by distinguishing themselves from ‘undesirable’ Muslims, rather than by denouncing anti-Muslim prejudice per se. These divergent experiences suggest that acceptance within the French nation is shaped by religious difference and remains actively negotiated after the achievement of social mobility. Overall, the paper suggests that cultural repertoires play a key role in enabling immigrant-origin individuals to claim national belonging in everyday life.

International Migration Review