Are Portuguese colour-blind?

At the end of September, I went to Entrecampos Municipality to get my residency. As I walk towards the building, a huge banner crosses its facade: Welcome Migrants: Lisboa sabe acolher.

I sent the picture of the facade to a colleague, and he replied sarcastically: “yeah, right”.

That banner resonnated with other sentences I heard before: that there was no problem of racism in Portugal, no movements against migrations, no extreme-right parties feeding on xenophobia. But… really?

As it happens, this is a whole “thing”. Portugal has built a narrative of “colour-blindness”. This narrative revolves around a so-called “Portuguese way of being in the world”, derived from the age of the “discoveries”, then the colonial empire, and later on (that is post-dictature and decolonisation), the diasporic lives of Portuguese immigrants around the world (see Almeida & Corkill, 2015; or Cunha, 2017). As a matter of fact, one in five Portuguese live abroad today, and as I stated in my previous post, ties with groups of Portuguese living outside of Portugal are not only family ties, but also exist through national institutions.

These many individual and national experiences of crossing the boundaries of continental Portugal – according to this narrative – have enriched the Portuguese people and enabled a more pluralist attitude towards immigration.

That seems nice indeed. But as much as our French Republican education seems relatively powerless when it comes to facing the terrible rethoric of the Front National in France, isn’t this narrative just as nice smoke screen too? If I look at how manpower is distributed in my faculty, at how residential patterns work in the city of Lisbon, or just listen to flat-hunting experiences (being a French or a Brazilian for instance), I cannot help but think: to which extent does the sentence on that huge banner at the municipality actually lead to freezing the debate? ¬†

Moreover, this week, we had the chance to spend four long hours at SEF, the foreigners’ service, for visa purposes. Not a soul spoke English. And no one cared to explain what they would do with the lot of personal private data we gave out (including fingerprints, identification documents, bank account statements… and so on), as if the data management scheme approved earlier at the EC was unheard of in these services.

In the meantime, I started to dive into the critical literature that has focused on deconstructing this narrative of Portuguese cosmopolitanism. More thoughts to come!

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