The incident

During the research for my dissertation about discrimination, I took the testimony of a public hospital doctor in the PASS department. This health department is a crisis unit which offers medical and social care for disadvantaged people.

This doctor told me that she was shocked to see the migrant patients with very high tech mobile phones. Here is an extract of her discourse: “There are people who you will feel more  empathy towards than others, and some who will trigger a feeling of rejection because they have a laptop, a high tech mobile phone, and they are asking for help and assistance from the French government, but in fact they do not really need this help.”

Obviously, this discourse is a complete stereotype because this person forgot that for migrant patients, the mobile phone is this only way to communicate with close friends and family remaining in their countries of origin. Also, all migrants are not necessary extremely poor.

1. Identities of the actors in the situation

There were two people present:

The interviewer: Female 33 years old, atheist, French origin, student and active in the hospital field for 10 years, white skin color

The Doctor: Female General Practitioner, about 40 years old, white skin color

The relationship between the two characters is good and the narrator herself said that the interview happened in a very good wellbeing atmosphere.

2. Context of the situation

This interview happened in the Doctors office and lasted for about one hour. It took place as part of the thesis of the narrator. The practitioner worked in a particular department, which was a crisis unit that offered medical and social care for disadvantaged.

3. Emotional reaction

The narrator was shocked as the Doctor’s statement about mobile phones was not coherent with her own empathetic speech about her patients. She seemed to be a very caring doctor and therefore the fact that she thinks that a high tech phone means that you are wealthy is very stereotypical.

4. Representations, values, norms, ideas, prejudice: The frame of references of the person who experienced the shock.

The no discrimination rule:

On the narrator’s cultural frame, a healthcare professional working in this particular sector of the hospital, treating many “foreign” patients should not have these kinds of thoughts or prejudices.  Her prejudices could lead her to an unprofessional attitude and even to an act of discrimination.

She values equality and non-discrimination and believes that foreigners seeking support should not be turned down or judged because they have the latest version of a smartphone, as that is the only means they have to keep in contact with their loved ones back in their countries of origin. Also, she thinks that such type of judgment may in fact lead to acts of discrimination and injustice against the migrants, as they do not fit the mainstream idea of who a disadvantaged person is and what they are allowed to own.

Representation of the mobile phone as a communication tool for people in mobility:

For migrants, the mobile phone is not only a tool to communicate and navigate themselves, but also to obtain or transfer the money they need to continue their journey. The mobile phone has become central in their migratory process.

Almost all the migrants come to Europe with a phone, and often a smartphone. But it is a “paramount” tool they use to communicate with their smugglers. It is also an essential tool to communicate with google translator with the local people in every country they meet. It is an essential tool to keep them in touch with their families, legitimately concerned by the difficulty of their journey.

Finally, smartphones have become a nearly basic commodity in our everyday societies, to the point that children also have them. The idea of what is considered essential is changing constantly, especially in the fast-paced world we live in, and especially if we take into consideration new technologies.

5. What image emerges from the analysis of point 4 for the other group (neutral slightly negative, very negative, "stigmatized", positive, very positive, real, unreal) etc?

A much stigmatised image against foreign patients, so the narrator had a rather negative image of the doctor.

6. Representations, values, norms, prejudice: The frame of references of the person or group that is causing the shock / that caused the shock in the narrator.

Representation of the phone as a sign of wealth

Today you can find on the market very expensive smartphones. Some particular brands and models of  phones can cost over 700 euros.  People often buy the latest version as a display of status.

Representation of a migrant as someone who wants to take advantage of the health care system

The result of having the prejudice that a smartphone is a luxury product only accessible for wealthy people challenges the stereotype of the migrant who comes to hospital for free care. The doctor has a very definitive idea of what a mobile phone is and how expensive it could be, therefore she cannot understand why someone would be able to pay for this item and not pay for medical care.

Migrant as a lower social class

There is a social representation of migration as being always linked to economic reasons. In the common contemporary imagery of a migrant she/he is always running away to seek better economic opportunities. This vision undermines the fact that there are different motivations for migration that affect the migrant’s decision for leaving their home countries.

7. Does the situation highlight any problem concerning the professional practice, or in general about the respect of cultural differences in intercultural situations?

The incident illustrates the manifestation of stereotypes and prejudice within the medical service.  The first layer of stereotypes is based on the idea that migrants / asylum seekers / refugees are automatically poor people. This stereotype reduces the diversity amongst migrants; it helps maintain a simplistic representation.  Furthermore it feeds the preconception of the migrant as “profiteer” and “assisted”. This population is then doubly stigmatized by they nationality and / or origin and by its economic and social disqualification.

The incident also highlights how the lack of observation skills can contribute to maintaining prejudices and possibly lead to acts of discrimination. Indeed the doctor in the situation works regularly with refugees and asylum seekers, yet she failed to observe the meaning and use of the mobile phone amongst her patients.