United by "our mutual mistrust of the Chinese": really?

Jan Raath suggests that racial divisions can be overcome -- by turning mistrust on another minority.

Am I missing something? Or is Jan Raath's piece in today's Times, headlined "Chinese bring Zimbabwe's black and white together", actually quite offensive?

In the column, he tells the story of the Harare suburbs' fundamental transformation since numbers in the white community collapsed from 112,000 to 12,000 (replaced by a black population that "exploded" from 340,000 to 1.6 million). At a residents' association meeting, tensions between black and white members of the association are eased by "our mutual mistrust of the Chinese", which serves as "the catalyst for a comradely encounter".

With little irony, Raath describes how a complaint about the building of an illegal dormitory for Chinese workers "broke the ice" at what was, up till then, a fraught gathering. He writes:

The residents laughed, cheered and clapped. The manager knew all about the Chinese. He had been there to tell them they had no planning permission, but none of them could understand him. Laughter. Construction would be stopped and the building would be demolished, he said. The whites cheered and clapped him too.

This feeling of exultation is shared by Raath, who approvingly writes that the episode "opened the gates for us to vent our grouses". He concludes his vignette with an observation from a middle-aged woman at the meeting, who says: "You know, they've got an abattoir near the airport. For dogs and pythons."

The moral of his piece is that racial divisions can be overcome by banding together -- to designate yet another ethnic minority as "the other". Raath seems amused by stereotypes about eating "dogs and pythons", as well as the planning association manager's struggles to overcome the language barrier.

It's no surprise that the complaint that triggers the love-in is phrased in the language of white, male paranoia: "When my wife and daughter are swimming in my pool, these Chinese stare at them over the wall." Not too far removed, really, from the irrational fear of the "foreign sexual threat", as voiced by Mosley et al in the 1950s.

The piece may be intended as a faithful account of a minor meeting, but to present the events as an example of racial harmony is nothing less than daft.

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Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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