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 sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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Exclusive: Labour MEPs call for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader

Letter demands Corbyn's departure and attacks his office for "promoting" the work of the Leave campaign. 

Labour's MEPs have called for Jeremy Corbyn to resign in the latest challenge to his leadership. In a letter sent to Corbyn and leaked to the New Statesman, Glenis Willmott, the chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP), wrote: "We find it hard to see how any Labour leader can continue in that role if they do not have the support of their MPs." Corbyn yesterday lost a no confidence vote among the Parliamentary Labour Party by 176 to 40. The letter also attacked the leader's office for an "official Labour briefing document" which "promoted the work of Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart for the Leave campaign."

The demand for Corbyn's resignation is described by sources as the "majority position" of Labour's 20 MEPs. Their stance could prove crucial if the leader is not automatically included in any new contest (a matter of legal dispute) and is required to seek 50 nominations from MP/MEPs (20 per cent of the total). 

The letter reads: 

"The European Parliamentary Labour Party met today for its first meeting since the referendum and concluded that we should send you this letter today.

"The EPLP has always striven to have a loyal and constructive relationship with our party leader, and we have worked hard to cooperate with you over recent months. However, we have very serious concerns in the light of Labour's defeat in the referendum campaign.

"Responsiblity for the UK leaving the EU lies with David Cameron. That being said, we were simply astounded that on Friday morning, as news of the result sank in, an official Labour briefing document promoted the work of Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart for the Leave campaign.

"Labour's loyal and dedicated teams of activists had just spent weeks on the doorstep and on street-stalls making the case to remain in the EU and countering leave campaign arguments. Yet you and your office authorised a briefing that put the whole Labour campaign on a par with two Labour politicians who had been appearing for weeks alongside right-wing politicians, such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

"Separate from the referendum issue, it has become clear in recent days that you do not have the confidence of the Parliamentary Labour Party. We find it hard to see how many Labour leader can continue in that role if they do not have the support of their MPs.

"So it it with a heavy heart that we urge you, for the sake of the Labour Party and for the people in our country who need a Labour government, to reconsider your position as Labour leader."

Yours sincerely,

Glenis Wilmott MEP

On behalf of the European Parliamentary Labour Party 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.