…If Michele Obama and Melania Trump go to teach English in China

This article highlights how race and skills are viewed in the Chinese job market

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This article touches on an issue that is hardly ever in the news in China but is always discussed among friends and in expat circles. To some discerning readers what the title implies is quite obvious but we will still dig into the issue a little deeper to see if we can understand why it is as it is. How and when such a matter will be a thing of the past we all want to know.
In the next few days the presidency of Barack Obama will come to an end and a new era will begin with Donald Trump. Social media has been quite emotional lately especially since the farewell speeches Obama and his wife Michelle gave separately, his in Chicago on Wednesday the 11th of January while hers was at the White House five days earlier. The hash tag #FAREWELLOBAMA has been trending on social media with people expressing their emotions by sharing pictures of the outgoing presidential couple, and creating all kinds of social media memes. There is no doubt that first lady Michele Obama added to the spark and magic of her husband’s presidency. Theirs was a story of love, hope, hard work, determination, style and class. This was the first time in a long time that a first family came and went without scandals.
Michele is a Harvard trained lawyer and former hospital executive whose speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008 introduced her to the world as a smart and intelligent woman. That speech was so inspiring that it was plagiarized by incoming first lady Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016 in what was supposed to be her own introduction to the world as America’s next first lady, an incident that was embarrassing and almost brought the Trump campaign to its knees. Melania as we all know is a former fashion model from Slovenia.
So now back to the title of this article, if Michelle and Melania came to China to find work as English teachers who will get hired first? If you live in China then the answer is quite obvious.
Now let us imagine how the interview will go. They are both interviewed via the most popular messaging app in China. This is how I picture it will happen and most will agree because I am saying this from experience.
Michele’s interview goes thus;
Michele: hi, I just saw your post in a group that you need one female native English teacher in your school
School principal: yes, are you native speaker?
Michele: yes, I am
School principal: where are you from?
Michele: I am from America
School principal: do you have teaching experience?
Michele: no, but I have a degree from Harvard University and I have two lovely daughters I teach every day. Above all my accent is clear and good
School principal: send a video demo
Michele: ok, I have just made one and sent
School principal: I see, I will discuss with my school boss and get back to you
Michele: alright then, I will be expecting to hear from you soon
Enter Melania Trump, her interview goes thus;
Melania: Hi
School principal: hello, how are you?
Melania: I am English teacher, your agent Mr. Khan tell me you want English teacher
School principal: yes, where are you from?
Melania: Europe
School principal: which country?
Melania: Slovenia
School principal: That is good
Melania: how much do you pay?
School principal: we offer 10,000RMB + accommodation, visa and yearly bonus.
Melania: I want 15,000rmb
School principal: too high now, may be later we can raise it
Melania: ok, I want 13,000rmb
School principal: I will have to discuss with my school boss and reply you later
Melania: ………….no response
The school principal promises both candidates to discuss with the school boss about their employment and give them feedback. Somehow the school principal forgets about Michele and only discusses Melania with the school boss and their conversation goes thus;
School principal: we have found a teacher from Europe but she is asking for 13,000rmb
School boss: show me her picture
School principal: here it is
School boss: she is beautiful but she doesn’t have blonde hair
School principal: yes, that was why I offered her 12,000rmb but I like her eyes. I also think the parents will not have problem with her looks
School boss: ok, offer her 12,000rmb if she refuse raise to 13,000rmb
School principal: ok
And so Melania got the job without an interview or a demo video while Michele never heard from the principal. Notice how the conversation between the school principal and the school boss never mentioned the native speaker requirement neither did they discuss her qualifications or experience. This is a scenario that plays out all too well on a daily basis not just in teaching but in many other jobs across China or much of Asia as some would say.
Now the question is this, is the native speaker tag a myth or reality on the job market in the middle kingdom? As the story shows Michele is a native speaker while Melania is not but she got the job instead. Another question is, do employers actually have the skills to measure the quality of job done? The answer is either they do not or they just do not know a real thing when they see it.
China’s economy no doubt grew not on innovation but on imitation of the west and they became successful. So this has probably entrenched the notion that a product does not have to be original, as long as that product looks like the original then it is okay and this unfortunately is now being applied to people and jobs.
I am an African and most African countries are not as developed as China but in Africa just as in other parts of the world the most qualified person may not always get the job based on several other reasons but certainly not based on looks alone. Assuming a Chinese and a Westerner applied for the same job and the Chinese is more qualified he will most likely be the one to be employed. Before I came to china a fellow African who was a freelance writer here once said me that he only had western clients, I found it strange at the time. He told me that he had been looking for writing jobs in vain until he met an American client and it was this American that introduced him to many other clients who were all western nationals. They gave him jobs and whenever he saw a job advertisement he wanted the American would apply for it and hand it over to him without the Chinese client knowing who actually did it.
Some say the attitude towards black people is racism while others say that it is ignorance but I believe it is a cavalier disregard to the diversity of professionalism. The reason I think so is because the relationship between the Chinese government and African countries is not new and has been that of mutual respect. Back in 1950s China supported African countries in their bid towards independence while African countries welcomed China into the United Nations. In 2007, against the backdrop of the U.N. General Assembly meeting the then Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi said;
“The attempt of the Taiwan authorities to join the U.N. was once again foiled, this would not have been possible without our African friends’ staunch support to China”. (Source: Chinese foreign ministry, 2007/09/26)
That statement signifies the strong mutual support China and African countries have shown one another but this could now be hanging on a string. With the increasing number of African students coming to study in China experiencing baseless discrimination there is every possibility that this relationship might be jeopardized by the time these students begin to hold leadership positions in their countries and decide to tow the path of reciprocity. As Africa is industrializing and China is transitioning, both certainly need each others’ resources more than ever. The time has come for the Chinese and the Africans to fully embrace one another as they look towards a future of shared interests that is built on mutual trust.
I have to mention that my experience with Chinese people has been pleasant and memorable outside of work but once I step into the job market it becomes a nightmare. I end this by saying, as Obama steps down as the first black president of the United States and with many other black professionals still blazing their trails in medicine, law and academia across the globe, that it is high time the Chinese realize that ability is in the head and not on the skin, if they really want to be taken seriously.
And finally Michele gets a reply….
School principal: sorry we do not need new English teacher now. Good luck!

Nigeria’s 2015 elections: A hope for change

This is piece was written in January 2013 when Nigeria and Nigerians were in an apprehensive mood due to their forthcoming general elections.

Discussing Nigeria’s next general election is like opening the proverbial Pandora’s box because it raises many questions with equally many answers. Answers left to the spectators to either take or leave but the bottom line is everyone holds onto the answers that gives them hope- the rulers, the ruled and the over-ruled.
Hope in Nigeria seems to have been hijacked by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) because as the masses grow more disillusioned with the way it is running the affairs of the nation, its politicians continue to plan, scheme and hope to win every next election.
For most Nigerians the 2015 elections is their last hope for change. How the different scenarios play out is very important to each and every one of us.

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The youth formed army of the social media will certainly play a major role in determining who will be the nation’s president in 2015. This is an army that has aligned with the opposition for now, an army that is working across religious and tribal divides, an army that has found its heroes and role models in vocal opposition political figures they connect with via the social media. Malam Nasir El-Rufai and Dele Momodu pull the biggest crowd of followers on this front. Their youth appeal comes from their ability to inspire the youth to believe that positive change is possible in Nigeria, this they have proven through their measurable accomplishments both in public and private spheres.
The tenure of Malam Nasir El-Rufai as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) raised the bar for public office holders in Nigeria. His fearless approach to the transformation of the FCT into a world class city proved to Nigerians that with visionary and committed leaders tangible progress was possible. He worked assiduously to restore the master plan of Nigeria’s capital city, he brought back serenity, sanity and, law and order to the streets of Abuja. His accomplishments in the FCT remain unmatched. For these reasons most Nigerians continue to hold El-Rufai in high esteem and his opinions on current issues are highly regarded.
Dele Momodu is a Nigerian Publisher, Political activist and Opposition political figure who ran for the presidency in 2011. His weekly column The Pendulum which dissects and analyses topical issues in Nigeria’s political environment continues to garner rave reviews from Nigerians especially his followers on Twitter. His views on how the government can move the country forward are very popular with Nigerian youths across board. The Pendulum remains one of the most re-tweeted, re-blogged and recommended columns in Nigeria today.
Another possible candidate from the opposition for the presidency in 2015 is Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos state, largely considered to be the best performing governor in Nigeria today. His reforms in education, taxation and infrastructure brought rapid development to Lagos state. His vision of transforming Lagos into a megacity is gradually coming to reality in a nation where dreams hardly materialize. It can be said that Fashola is the only Nigerian governor that has been able to deliver on most of his campaign promises. Commendations continue to pour out on him from all corners of Nigeria, any one who visits Lagos can see clearly that Lagos state is changing for good and the remarkable thing about it all is that Fashola is not done yet.
If the opposition political parties in Nigeria cooperate with one another to see through their proposed mergers and acquisitions, it will provide a platform for these young and able leaders to form a formidable team that will be able to wrestle power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015.
Some may wonder why I have not mentioned the enigmatic General Muhammadu Buhari as a suitable Presidential candidate from the opposition or his southern counterpart Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, no doubt General Buhari and Chief Tinubu have the required qualities and qualifications to turn things around in Nigeria having built a strong opposition but I do not subscribe to having candidates of their age running Nigeria until 2019 or beyond. The best these leaders can do to save Nigeria is to retain their positions at the top as party leaders and continue to coordinate the opposition while their protégés run for office.
The ruling PDP with all the hope in its kitty is sure to take a shot at the presidency in 2015 and will definitely hope to win. As in most political climes the incumbent always has a better chance of wooing the electorate if it lends itself credibility via exceptional performance. For the PDP this chance rests on the performance of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. If the President is able to turn around his administrations fortunes by decisively tackling some of the most pressing issues facing the nation between now and the next elections then PDP can look forward to the 2015 polls with genuine hope. The president’s critics and sympathizers continue to call on him to ensure that his administration’s transformation agenda especially in the power sector comes through before 2015. The power sector reform seems to be the last card on the table for Mr. President, it’s a project that if the president gets right will justify to Nigerians why he may be eligible for a second chance. President Jonathan called his credibility to question due to his dismal performance so far, his seeming inability to tackle insecurity and corruption, and his overall lackadaisical attitude to governance is most worrisome to Nigerians but as I said earlier all hope is not lost if regular power supply is achieved, otherwise PDP will have to find a convincing substitute or ultimately get booted out.
If the PDP decides to drop President Jonathan in 2015, they will surely find a better substitute from among their few performing state governors. This small class of Governors includes Goodswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, Dr Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Sule Lamido of Jigawa State. These governors unlike the president have not relented in their commitment to the development of their states despite the many challenges they face most especially the menace of terrorism- Boko Haram in the north and Niger Delta militants in the south-south. The four states they govern have so far witnessed generous transformation in the areas of infrastructure, education, health care and youth empowerment.
Former vice president Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition has left no one in doubt, the only question is if he will be contesting under his present party the PDP or a different one as he did in 2007. There’s been speculation that Atiku Abubakar and some prominent northern politicians are working on reviving the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), the foundation structure of the PDP where he may likely be the presidential candidate. Atiku Abubakar has had an interesting political career, most memorable of which is the battle of wits between him and his then principal Chief Olusegun Obasanjo while he Atiku was vice president. Observers commend his fearless opposition to Obasanjo’s bid for a third term in office, a gallant stand for any politician in his shoes. In 2007 he won his case against Nigeria’s electoral body few days to the general elections when his name was left out of the presidential ballot papers, a move widely believed to be orchestrated by Obasanjo. Atiku Abubakar is credited with showing Nigerians that there is a limit to the power of incumbency when in their second tenure president Obasanjo tried to remove him from his position as vice president but Atiku was able to stay on till the end of that tenure. Asides politics, Atiku Abubakar is known to be a successful business man and philanthropist with an impeccable record of service in the Nigerian Customs.

This subject cannot be closed without a case for Igbo presidency to be fair to the Igbos. The Igbos have for long clamoured for an Igbo President, they have accused the Nigerian political elite of marginalization. They say there’s a conspiracy going on somewhere against having an Igbo man as the president but the question is “who is the consensus candidate of the Igbos?” Truth is the Igbo political class is yet to form a united front that will field a single candidate that has the backing of the majority. The Igbos have always been a politically fragmented group but the creation of the Ohanaze Ndigo socio-cultural group was meant to unite all Igbo communities within and outside Nigeria, this clearly has not been achieved. It is a shame that the Igbo ethnic group having been blessed with a good number of intellectuals and technocrats is yet to bring forth a single individual to lead Nigeria since Nnamdi Azikiwe. If and when the Igbos decide to put their house in order for the 2015 elections they have the likes of Owele Rochas Okorocha and Professor Charles Soludo Continue reading “Nigeria’s 2015 elections: A hope for change”