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Xenophobia comes from small minds entertaining small thoughts

Xenophobia never died. That intense, irrational hatred or fear of “the others” is alive and kicking.

It thrives, paradoxically, in South Africa, a country whose rebirth was predicated on the principle that “separateness” was wrong. It emerges, predictably, in Greece, where immigrants provide a convenient scapegoat for self-inflicted economic woes. It even threatens, bafflingly, to influence the outcome of the forthcoming general election in a supposedly mature society like the United Kingdom.

Read that word “irrational” again in the definition of xenophobia above. Whenever you listen to the justifications of xenophobes, you are struck by just how…dumb they are. So give me some of your time this Sunday to debunk some of the popular myths surrounding “us” and “them.”

The first one is this: They take our jobs.

Listen up, people. A job is not a cake that is handed out to you as a privilege; it is both the creator and the result of economic growth. Singapore’s recently deceased founder, Lee Kuan Yew, said it best: foreigners “take some jobs that will create a large number of other jobs…(foreigners) are the extra megabytes in Singapore’s computer.”

A job is not a reward that must be eaten only by “locals” – it is an output-producing opportunity which must be given to the person who can produce the most. So, xenophobes, if indeed others are taking “your” jobs, think about why that might be: is it because they are more willing and committed than you are?

The second xenophobic fallacy: They don’t share their secrets.

That one was uttered by a South African minister, no less, about foreign businessfolk: “They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners.” And this was the minister for small business development…

Secrets, eh? As a long-standing student of business, let me spill the beans for all ye xenophobes. Here are the “trade secrets” that lie behind the success of immigrant businesses: they work extremely long hours, with family members working in shifts; they provide goods and services that people actually need, rather than indulging in whimsical escapades; they access capital painstakingly from networks of family and friends; they keep any money they make in the business in order to grow it, rather than frittering it away on TV sets and bling; they sacrifice their own social lives in order to make proper lives for their children.

That’s it, no secrets and no secret society. All out in the open and utterly observable if you care to open your eyes, xenophobes. “They” beat you at business because you’re unwilling to do it properly.

Last one: They steal our women.

This one is the most laughable, as “their women” will attest. “Your” women, gentlemen, are not like phones sitting in a market stall that these wily foreigners snatch from you and run away with. Nor are they chattels that you own. They are grown-up, thinking persons with the capacity to make decisions and choices. And so, if they choose persons of foreign origin as their mates, the problem is very likely to be with you, not the foreigners.

I’ll say it again: economic advancement is about raising skills and productivity, not dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. Diversity and openness drive societies forward. Progress depends on open exchange of goods, services, knowledge and ideas. The world’s poorest nations are the ones that refuse to countenance open doors and windows for trade and skills to flow through.

The world’s most primitive societies are the ones that are the most closed off. Sometimes, I wish the xenophobes could be given exactly what they want: no foreigners, no immigrants, no outsiders. It would be a delight to watch their economies regress.

Xenophobia comes from a small place, where self-esteem is low and suspicion runs high; where small minds entertain small thoughts; and where envy thrives and tolerance dies.

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