Every day, the editorial staff at the UKrant wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? ‘At UKrant’ is an irregular column in which we occasionally take a look behind the scenes.
People in the Chinese community in Groningen (both UG students and staff) were outraged by the article about the Xior student flat that UKrant published last week. Per the article, many rooms in this building are being rented to Chinese students through scalpers operating from China; they use software to scan for available rooms and then offers them to prospective tenants for a fee.
According to the Xior corporation, this is illegal. They’re aware of the issue, have been investigating it further, and will cancel any bookings made like this. ‘The city and the police have also been made aware of the situation’, Xior said in response to the UKrant article last week.
Unfortunately, many Chinese people in Groningen see the story as a racist attack on the Chinese community. Many people posted some intense responses saying so on ukrant.nl. When we shut down the comment section, they decided to express their anger elsewhere.
The editor-in-chief and the board of UKrant are currently exploring what steps we can take
Unfortunately, some people were more than just ‘angry’. In several closed Chinese groups on social media, people shared the article’s author’s information. Some people even called on others to ‘beat her up’.
This is entirely unacceptable. The editor-in-chief and the board of the Stichting Universiteitsblad Groningen, which ‘publishes’ UKrant, are currently exploring what steps we can and must take against this.
To explain a bit further:
1. The article was in no way intended to show the Chinese community in Groningen in a bad light. Rather, the story exposed the scalpers who exploit the housing crisis in Groningen, which victimises their fellow Chinese, who after all are the ones paying for their ‘service’.
Yes, the article was about Chinese people. If it had been Icelandic scalpers who were getting rooms for Icelandic students, the article would have been about Icelandic people. But there neither were nor are Icelandic scalpers active in Xior. The scalpers are Chinese.
2. Some people said that the use of the word ‘Chinatown’ in the article’s headline was derogatory. The definition of Chinatown is as follows: ‘a district of a large non-Chinese town or port in which the population is predominantly of Chinese origin’ (where you can usually get great food). It was never meant to be condescending, in fact, we meant the opposite. There are plenty of great films and books that use the word ‘Chinatown’ in their title.
I will not accept my editors being publicly and undeservedly accused of racism
3. Soon after the article was published, UKrant shut down the comment section. Why? Everyone is free to think what they want. But I will not accept my editors being publicly and undeservedly accused of racism or UKrant being portrayed as a platform that propagates hate against the Chinese community. These things are simply not true.
That is why we started removing the comments proclaiming this. Because people then started posting them again, telling us we’d ‘better not remove them’, we deleted all comments and shut down the comment section, also because we started receiving questionable anti-Chinese sentiments from certain political supporters.
That, too, displeased people. Shutting down the comment section was a ‘violation of our democratic rights’, the Chinese community said. That’s taking it a bit far. We have guidelines for the comment section; these can be found on our website.
Moreover, UKrant allows its readers to properly comment on our articles and engage each other in discussion. That’s a gesture on our part, not a ‘democratic right’ that’s been violated.
(The comment section on this column will remain open for now. If people abuse this privilege, we’ll once again shut it down.)
Rob Siebelink is editor-in-chief of UKrant