Equal Opportunities Commission

Battling prejudice

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 January, 2000, 12:00am

ONE of the definitions of the word discrimination is the act of making invalid, unfair, or hurtful differentiations. The word has come to be applied in this context especially to minority groups, but also to women. When discrimination takes place on the grounds of race, it is not only abhorrent to all civilised people, but it also raises special sensitivities.

In Hong Kong there is no law against such acts.

Unlike most Western countries, it is perfectly legal here to refuse to employ a person, for example, simply on the grounds of that person's race.

Investigations carried out by Post reporters have revealed that several nightclubs here openly vary entry prices based solely on the colour of people's skin.

The Government has long argued that racial discrimination is not a significant problem in Hong Kong, and anyway it is far better to educate than to legislate. But this is hardly much of an argument when discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability or family status is already outlawed. And many acts that are relatively rare in Hong Kong are also illegal.

Perhaps the reluctance to enact anti-racism laws is due less to a genuine belief that the problem is small and rather more to the fear that such a law would lead to a plethora of complaints and the expensive and cumbersome litigation they could create. Certainly, this has been the experience in many other places. The cry of racism can easily become a convenient one for some people who cannot accept that not all difficulties in life are related to the colour of their skin.

Nevertheless, it is significant that the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has received 64 complaints alleging racism over the past three years. The number may seem small. But when it is borne in mind that the complainants knew the EOC had no powers to address these allegations, the number becomes a measure not of the size of the problem, but of the level of people's frustration. Whether the claims lodged amount to genuine cases of racial prejudice is impossible to say. But it is fair to conclude that they represent only a small proportion of the number of incidents perceived by people.

Dealing with the consequences of anti-race discrimination may have its price, but such laws are nowadays one mark of a civilised society, and one that states quite clearly that such prejudice, when proved, will not be tolerated.