Survey exposes racism's shameful face

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 1:51am

Are we among the most racist people in the world? I am afraid so, if a global study called the World Values Survey is anything to go by.

Apparently, Hong Kong people prefer to live next door to drug addicts, heavy drinkers, mentally disturbed people, criminals and HIV sufferers than people of a different race. When asked: "Who would you not like to have as a neighbour?" an astonishing 71.8 per cent of Hongkongers picked someone of a different race. This makes us among the most racially intolerant places in the world, alongside India, Jordan and Bangladesh. Generally, racial tolerance is low across Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan, however, is remarkably tolerant, despite endemic violence within its society.

English-speaking countries such as Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Latin American nations, except Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, are more tolerant as are Scandinavian countries. Euro-zone countries vary greatly, which has a lot to do with the debt crisis. The survey data was originally compiled by Swedish economists Niclas Berggen and Therese Nilsson, but was graphically rearranged and put on a world map by Washington Post journalist Max Fisher. Fisher tries to put in a good word for Asian countries like Hong Kong. He thinks people in western countries are socially conditioned to speak of racial tolerance, regardless of what they privately think. But if we Asians don't even bother to hide our intolerance, that kind of makes it worse, doesn't it?

We all know that in Hong Kong, the lighter your skin colour, the higher your rank in the social hierarchy; and the darker, the lower. Chinese University of Hong Kong anthropologist Paul O'Connor has cast doubt on whether the survey was a good reflection of current attitudes in Hong Kong, arguing it was truer of the recent past than the current situation. For sure, we like to direct our animus now towards mainland Chinese. By the dictionary definition of the word, it is not racism. But it is no less shameful. We think we are just morally, politically and culturally superior, mostly because we know little or nothing about what's really happening on the mainland beyond clichéd narratives found in the mass media.