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CommentInsight & Opinion

Racist Hong Kong is still a fact

York Chow says while Hong Kong may not be the world's most racist society, prejudice - often at a subconscious level - still pervades the city, and the problem needs to be tackled at all levels

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 5:27am

Recently, there has been much media coverage over the results of the global World Values Survey, which seemed to indicate that seven out of 10 Hongkongers do not wish to live next to someone of a different race. For a few days, it appeared that Hong Kong was the most racially intolerant of all the places surveyed.

It has now been revealed that the data was wrong; in fact, the figure for Hongkongers should have been around 27 per cent. While the corrected result is undoubtedly better, we nevertheless must contend with the fact that more than a quarter of respondents still said they do not want a neighbour of a different race. For "Asia's world city", this figure is unacceptably high.

It is worrying to witness xenophobic...behaviour towards ethnic [minorities], recent immigrants and mainlanders

When I was in my local high school some 50 years ago, we had Indians, Pakistanis, Portuguese, Malaysians and Thais as classmates. We all learned Chinese together, and some even studied it as their major at university. They became senior civil servants, executives and professionals. We valued the multicultural school environment, helped each other, played in the same sports teams and enjoyed lasting friendships. Ethnic acceptance and respect was natural and spontaneous.

Unfortunately, surveys and studies by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the government and other organisations in recent years still point to the existence of bias against our ethnic minorities and the prevalence of racial discrimination. In a survey last year by Hong Kong Unison, a non-governmental organisation, fewer than half of the respondents said they accepted Africans, Nepalis, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Indians in their personal lives, including as friends or spouses for themselves and their children.

While such prejudicial attitudes may be subconscious, they can manifest themselves in unequal treatment in various areas of daily life. For instance, in the 2009 Thematic Household Survey on Racial Acceptance, commissioned by the EOC and conducted by the Census and Statistics Department, approximately one in three respondents found it unacceptable to lease premises to an African, South Asian or Middle Eastern tenant.

Since the Race Discrimination Ordinance came into effect in 2009, nearly three-quarters of the complaints handled by the EOC under this law have been unrelated to employment; most were about access to goods, facilities and services. Last year, 55 per cent of respondents in a survey by Time Out said they had witnessed or experienced racism in admission to facilities, services, restaurants or shops.

In addition, many people from ethnic minorities still face serious systemic barriers to equal opportunity in areas such as education and employment. In 2011, the EOC released the report of our Working Group on Education for Ethnic Minorities, which describes how the mainstream education system has failed the majority of ethnic minority students, particularly in supporting them to master Chinese when the language is not spoken at home.

This issue was also highlighted in March by the UN Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations on Hong Kong's third report in light of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It noted its concern that "ethnic minorities are underrepresented in higher education and that no official education policy for teaching Chinese as a second language for non-Chinese-speaking students with an immigrant background in Hong Kong has been adopted".

These obstacles have devastating implications for generations of ethnic minorities and their ability to pursue their aspirations. By not taking prompt action to ensure equal opportunities in education, the government is damaging ethnic minority children's prospects over their entire lifetime. Many who received insufficient support in learning Chinese during their school years now find themselves unable to meet the Chinese-language requirement for various jobs and are relegated to low-pay work.

In turn, this contributes to a perpetuation of a cycle of poverty and poses a hurdle to social integration. And despite recent moves by the Civil Service Bureau to open up government job opportunities for ethnic minority applicants, a substantial number still struggle to access them.

In fact, thus far, the solutions offered by the government have been piecemeal and largely reactive. What we need is a multi-pronged, holistic approach to a systemic problem. The government must take the lead to address the issue with conviction, based on the recognition that true equality may require accommodative measures to level the playing field.

A starting point must be the introduction of an alternative standardised Chinese-language curriculum and assessment framework for non-Chinese-speaking students to enable them to compete more fairly against native speakers. The Education Bureau should also review its policy of designated schools, which is not conducive to integration and effective Chinese learning, and strengthen language support for ethnic minority students starting at the pre-primary level as well as for their families.

It is worrying to witness the various local xenophobic comments and behaviour towards ethnic minority groups, recent immigrants and mainlanders. Discrimination is usually a result of ignorance, misconception and a lack of experience. Our government, society, schools, institutions, and goods and service providers need to work together to tackle this growing epidemic through appropriate public education, policies and organisational codes of practice.

While it is true that racial violence in this city is rare, assumptions, often subconscious, about those of different cultural backgrounds or ethnic origins remain common.

This is to our own detriment as an international city and business hub. It is also contrary to our core value of openness and to our long history as a place where talents of different backgrounds mix and mingle, fuelling innovation.

While we can breathe a sigh of relief that Hong Kong is not the most racist society in the world, we also need to remember that we can still do far better to eradicate racial bias and discrimination. We must work together to build a truly equal community of which we can all be proud.

Dr York Chow Yat-ngok is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission


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This article is now closed to comments

I just laugh when white people comment on racism.
I'm not saying HK is at all perfect, far from it. It just irks me those who cast their stone should look in the mirror themselves, and stop sooo patronizing and holier than thou. You guys have never really experienced true racism.
Just look at the BBC website today about the attacks on moslems shooting up following the attack on the soldier. Look at the riots by minorities complaing about racism in Sweden, a country held up as a flagbearer for tolerance in Europe. Not to mention the deprivation and high inprisonment rates of blacks in the US. Last time I was in the UK I got the slanty eyed treatment - maybe thank god I wasnt black or Indian. Even polite Japan does not allow non Japanese into many places even if you speak Japanese.
I refuse to accept HK is the worst, so I fight back at the hypocrites who say it is. Yes, HKers do have prejudices, but generally it is much more tolerant, and we dont go to extreme physical attacks prevalent in most ot the white world. HK has only recently had an influx of Africans/other races so needs time and education to adjust, but has acted much better than the most.
When westerners start lecturing others about how great they are, and bad you are, and not take note of their own racist histories and current situation, are you surprised when others react badly ? It makes is so easy for the CP to stoke up patriotism against western propaganda, saying you are keeping Chinese down.
I'm an American-born South Asian and I have to say HK is one of the most racist environments to live/work in. I have lived here for 3 years now. It is getting better but I would like to share my views I've experienced.
May sound ironic or strange but Western-born HK/ Chinese are embracing racism in HK. I've been told by ABC n CBC that in HK "It is our right to not associate ourselves with "brown people" cause we are more "superior" than them, there is no laws like back home that says we have to treat everyone the same". My gf who is local HK chinese were told by her expat chinese friends that she should break up with me cause it makes them look bad bringing me around, she should look for someone chinese or white". It's pretty dangerous that these thoughts are coming from educated individuals.
There was an opinion article on efinancialcareers.com by an individual on his views regarding working in Hong Kong and the last point he mentioned was that "If your not white or chinese, expect challenges in your career".
I have really good friends who are white n in denial about racism towards the ethnic minorities and don't see it cause there treated like royalty n why ruin a good thing?
I can go on for a while about personal and other friends experiences. I've gotten used to it and accept it for what it is.
HK is a great city, very convenient and dynamic business environment. Hopefully there will be improvement in this area.
Good idea. Let's get rid of the aspects that make Hong Kong an international city and let it claim its rightful place as the 5th largest city in China. Hong Kong is what it is because it is an mixing of cultures that for good or ill came as part of its colonial heritage. In the Hangover post handover there was a fixation to become Chinese again, as though people had ever ceased to be ethnic Chinese when really what they were doing was buying into the Mainland Government's steamroller campaign to remove as "Chinese" all things they did not want. Now the pendulum has swung back and some wise Chinese people see the benefit of their own culture, influenced not only by China and its long history but also Hong Kong's rather unique place in the development of Asia and the World, which no other Chinese city really shares. Yes, go back to being a Mainland city and let Singapore and Bangkok continue their campaign that takes away from HK the international players who wish to do business in Asia and let Shanghai take the direct investment of the foreigners who wish to invest in China. Let HK go back to its backwater days, as it was before the colonialists arrived. Good plan. Well good for Singapore, but not for HK.
HK people are even racist against their own... How many times have HK people gone on a trip overseas, only to spot other HK people and were like "eww.. HKers" and tried to get away from them?
HK people used to be too busy making a living for themselves and their own families to worry about how foreigners *ahem* 'the international community' perceive them and where they rank on some caucasian derived social ranking scale. We need Sam **** to sing a song about this meaningless hypocrisy
So, the original report was erroneous and Hong Kong is not as racist after all. It's interesting to observe the vindication felt by many locals (judging by comments online, if that is any indication). But does it mean we're perfect and we don't have any racial issues here? (I'm a Hongkonger, by the way)
The sad thing is, when the original (erroneous) report was first published, people freaked out and almost the one single response was, 'hey, (some other country, usually the US, UK or Australia) is much more racist!)', and insisting how perfect the locals are when it comes to racial issues.
I hope that's not the general sentiment but such attitudes are disturbing. It's saddening enough that some people here are not sensitive enough to racial issues and racism in general. It's even more saddening to see some people not even aware that they are being racist. But the most saddening thing is: there seems to be quite a number of locals who are in complete denial that there is any racism in Hong Kong.
As a brown person I have lived all over the world and experienced racism everywhere. Hong Kong's brand is particularly nasty as it manifests itself in a subtle passive aggressive way. And is inherited from its colonial past. One only has to cross to Shenzhen to escape it.
I don't hold out much for York Chow. He'll give the usual platitudes as a career civil servant and this latest role is part of the musical chairs that is prevalent for senior government officials.
When was the last time he rode the MTR? I've seen seated black people with an empty seat(s) next to them on the Tung Chung line at busy hours (8-9am) and Saturday afternoons. The Tung Chung line is probably the most cosmopolitan with its Disneyland station.
Just one of those observations that makes one go...hmmn.
Funny, I don't encounter this is other world cities like London and Paris.
The survey also ranked Bangladesh, India, and Jordan as amongst the highest racist countries as well. There may be some truth to it as Times of India commenters frequently refer to Chinese as c*inks in a derogatory manner without denouncement and there's its caste system.

This is an American survey with one questionnaire about one's preference. Given what I have seen and where I have lived as in Malaysia where non-Malays are denied jobs or high education, HKers are soft towards others. In Canada, when one China mining company requested Mandarin speaking miners applications the Cdn government immediately required all job applications be in English/French-only (now imagine if HK (/China) told companies Mandarin/Cantonese only - tens of thousands would be out of a job and some would call HK racist for acting likewise while other nations get away with it). Also, when an Asian face was used for a Canadian currency, some others did not like that idea so it was not used. Some Canadians said China would not have a Caucasian in their currency, but China did have not one but several Caucasians in their currency and bank notes including a Canadian despite China being mostly ho mogeneous where Canada was supposedly multicultural.

What this American survey also hides are actionable racism. In HK, there is nothing like the Aryan Guard, neo-Nazis, etc. who direct hate/violence towards minorities because of race. In HK there are legitimate perceptions of race or groups .
The report only speaks in broad strokes and does not breakdown race by %, I don't consider it valid.I am a white male,lived and worked in Hong Kong for 24 years with never an issue,only called "****" lovingly among friends or close co-workers.If Hong Kong Chinese thought otherwise that is a different issue since you cannot get inside one's head.The 2 flats that I rented during this time were both owned by Hong Kong Chinese and in both cases they stated they would never rent to their "own kind" or Mainlanders for various reasons that are not printable here. I would assume the majority of the 27% refers to Mainlanders as they have a reputation of despicable manners that has made them the bane of most cultures existence and the major reason why I left Hong Kong.



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