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  • Oct 21, 2014
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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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Invasion is still never welcomed despite you have said and the British were never welcomed in the first place. I don’t see how removing English as an official language is going to hinder the economic prosperity enjoyed by Hong Kong. There are loads of countries in Europe and Japan prosper without English being an official language of their countries. It didn’t stop them from developing into developed countries and enjoy high living standard. I believe the Hong Kong should encourage and attract the brightest people to work and live in Hong Kong.
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.
No, HK is not the worse but don't pretend we are a welcoming world city and proud of the international community living here. In the matter of fact, HKners in many ways are very racist especially those who came from other Western places back to HK. They are the worse adding the discrimination and think they are even something better than local HKnese. Maybe because they got discriminated as well in the place they used to live.
Westerners and Chinese do not have a statistical tendency not to burn cars and commit acts of reckless violence, which is just a basic fact and lo and behold, HK people are smart enough to recognize this. Those "minorities complaining" in Sweden, France, London etc have gotten tonnes of money and freebies, their behavior has zero to do with discrimination. They are in fact treated way better than the locals who subsidize them, or in their country of origin. The whole "flagbearer" argument is a cultural marxist fraud used to push non-white immigration on white countries and call it "tolerance" with zero recognition of the actual results. But hey, it feels good to close your eyes and imagine utopia.
I am an overseas Chinese who lived in Malaysia, New Zealand and now living in the United Kingdom. In Malaysia, Chinese are being discriminated by the economic policies of the government. In New Zealand and United Kingdom, everyone is treated “equally” under the law. I was sometimes called a **** growing up in New Zealand and in small towns in England. White women in New Zealand have a preference to date British men and white women in United Kingdom aren’t interested in non-white women but having said that some white English women I know have a preference for dating big tall black men because they have huge penises.
However, there is a big difference between Hong Kong and immigrant countries such as United Kingdom and New Zealand. The former has never claim and pretend to be immigrant territory and the latter claims to be multicultural societies which accept immigrants. I do not have the rights to live in any of the Chinese territories such as Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland so I can’t claim to know how foreigners are being discriminated in Hong Kong.
Sticks Evans
Who are "you guys"? "Whitey"?
Sticks Evans
My son is half-Chinese so can he live here half the time? I am looking forward to the first African Chief Executive and the First African Royal Family Member.
All polls are flawed. All people are racist.
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.
How saddening that you have been saddened. Let's just feel enlightened together and embrace being "culturally enriched" by the smell of cars burning, violence, gang rape and all the other niceties that "other countries" can teach Hong Kong. Let's just ignore all social problems caused by immigration altogether, that would be great? Well, thanks, but no thanks.
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.




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