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  • Sep 17, 2014
  • Updated: 3:43am
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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Its because HK has very few blacks so HKers have little eposure to them. It took Europe a long time to adjust to migration, and that it only took action after race riots, stabbings etc with laws AND enforcement. And that hasnt stopped racist nationalist groups from forming and for scaremongering about being overwhelmed by immgrants - such that mainstream political parties now espouse radical immigration controls to placate the whites.
When you go to another country, you need to realise things arent the same as 'home' and try to understand the local culture. Goods vehicles drive in the middle lane not purely out of their own laziness, but because there isnt education about letting cars in and coz the inside lane disappears into a left turn. Likewise HK has had few black immigrants til China made most things. And some may ignore foreigners as the fear the unknown (like being able to communicate).
That doesnt mean you should be overly sarcastic - Asia's world city is just gov marketing, and I wouldnt say Paris is a world city with its own racial problems, unemployment, arrogance and crime. You should also adjust your own expectations to the local culture and not seek to impose your ideas on others without understanding the past (both yours and the host country).
Sounds about right.
Sticks Evans
Boycott Hong Kong
You can also go back to US of A so you can shoot a black/hispanic guy for knocking on your door and say self defense. After all, aren't all Hispanics theives ????
Sticks Evans
Well. I don't own guns and don't believe in violence. But one thing is for sure. Where I come from you needed a gun permit to own a gun and you would do hard time if you shot someone for knocking on your door. You seem to think I am all white blood. Are you a racist?
Sticks Evans
What a joke.
Racism in Hong Kong is institutionalised and made worse by the fact that Chinese people are in total denial about its existence. If York Chow thinks HK is not the most racist society in the world, well I have news for him, it's pretty high up in the league table.
It starts in small children who at their parents' knee have bigotry instilled into them by hearing remarks, observing behaviour and attitudes and copying them. Hence the recent example of a Filipina domestic helper in HK Island who took her Chinese employer's 3 year old daughter to ballet class was told by the child she could not enter the school and wait inside because "BLACK people cannot come in." It is most significant that the mother of this child is middle class. This sort of thing is NOT rare. Just cast a glance at the racist statements by Chinese readers in SCMP comments and letters, they have not the slightest inkling they are being racist, they actually believe what they say!
Time to take a good hard look at yourselves in the mirror, Hongkies.
So you pickup on what 3 year old says as an example. So threatening. Hope school/education can save her and not be a brat to an enployee. Not yet like the teens with knives threatening the poor Indian/African kid in UK/Europe saying why dont you go home.
And institutionalised as in white S Africa which had support from Maggie Thatcher and the CIA?
You used Hongkies in a derogatory way. If you were in the elsewhere you would use ****? That would definitely be racist.
So much for looking in the mirror and not having an inkling of what they say about racism.
Just hate hypocrites like you. Makes me wanna say why dont you go home. Chinese now rich enough not to need white trash like you.
How do you assume I am white? "White Trash?" Who is the racist?
Unlike you, I believe every human being should be accepted for the person he/she is, and not according to their colour, race, ethnic origin or religion, but you use the word White trash. I am not the trash, you are for your bigotry.
sman - you are the racist and you are ignorant. Why don't you read some objective history, not the foul propaganda your Beijing masters spread to you.
If you tell me to go home, you filthy racist, then every other country should tell you to go home. Do you have a foreign passport, hypocrite?
There is yellow trash too. Yellow trash is one who treats our Filipina guest workers with contempt. Yellow trash is one who stereotypes and disparages South Asian Hong Kongers. Yellow trash is one who harbors rabid hatred for mainlanders. I can go on and on.
You're a frequent contributor to the opinion pages. Your blatant racism fulfills everyone's definition of white, or dirty white, trash.




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