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  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 12:30pm
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

johndoe
Oh how cute, SCMP is trying to defend themselves publishing a fradulent study with this type of opinion piece. Instead SCMP should apologize to all HK people for their "racism" smear campaign. This all smells political to me. The greater agenda is of course, that if they are "racist", they need more control and totalitarian laws and uncontrolled immigration to be "taught a lesson" in how to be "tolerant".
sontan0917
it is very true that hong kong chinese are very racist. one of the example is of taxis the taxi never stops for ethnic minority but for chinese they stop even in the middle of the road.
newgalileo
Very well said and analyzed. Racism is everywhere around the world but I feel Chinese people can be really a bit (more) racist, certainly including Hong Kong people. We white people are "still OK" but the darker the skin, the more distant attitude. In Beijing we also notice racism but in different forms and changing over time. Black people are the usual "victims" but as usual we need to take into account how some of them act: quite a number deal in drugs, are a bit too interested in local girls. But others integrate very well and earn the respect of locals. Quite interesting to note how Chinese girls are changing their attitude towards "black" people: more accepted than before.
caractacus
So quite a number of 'black people' deal in drugs and are take an interest in local girls? Are you talking about Beijing or Hong Kong? In Beijing it seems that Africans are prominent in selling drugs, but not so in HK. Statistics show that 80% of the world's heroin traffickers in the 1980's and 1990's were HK Chinese. And why can't they take an interest in local girls? Is it because you think they are inferior?
johnyuan
The idea ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. ‘ in christen faith or ‘Within the four seas, all men are brothers’ of Confucius teaching while all have been around for over centuries, we are mostly still struggling to behave accordingly. As much these ideas must have urgently conceived to counter our innate survival instinct in being discriminatory against who aren’t us. Hong Kong suffers an acute institutionalized prejudice. People are divided by race, ethnicity and region, schools are divided into bands, and housing is willfully differentiated by location for the poor from the wealthy. While the third class ferry ride has gone, the rest persisted since the colonial days. The fact that Hong Kong Chinese inhabitants were greatly discriminated for over half a century under the British rule, the prejudice practice becomes an inerasable inheritance. The discriminated becomes the discriminator.
**
More so, giving the difficulty in extricating from our innate behavior, a society must institute law against discrimination at least by race, ethnicity, region or ability. Here I must say US has done the most. Hong Kong should do the same.
**
Not to belittle of Dr. York‘s contribution in this article and his work, Hong Kong must have law against discrimination to remove prejudice. Equal Opportunities Commission is vastly insufficient to do the job. Neither the pulpit nor classroom has succeeded.

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