Racial taunting must not be tolerated

Alice Wu says those responsible for the racial taunts against Filipino fans at a recent football match must be found and penalised

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 3:35am

When a bus full of Hong Kong tourists was taken hostage and eight of them were killed in Manila three years ago, the local community was shocked. Watching the tragedy unfold on the television screen was traumatic, and left us feeling outraged yet helpless.

A backlash was to be expected. After the crisis, I wrote about the need to rein in any feelings of superiority - turning into collective anger - towards domestic helpers and people of Filipino origin in Hong Kong.

We might have felt helpless as we watched the incompetent law enforcement agencies in Manila bungle their attempt to save the hostages, but we need not be helpless when it comes to our response to it. We have a choice - we can turn anger into hate, then act on it. Or we can be empowered by tragedy to examine our immediate reactions and thoughts, and be better people because of it.

When an international football match between Hong Kong and the Philippines at Mong Kok stadium last week turned ugly, with Hong Kong football fans hurling racial abuse, obscene gestures and bottles and other objects at fans of the opposing team, it was painfully evident that some of us have allowed unchecked prejudice to get the better of us.

No matter how one tries to sugar-coat racism - as one fan pathetically attempted to do by suggesting that the shameful behaviour stemmed from the ill-feelings between Hong Kong and the Philippines over the 2010 tragedy - there can be no excuse for it.

Screaming "You're all just slaves" is beyond inappropriate - illegal, in fact, under the Race Discrimination Ordinance. Inciting hatred and ridiculing people because of their race is wrong. Throwing objects at men, women and children is assault, or at the very least threatening harm. And no matter how one tries to exonerate that sort of behaviour, these objects were thrown with the intention of causing bodily harm. In the Mong Kok stadium gone mad last week, they amounted to racially motivated hate crimes.

It is baffling that the Hong Kong Football Association refused to take action on the basis that it hadn't received any complaints. The excuse of turning a blind eye makes the association an accomplice, condoning behaviour that is obviously humiliating and harmful.

What occurred last week was a real slap in the face for Hong Kong, for all the vitriol caused by the misinterpreted World Values Survey data reported last month by The Washington Post. If you were offended by the accusation that Hong Kong was one of the least racially tolerant cities in the world, we now have these hateful hooligans to thank for demonstrating unadulterated intolerance.

The loss of eight innocent lives that summer evening in 2010 didn't happen so that some people can find legitimacy in bigotry. That tragedy should have been a reminder to all of the fragility of life in the face of hate. And in the wake of this most disgraceful episode in "Asia's World City", the most important task now is to make the perpetrators face the legal consequences of their actions.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA