Racist street names should be changed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2009, 12:00am

If language is the conduit for thought, then derogatory terms are the expressions of deep-seated prejudice. People are forever calling other people names because they are different. Minorities in many communities are usually the targets. Racial prejudice may become so ingrained that street names come to bear racist or derogatory terms.

The most well-known example in Hong Kong is probably Mo Lo Miu Gai, the Chinese name for Mosque Street in Mid-Levels. Three other streets also bear the same derogatory phrase mo lo, which comes from mo lo cha, a racist Cantonese expression for Indians, Pakistanis and other South Asians.

While these street names date back to more than a century, times have changed. We like to think of ourselves as living in a more enlightened age. It is time to change their Chinese names to eliminate any racial overtone. As an international city, it is unbecoming to have such street names.

However, officials and district representatives have been reluctant to make changes. They argue there have been few complaints and no grass-roots campaign waged to change them. Their long-standing usage also means that any change would cause confusion and disruption. That may be true, but any inconvenience and problems are likely to be minor because the streets are small neighbourhood paths rather than major roads.

Another argument against change is that the racist element in the phrase has diminished over time. Caucasians in Hong Kong have long had to suffer the indignity of being called gweilo. And while many still take offence, others no longer do so.

The word gweilo is still commonly used, but mo lo cha is not a common expression any more.

If its usage is going out of fashion, then it's all for the best. We should not perpetuate its currency by maintaining those street names. This is not a matter of being politically correct, but a demonstration of respect for one's neighbours and fellow citizens who have contributed much to making Hong Kong a success story.