White worship in Hong Kong: you can't end it if you refuse to acknowledge it even exists

Yonden Lhatoo says our former colonial rulers are light years ahead of us in tackling racism, while we still can't get over colour-coded notions of superiority

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

I was quite surprised by the amount of feedback I received on an article I wrote in this space recently about the colonial mentality in Hong Kong that continues to put white people on a pedestal even though British rule ended nearly two decades ago.

What was even more surprising was that almost all the negative responses were from Caucasian readers who completely missed the point I was making and ended up calling me a “racist”, “xenophobe” and some other unflattering names that cannot be published in a family newspaper.

Far from singling out the white minority for criticism, my article was actually a gentle admonishment to those among Hong Kong’s Chinese majority who still maintain biases based on epidermal pigmentation when hiring, engaging or interacting with fellow humans who may be black, white, yellow, brown or any shade in between.

I did not say: “White people are no good.” My message was: “Asian people can be just as good – or even better. Give everyone an equal chance.”

Ironically, nearly all the positive feedback came from Hong Kong Chinese people who appreciated my “guts” in bringing such a taboo subject out into the open in the mainstream media. They reaffirmed my conviction that this “slave” mindset is indeed prevalent in our city and it’s high time we consign it to the historical rubbish bin where it belongs.

To those who still have their heads buried in the sand, allow me to draw your attention to an interesting piece of news from the UK this week. Britain’s civil service and major companies such as HSBC have agreed to recruit university graduates without knowing their names in an effort to stop discrimination against ethnic minorities.

“Do you know that in our country today, even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get callbacks for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names?” British Prime Minister David Cameron said. “One young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews. That, in 21st-century Britain, is disgraceful.”

I’m no fan of our former colonial rulers, but let’s give them full credit for facing an ugly truth head-on and actually doing something about it. It’s the kind of enlightenment that you would expect in advanced societies. We in Hong Kong, by contrast, are light years away from that because of people who won’t even acknowledge there is a problem.

Since I’ve already stirred up a hornet’s nest over this matter, I might as well add another observation that will probably sting a bit. The situation in Hong Kong is actually worse than I had imagined. Some of those emails sent to me in private had shocking anecdotes about the amount of white worship that goes on in this city.

It’s not only limited to hiring and firing people, from waiters to tutors to top executives. It’s prevalent in school children being picked for sports teams and the choice of partners in romantic relations as well.

I had best stop here before I’m accused of fomenting racial hatred and sectarianism, which is certainly not my intention.

But in parting, let me share this message posted by a reader on our website that I found both amusing and encouraging: “Yonden, some pro-colonial slaves are trying to have you silenced for all your previous taboo talk about racism, which they so intelligently correlate with being pro-Beijing. They are desperate and will diss everything you write from now on. So what will you do? Keep writing stuff that p****s them off? Yes, my thoughts exactly.”

Thank you, kind sir. I suppose I will. And to quote just one more gentle reader: “Now bring on the butthurt!”