Blowing Water

Racism should never be normalised, and we all have a responsibility to speak out to put racists in their place

  • We cannot treat racist behaviour lightly and to dismiss it as a joke is no defence, Luisa Tam says
  • Recent events such as an airline passenger’s racist rant and comments made by a Chinese businessman in Kenya have brought the issue into sharp focus
PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 5:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 8:49pm

A friend once asked me to view a flat he intended to rent on his behalf because he said the property agent seemed reluctant to deal with non-Chinese ethnic minorities.

I went along and found out that it was in fact the property owner who did not want to rent the place out to non-Chinese, except Caucasians; my friend was an Arab.

So when I read a recent article in this newspaper detailing the prevalence of everyday racism in Hong Kong and the unpleasant experiences many non-Chinese ethnic minorities have to go through on a daily basis, I was not too surprised.

This appears to be an everyday occurrence in Hong Kong, such as when a taxi driver refuses to take a passenger who is a Pakistani or black, when restaurant staff treat an Indonesian woman rudely, or a shopkeeper calls an Indonesian a thief.

One of the problems is that many of us tend to treat these incidents as normal and dismiss them as just “Hongkongers being Hongkongers because they are rude”. We should never normalise antisocial behaviours, especially the lack of consideration or even harmful actions that affect the well-being of others.

This isn’t just a problem in Hong Kong though; I recently viewed a video of a Caucasian man verbally abusing an elderly black woman sitting in the same row near him on a budget airline flight from Barcelona to London. Sadly, nobody on the flight stood up for the woman and stopped the abuser’s racist tirade until minutes later when a passenger a row behind stepped in.

The abuser later apologised but excused himself by saying “it’s just a fit of temper at the time.”

It is clear that the abuser was trying to normalise his racist behaviour as something he did on the spur of the moment. If we accept his excuse, does that mean we should excuse any racist behaviour done in the heat of the moment?

Racism is like a virus; everyone is exposed to it at some point in their life; some can fight it off while some unfortunately succumb to it. It is also contagious, so do not let it take hold and allow anti-racial behaviour to become normal.

Back in the 1980s, when I walked down the streets in Hong Kong with my girlfriend Maggie, who was British-Jamaican, people were often in awe of her appearance, but sometimes for far less malicious reasons. She bore a strong resemblance to US singer Grace Jones, who is also of Jamaican descent, because she wore the signature Jones short, boxy afro hair.

When you see incidents of racist abuse, don’t be a bystander, do something to stop it

However, there were a fair share of people who would just gawk at her. Even worse, some would occasionally call her hak gwai, which translates as “black ghost”. I would always confront them, tell them off for their racist vitriol, and demand an apology, but Maggie would always try to stop me and tell me to laugh it off and let it go.

We cannot treat racist behaviour lightly and to dismiss it as a joke is no defence. But the argument over whether jokes that exemplify racial stereotypes are racist or they promote racism is another story.

Another example is the recent deportation of a Chinese businessman from Kenya, where the man was conducting his business. He was expelled from the country after a video showed him making a string of racist remarks against the locals. He called every Kenyan, including the President Uhuru Kenyatta, “monkey people” and said they smelled bad, were poor, foolish, and black.

After his abusive comments were exposed on social media, his work permit was swiftly cancelled, and he was deported on racism grounds, and rightly so.

The same treatment should have been meted out to the racist air passenger. We know what racist behaviour is, so we don’t need the law to tell us what to do to stamp out this harmful antisocial behaviour. The racist air passenger should have been booted off the plane, or at least removed from his seat. But instead, airline staff relocated the victim elsewhere on the plane.

Where do you stand in racist Hong Kong? Here’s something to chew over

When you see incidents of racist abuse, don’t be a bystander, do something to stop it. If you think it is an unpleasant experience to witness it, can you imagine the feeling of the person on the receiving end? Speak out and step up to put racists in their place, because doing nothing will send a dangerous message that society condones what they do. Additionally, letting such abhorrent behaviour take place makes one just as complicit.

Racists and bigots need to be called out time and again. We all have a responsibility to stop racism whenever it rears its ugly head, so that we can set a strong and moral example for future generations.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post