Racism epidemic belies HK's reputation as Asia's world city

Updated: 2013-06-07 06:36

By Hong Liang (HK Edition)

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Hong Kong people are racist. It's good that we get reminded every now and then of our bigotry by reports and surveys of local and foreign research institutions.

The latest such reminders came from results of the World Values Survey, which, after adjusting for an earlier mistake, showed, among other things, 27 percent of the respondents said they don't wish to live near someone of a different race. If you still don't get what that means, listen to York Chow Yat-ngok, chairperson of Hong Kong's Equal Opportunity Commission.

In a commentary published in the South China Morning Post, Chow lamented the fact that more than a quarter of respondents said they do not want a neighbor of a different race. "This figure is unacceptably high" for a city that calls itself "Asia's world city," he wrote.

Anyone who has lived in other cities, particularly San Francisco, for some time would be shocked by the blatant display of racism by his/her fellow Hong Kong people. There are specific terms, mostly derogatory, referring to people of different ethnicity and creeds. They creep almost routinely into the conversations of Hong Kong people in homes, offices, cafes, buses, trains and subway cars.

Familiar racist jokes are told and retold until they are superseded by something even more offensive. Indeed, racism is never considered a social ill. For that reason, the issue which reflects badly on Hong Kong as an international business center has never been taken seriously by the government, educators, parents or social activists. The exceptionally high level of tolerance for racism and bigotry belies Hong Kong's reputation as an open city with a level-playing field for all.

Most Hong Kong people probably aren't aware of the built-in social and economic barriers against people of other races, especially those of darker skin color. Ethnic minorities still face "serious systemic barriers to equal opportunity in education and employment," wrote Chow. His organization in 2011 published a report on how the mainstream education system of Hong Kong has failed the majority of ethnic minority students, particularly in supporting them to master the Chinese language which is not their mother tongue.

Surprisingly, none of the Hong Kong schools provide instruction on Chinese as a second language to their ethnic minority students. This has greatly put those students at a disadvantage in qualifying for university admittance. A United Nations Human Rights Committee report in March noted that this education policy oversight has resulted in the under-representation of ethnic minorities in higher education in Hong Kong.

To address the issue, Chow recommended the introduction of "an alternative standardized Chinese-language curriculum and assessment framework for non-Chinese-speaking students to enable them to compete more fairly against native speakers."

Education is only part of the solution. To address the broad issue of racism and bigotry, as manifested in various local xenophobic comments and crude behavior directed at ethnic minority groups, recent immigrants and mainland visitors, Chow urged coordinated efforts by all segments of the society. "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 organizational codes of practice," Chow wrote.

Racism is indeed an epidemic that is rapidly spreading in Hong Kong. It's curable and everyone should make an effort in eradicating this scourge. We must have zero tolerance for racism.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 06/07/2013 page9)