On racism in Hong Kong

Below is an article from the South China Morning Post last month. In my experience, language is a barrier to entry regardless of where you may be. If you are a tourist, you are treated as an exception as long as you are polite in the process of asking for directions or advice. There are reasons why areas unofficially designated as being for ‘locals’, not tourists.

An expectation that someone will treat you like a princess just because you are a foreigner is misguided and self-centered. This could be further drawn out to arrogant customers of restaurants who expect top-class treatment simply because they are footing the bill.

The article below highlights only some of the issues that Alex Lo identifies with. However, Lo makes the mistake of proudly announcing four points: he was raised in a ‘local’ ‘Chinese’ ‘middle-class’ ‘family’. Local and Chinese implies that he is from Hong Kong, not China, and that he is not a foreigner => he grew up here. Middle-class implies that he may have had an education better than yours, thereby he is better than you. And family, well, the list goes on.

Unfortunately for Lo, he fails to follow through with his points on racism in the city. By simply identifying the manner by which many of these ‘arrogant Brits’ continue to behave at ‘top clubs’, who is to blame? His previous articles available on the SCMP website tend to contradict one another: about equity of education in Hong Kong, why Hong Kong has no future if they retain the current aura of localism, why Hong Kong needs the English language to remain an integral part of culture.

Is Hong Kong a racist society?

For the longest time, as a member of a local Chinese middle-class family, I didn’t think we were. Sure, I grew up with the occasional unpleasant encounters with some arrogant Brits when the Crown still ruled Hong Kong. But I didn’t think my race and class – in short my kind – could be discriminating systematically against other minorities.

But we do. Just read the news. Seventy per cent of kindergartens interview applicants and print written materials only in Chinese, thereby effectively cutting off minorities who don’t know the language. Banks’ treatment of customers from ethnic minorities have got so bad that the Equal Opportunities Commission has started helping to train frontline staff on local anti-discrimination laws.

Meanwhile, it’s common knowledge that many landlords and real estate agents refuse to provide service or lease flats to people with an ethnic background.

There are 30-plus schools subsidised by the government that cater specifically to children of ethnic minorities. Why?

Though this government has stepped up Chinese-language training to help those students integrate into local schools and universities, initial assessment of the language-training programme has not been encouraging. It’s beginning to look more like window dressing than a real attempt at ending this de facto apartheid at the heart of our education system.

Some of our top clubs bar foreign domestic helpers from accessing areas reserved for members, even if they have to take care of children going to swimming pools or attending gyms. When you are in the dominant majority, you don’t notice these things and can ignore them, even if they present themselves to you. You speak English and Putonghua and you think the city is like you too, cosmopolitan and international. But we are not.

Some of our outright racism has been transformed into native xenophobia against mainland visitors, though we deny it’s racist because mainlanders are Chinese too. We have more bigots among us than we care to admit. The path to change first requires at least recognition of the problem, but we are not even there yet.

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