Racism in Hong Kong exists both subtly and overtly. Here, we’re sharing experiences from people who have faced racism first-hand, in the hope we can throw some light on how even small comments or actions can have a negative impact.
Whether it’s people not sitting next to you on public transport or even people un-matching instantly on dating apps,the minute they know your ethnicity, racism in Hong Kong is something very real. I get that it exists all over the globe, but I want to use our platform to open up more of a discussion on how we can improve the situation for those of us that face this on a regular. I’m diving into this topic to explain my point of view and to highlight experiences from the Honeycombers community, and I’d love to hear your feedback, so feel free to reach out directly at: [email protected] Now, let’s get to the point.
Words are important: let’s talk about the label ethnic minority
Born in India, I grew up in Hong Kong, spent all my life here, and it’s the place I call home. I went to local schools. I’ve faced the same pressures of entering the workforce as everyone else from Hong Kong, and I have often been forced to take lower pay than my international colleagues. I’ve pretty much experienced life in the same way as most Hong Kongers. I just don’t look the part because of my skin colour and, well, my Cantonese is only at a basic level (honestly, I was never taught this properly in school.)
For those of us of South Asian descent that grew up here, we ask, why the need to differentiate us and label us as ethnic minorities? Because the connotation of the term comes along with underlying messages of being uneducated, lazy, or dirty – all unnecessary discriminations. Why not be inclusive and call us locals too? The minute we hear ourselves fall into the group of ethnic minorities, we feel marginalised and we feel like our contributions to the society don’t matter as much because we are, after all, mere minorities.
Real estate: allow me to explain
When my family was moving apartments a couple of months back, we hit up many real estate agents. They’d straight-up ask our family of four about our ethnicity and when we’d say Indian, 99.9% of the time, the follow-up question was: Will you be cooking curry?
Like yes, it’s our food?! What kind of question is this? Is this a standard question when it comes to renting an apartment because I carried out a strawpoll with a selection of colleagues and friends from other parts of the world and nobody else has ever been asked this.
We’d see nice flats and get turned by the landlords because of our ethnicity and the food we eat (apparently it gives off an unpleasant odour). If we were to contact five property agencies, at least three would turn us down. Ask this to any South Asian that had to deal with renting an apartment in Hong Kong and you’ll hear it for yourself. Though agents may take this as a simple protocol, we on the receiving end, however, feel this treatment to be unnecessary and discriminatory. Call it racism or call it microaggression; either way it doesn’t feel good.
Experiences with racism in Hong Kong
Of course, it’s not just my family and I who have to deal with racism in Hong Kong. One of our followers on Instagram reached out to us with this story.
“This happened around last December. I was just walking my dog, and this man had such a problem with me. He called me a bitch multiple times, even called my dog ugly, and proceeded to scream: “Go back to your country!” to my face. He continued making threatening hand gestures, I yelled for help and other people just walked past us. I was scared for my life, and I had to call the police.”
– K.L., a lady living in Hong Kong for almost three years now.
“I have travelled and lived in countless cities across the globe for over 25 years; Hong Kong is where I feel the most racism. Each time I leave my apartment, I’m aware of it, this constant feeling of being watched by the police. It has only gotten worse since the protests. They follow me for a few minutes and then tap me on the shoulder asking for my ID card, they will search whatever bag I have and pat me down.
“Sometimes I think ‘Maybe they won’t ask, they’re just walking past’. But I’ve been stopped twice in one day. I’m unbelievably tired of it, not to mention the embarrassment of being stopped on the streets, and being victimised for these degrading searches.”
-Ed, a photographer from the Philippines who has been in and out of Hong Kong since 1997 after migrating to Australia at the age of 10.
Our hopes for the future
For a better future, we have to set aside biases and prejudices, and to do that, we all need to communicate more. I challenge everyone to put aside any preconceived prejudices they have. It doesn’t take too much effort to learn more about one and another.
If you don’t feel you can directly communicate with an individual, you can attend cultural events and learn more about different cultures. You can go to a nearby mosque or temple and simply take a brochure that explains religious practices. You don’t even need to leave your house. You can read up on stories from pages like United Colours of Hong Kong, where local Hong Kongers of different ethnicities share about their lives.
This isn’t about pointing the finger or placing blame. I will always be thankful to my local friends for their curiosity to learn more about my culture, not treating me differently, and helping me order food at cha chaan tengs (important stuff!)
I’m also grateful for all the nice security guards I’ve had throughout my life here, they really are the sweetest people! And getting random compliments from ladies at the market is oh so heart-warming. There have been times when random strangers have stood up for my mother (who can’t communicate in Cantonese) and helped her translate. It’s not all doom and gloom, people.
My hope for the future is a more inclusive Hong Kong. Time and time again, we just need to remind each other that we’re more similar than different.