How did Hong Kong score on racial equality and inclusion in 2022?
As we begin a brand new year, I wish to pause and look back at the year gone by specifically from a racial equality and inclusion lens. Race has continued to be a big topic worldwide spurred by events in 2020 with governments and the corporate sector in many parts of the world introducing more policies and measures to combat racism.
Hong Kong, of course, cannot be unaffected by these global winds. However, its impact and therefore the counter measures have not been as significant, both in the private and public sector. As the head of the city’s equality watchdog that keeps an eye on race related discrimination issues, let me share how I think Hong Kong has done in this area.
Some of the positive developments I sense around me through observations and interactions with diverse communities is the changing profile of youth from backgrounds typically considered underprivileged. Data seems to suggest that more local non-Chinese youth are getting into tertiary education. While some of them may still face hurdles in getting into their course of choice primarily owing to language proficiency requirements, definitely having a tertiary qualification improves their employability.
The other subtle change I see is the increasing awareness and vocalisation of race and identity issues among youth from local non-Chinese communities, thanks in no small measure to social media platforms and worldwide trends. There is also growing expression of their dual identity. In a study carried out by MWYO, a youth-based independent think-tank, released in December 2022, 60% of respondents aged 12-17 from disadvantaged ethnic minority communities identified themselves as “Hong Kong people/Chinese” or as “ethnic identity + Hong Kong/Chinese”.
On the policy side, it was good to see ethnic minorities included in measures aimed at dealing with mental health, an issue of growing prominence. The proposal in the 2022 Policy Address to “set up a service centre on a trial basis to provide emotional support and counselling for ethnic minorities” is a welcome response to calls from the community.
Coming to the work yet to be done, there is a single word that sums up the challenge to racial inclusion in Hong Kong: Bias. As any expert will tell you, the starting point of discrimination is bias, whether implicit or explicit. Bias, if left unchallenged, can lead to prejudice, stereotyping and ultimately discrimination.
The Covid pandemic exacerbated discrimination against racial minorities, be they food delivery workers, domestic helpers or others. The findings of a survey among food delivery workers by Lingnan University and Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers found that half of the ethnic minority interviewees had encountered discrimination including “racially aggressive acts”.
Media plays an important role in shaping our views. It also wields considerable power in creating and promoting stereotypes. While the prejudicial and stereotypical portrayal of domestic workers in a local TV show is indicative of the need for more cultural awareness and sensitivity, the heated public response it generated is a sign of progress. Comments critical of racial bias and stereotypes in media representation from across the board signal the changed audience sentiment from decades ago. Culturally insensitive materials will bring harm to the image and reputation of a media organisation.
At the same time, with regards to online news media, a research project by City University of Hong Kong and funded by the EOC found that it may not be the news articles themselves but more so reader comments that tended to contain racial bias, stereotypes and discriminatory language. Though not an alarming proportion, the research concludes that the data is indicative of unfriendly public opinion towards ethnic minorities. Online media platforms must take steps to ensure they do not become an echo chamber for racial hatred.
The first step towards combatting bias is to build awareness. This includes awareness about one’s own biases, one’s own cultural identity as well as others’. Once you build up cultural awareness, you can move to the next step of inculcating cultural sensitivity. This is defined as understanding that there are different cultural similarities and differences without assigning a value to them such as “good” or “bad”.
In order to promote inclusion, we need to see many more local non-Chinese faces in the public arena. Not just on billboards and government announcements, but also in frontline public services and mainstream occupations. The more this becomes commonplace, the more we root out the “othering” that tends to happen. This will help combat the majoritarian mindset, and also boost the sense of belonging of the non-Chinese population to Hong Kong.
As the city opens its doors and welcomes the world back in, we must live up to our image as an international city, a melting pot with historical diversity as part of its very fabric. Here’s hoping for true progress towards an equal and inclusive Hong Kong in the new year.
A version of the article appeared in SCMP on 23 January 2023.