racial discrimination

Hong Kong minorities ‘marginalised’ in school

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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are “marginalised” by the education system, says a university study.

It found children of minority families do not get enough support to learn Cantonese – putting them behind in school and causing long-term problems in the jobs market.

Read the whole story on BBC News here.

Hong Kong: Racism or ignorance?

I have learned a lot since the last post on racism in Hong Kong, having filmed and interviewed many great people. Time to empty my head…

Fortunately for me, I got to chill out with the ‘Sikhs in the City‘, the first HK-born Indian Dragon Boat Race team. Team leader Gurmeet Singh expressed their excitement at getting to take part in something that even his Father’s generation hadn’t. Anyone watching (and many people did) as the 12 Punjabi men switched seemlessly between Punjabi and Cantonese (and English to speak to me), could plainly see how someone can be both Indian AND Hongkongnese. And the people around them really seemed to appreciate them (at least on Cheung Chau they did).

Punjabi Hong Kong dragon boat team

We sat to eat an array of Chinese seafood dishes. And the irony was that I (with a Chinese appearance) was the only one struggling with chopsticks. Funnily enough I prefer to eat with my hands (as I learned from my South Asian friends), but they were at home being Chinese. They didn’t even squirm at the heads left on the friend pigeons. But as they conversed with the waitress in Cantonese, I saw how everything changes when the language barrier disappears.

Language/Education

The opportunity to learn Cantonese properly, is something that every single person I have interviewed has said is is dire need for ethnic minorities. Schools are currently one of two groups, English-medium or Cantonese-medium. But EM children tend to fall behind in Cantonese-medium schools, as their parents are unable to help them properly with schoolwork at home. Those who study in English-medium schools then lack Chinese writing skills, an excuse for many employers to refuse them a job.

Professor John Erni from Lingnan University says that children in Hong Kong also need to be taught about different cultures and religions from a young age, and that it should be a part of the curriculum. And he agrees with Fermi Wong (UNISON) that there is a need for Chinese-as-a-second-language curriculum, that would give ethnic minorities more emphasis on Cantonese.

Legislative councillor Margaret Ng says that the possibility of this happening though, is not looking good. Though she agrees that it would be something beneficial, the government doesn’t want to invest money into this kind of thing.

Racism legislation

In 2008, the Race Discrimination Bill (later the Race Discrimination Ordinance) became the first of it’s kind, as a law protecting people from racism. I had the chance of interviewing Margaret Ng, the Chairlady of the Committee who wrote the Race Discrimination Ordinance. As she said herself, there are many flaws in it, but it is good to get the anti-racism ball rolling in Hong Kong.

The very influential and inspirational lawyer and businessman, Vijay Harilela, says that the major wrong of the ordinance was that it didn’t originally apply to government activities. This meant that the civil service, the police force and the immigration department (among others) were lawfully allowed to discriminate on the grounds of race. But the government eventually followed the UN’s advice and took that clause out.

The ordinance offers no protection against religious discrimination. This is a problem for the Sikhs, many of whom are discriminated for wearing the turban. One man. Kardar Singh, who I met in Khalsa Diwan Gurdwara in Happy Valley told me that his son had been rejected from a school for his head-wear, although his grades were very good. The Christian College, YMCA Tung Chung, has responded by saying that their admission depends on a number of criteria, including conduct, grades and extra-curricular activities, and not on religious persuasion.

Batra Singh, a teacher at the Gurdwara, explained that the narrow-mindedness in Hong Kong is leading many Sikhs to cut their hair and stop wearing a turban.  These are two of the most important symbols in the Sikh Faith, and cutting one’s hair is considered very serious. Many fear the disappearance of their Sikh and Punjabi culture.

True citizens?

The RDO is clear that it has no affect on citizenship, nationality or naturalisation laws. This makes it easy for the immigration to decide who gets a HK passport or not based on their ethnic group. Let’s be clear here. All people born in HK can get a Hong Kong ID. That is what guarantees them to their basic entitlements. But let’s say they want to travel, those who weren’t lucky enough to get a British passport after the handover, have to use the passport of their parents’ countries. And travelling with a HK passport is a million times easier than travelling with an Indian passport, for example.

The Chinese Nationality Law says that to have a HK passport, one must fulfil a number of criteria, though they don’t have to fulfil every single one. But it is still up to the immigration office to decide, depending on their mood it seems, whether someone is eligible. Some criteria, such as having to have Chinese family members, seem ridiculous for a Pakistani family, for example. And why should a person born in HK have to earn a certain amount before they’re considered a proper citizen? Can you imagine that in the UK?

Don’t get me wrong. There are many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, some who haven’t even been there that long, who have been able to get a HK passport. But some, like Phillip Khan, whose family has been in Hong Kong for 97 years (that’s longer than many Chinese people have even been in HK), is having trouble getting one. Because of this, he is denied his right of standing for legislative election, something he wishes to do. Hong Kong is his country, and he long to feel a ‘part of the family’.

Plain racism

My friend Ramos, who is Nigerian, and his lovely local Chinese wife had their wedding at Central city hall. As beautiful as their love for each other was, the day was dampened by the sour-faced coldness of the minister who married them, and even the girl’s parents. At the moment they kissed, the minister didn’t even try to hide her look of disgust. That certainly wasn’t ignorance. She has seen many mixed couples pass through the city hall, you’d think she’d be used to it by now.

Hong Kong people just don’t want to learn about other cultures. They can’t even be bothered to take time to learn about their Filipina or Indonesian domestic workers, who live with them. Gurcharan Singh agrees. “Chinese people don’t care about anything that is not Chinese”, he says. He expressed his disbelief at his old boss who he worked with for over 10 years before she finally asked him if he was Pakistani or Indian.

Ravi Gidumal says that there are elements within Chinese culture that promote the thinking that Chinese people are superior. The Chinese word for China “Zhong Guo” means the “middle” or “central land”, a term which is China-centric. And terms like “Gwai Lo” used to describe white people have become a part of every language in Hong Kong, despite their derogatory origins. A society that allows this is bound to foster a racist attitude.

Some would argue that Hong Kong has only been independent since 1997, and so hasn’t had the time to adapt to multiculturalism yet. John Erni says HK people went from being third-class citizens under British rule, to being the main group again.

Changing attitudes

Many of the people I interviewed were sure that Hong Kong has changed a lot since the handover. It is getting better they said, mixed race marriages are becoming normal. Gary and Loretta Sharma have been married for 28 years. they say people used to look at them funny on the underground, but now thing are better. “Only the uneducated people are still racist”, says Loretta, a local Chinese lady. Their office in TST is a perfect mix of Indian and Chineseness, as are their children.

Former district councillor Gary Ahuja had a simple philosophy about racial relations in Hong Kong. He says, “if you are nice to people, they are nice to you.” Dialogue is the most important thing to lower barriers between people. Talking to someone in the lift, he explained, is were we start. He thinks organising events that share cultures and get different ethnicities together are the key to tackling racism.

Jeffrey Andrews, a local Indian, agrees. He coaches the Christian Action refugee football team, hailing from Yemen to Somalia, and arranges friendly matches between them and local Chinese teams. He believes football has no language, and so helps form a bond between people regardless of where they’re from. At half time, they talk a bit about where they come from. A step in the right direction.

Gurmel Singh teaches groups of students who visit the Gurdwara about Sikhism and the meaning of the turban and keeping their hair, in the hope that educating people will help HK become more tolerant.

Christian Action football team and local Chinese team

Most of the people I asked said that educating people about other cultures and teaching ethnic minorities Cantonese from a young age are the major hurdles for eradicating racism. But sadly, these seem like the least likely changes to happen in the near future. NGOs like Christian Action are stretching their facilities to try and help EMs out with their Cantonese schoolwork. And with the threat of a national curriculum on the horizon from the mainland, schools with sufficient EM populations, such as Delia Memorial, will struggle to support their students.

Initial thoughts on HK’s ethnic relations

A bus drives by, splashed with intense bursts of colour. The words “Hong Kong: Asia’s World City” written across it’s side in gigantic lettering. Little do tourists know how unlike a world city it can sometimes act. Most people glide in and out of the city, without noticing the ethnic tension that exists there. But for those who stay in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hung Hom or similar areas, the multicultural face of Hong Kong is much clearer…and after a while, so is the tension.

Another day, I was sitting in Starbucks getting my daily dose of caffeine, when I noticed a plaque on the wall saying “We love diversity.” Then I looked around the room at the staff. And I couldn’t think what they meant for the life of me. It certainly couldn’t have been ethnic diversity they meant, because everyone there was Chinese.

Ethnic tensions

Having only been here for 5 days, I have already seen and experienced a number of racist incidents. The ethnic tensions in Hong Kong actually became even more apparent to me this time. Because now even I, as an Asian-looking person with a stark British accent, was beginning to be treated differently by both Chinese and Non-Chinese locals.

In the Indian supermarket, I gathered some paneer and spices in my basket and put them on the counter to pay. Somehow, standing directly in front and in plain sight of the lady behind the counter, I must have been invisible. Because she neither looked at me once, nor acknowledged my existence as she continued to speak in Punjabi another customer. I subtly but politely pushed my basket forward a bit, so that she might notice I was ready to pay.

Then a man pushed straight past me (I must have been invisible to him too), and put his items on the counter. The lady took his money and off he went. And all this time, she happened to be looking everywhere apart from at me. Finally, after every single other person in the shop had paid, she let me. I won’t even mention the part where the other shop lady swore at me in Punjabi, thinking I didn’t understand, because that would be too long-winded.

Documenting discrimination

I will be making a documentary about the dynamics of Hong Kong’s ethnic tensions through the life of HK-born Indian Jeffrey Andrews. Along with the other characters, his journey will explore the inequalities in the education system, job prospects and in prejudice in Hong Kong society in general. This video gives some idea of the kind of discrimination that happens.

Throughout the making of my documentary about racism in HK, I will be literally emptying my mind out into this blog. Watch this space for musings, rants and developments about my project. Anybody with opinions about this topic, please comment.

Racism issues at the forefront of British Media

Racism is becoming a part of everyday dialogue in Britain. The stories that have made the headlines are making us aware of the problems at hand, but are racial relations getting better in the UK?

Britain is a multicultural country, a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. But economic hardship, a majorly biased Media, and general ignorance cause relations that were already tense to be strained even further.

The 23-year old Indian student Anuj Bidve, who was shot dead in Salford, is the most recent victim of racial discrimination in the UK. And 18 years after Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death just for being black, his racist killers have finally been sentenced. Debate continues over the Metropolitan Police’s disproportionate number of stop and searches of black youths, which may have led to London’s violence in the summer of 2011.

The issue of race has even become a serious topic in the world of Sports. The Commons culture committee, made up of MPs, is set to start its inquiry into racism in Sport following the increasing number of racism allegations against key sports figures. England captain John Terry is currently still being investigated for allegedly shouting racist remarks at Anton Ferdinand.

A recent survey carried out by thinktank British Future and the Observer newspaper found that people living in Britain who were not born there identify as strongly with Britain as those who are British-born. But the YouTube sensation ‘racist tram lady’, from South London, whose racist ranting has split opinion among Brits online, has renewed the bigoted idea that non-white people can’t be British. The most disturbing thing is that some people agree with what she said on the tram.

The Daily Mail and the Sun continue feed the general public with anti-Immigration propaganda, giving the impression that it is foreigners who are ‘stealing our jobs.’ The previously mentioned Observer survey also found that British people feel that people born outside of the UK, who reside in Britain, are having negative influences on crime levels, the availability of housing and jobs and the National Health Service. Yet, they did admit that those born outside Britain were having a positive influence on the Food Industry. Not surprising considering that most Brits see curry as their national dish.

As unemployment, funding cuts and a threatening recession strain the country further, and the Olympics just around the corner, the coming summer could prove a difficult and tense time for Britain. 2011 saw the Student protests, the London riots and the ‘Occupy’ movement. The last thing London needs during its year in the light of the Olympic torch is a repeat of last year’s civil disobedience and a discontented citizenry. Changes need to be made.

Article also published here: http://www.wespeaknews.com/world/racism-issues-at-the-forefront-of-british-media-15081.html

What has the world come to when people agree with racist tram lady?

When people commenting on the youtube video of the ‘racist tram lady‘ and agree with her, it makes you wonder what kind of world are we living in?

It is one thing that a woman with a child on her lap spurts racism on a tram. That I have already responded to in a previous post.

But when some of those commenting on the incident can see where she’s coming from? Now that’s scary.

Fellow blogger Rae on ‘I’m a diva nerd’ wrote a commendable post in response to Emma West’s rant titled ‘An open letter to Emma West, the racist on the tram.’

But some of the comments the post received were quite shockingly outrageous! One bigot by the name of Bill commented, “If we were given the choice, we would not now be a multi-cultural country.”

It gets worse. He later said, “the British destroyed the NATIVE Indians and their land, and now we British and our land are being destroyed.”

“I think it can be blamed on a general degeneration of society, which immigration has contributed towards,” he commented.

Rae managed to bounce back with further comments in the debate. But to know that people in Britain still truly believe this kind of thing is true makes me and like-minded people uneasy.

A youtube user SeekTheSeventh said, “I can’t decide which is better, the fact she said what millions others are think or her face at the end of the video.”

And SeekTheSeventh might be right. We don’t know how many people think this way. People who are polite to our faces, and are internally cursing our existence?

Possibly the most shocking of all, and most probably a BNP/EDL member, was this one by youtube user rcfdx:

“IMMIGRATION IS OUT OF CONTROL.

– DEPORT all the two million plus who are here illegally;

– DEPORT all those who commit crimes and whose original nationality was not British

– REVIEW all recent grants of residence or citizenship to ensure they are still appropriate

– OFFER grants to those of foreign descent resident here who wish to leave permanently

– STOP all new immigration except for exceptional cases

– REJECT ALL asylum seekers/NIGGERS who passed safe countries on their way to Britain”.

I don’t think I need to mention how wrong the ‘N’ word is, but as for the rest of the comment, it sounds like a BNP and EDL manifesto. It fails to recognise that people in need do come to the UK for a safe place to stay and genuinely do so. It also marks people like myself (those of foreign descent resident here), though born in the UK, as foreigners. What would happen to the UK if what this person wanted actually happened? It would fall apart.

Anyone who dares to pretend that this kind of ranting is expressing one’s right to ‘freedom of speech‘ must be clinically insane. This is outright racism, and it is illegal. Fingers crossed that the police don’t let this one slip. An example has to be made of the ‘racist tram lady’, to show others like her that they are wrong.

Correction: SeekTheSeventh had not intended the comment to agree with the ‘racist tram lady’. They in fact had wanted to express the opposite. Thanks for emailing me.

From one Brit to another: response to ‘racist tram lady’

Tram Lady,

Firstly, I am British. If I were on that tram when you were performing your bigoted speech, you probably would have shouted “and you’re not English either, are ya?” at me too. But I was born and brought up in Kent.

Personally, I still consider those who have lived in the UK for a while, and who have become a part of our society, as fellow Brits. But there is no argument when it comes to whether people like me (non-white Brits) are British or not. Of course we are.

I love MY Britain. A Britain which is decades ahead of where your conscience seems to be stuck. Today’s Britain is trying to be and should be a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds, that combine to make a strong and active nation. But thanks to people like you, it’s impossible to unite.

What have you done for “your Britain”? Not that I like to make assumptions, but in the intoxicated state you were in, I doubt very much.

What have people like me done for our Britain is more the question. Like-minded white and non-white British people are doctors, teachers, engineers, policemen, firemen. We are an irreplaceable part of British society.

Watching you slur your vile words while your son sits on your lap, made me feel physically sick. Don’t ever utter the words “freedom of speech“. Thankfully, even someone you do consider to be English, told you that you were wrong. And for the sake of irony, I hope the policeman who arrested you was black.