On July 10, Hong Kong’s legislative body passed the Chinese territory’s first-ever law against racial discrimination. The bill was in the works for more than a decade, the product of tortured haggling over clauses and amendments and tireless campaigning by members of the city’s vocal civil society. Yet the passage of this landmark legislation has been met by anything but elation. Its original proponents see it as too weak, while some suspect the Beijing-backed government would rather it had not passed at all. “It’s very shameful,” says Fermi Wong, director of the minority advocacy group Hong Kong Unison. “There has been a lack of commitment throughout.”
Hong Kongers like to style themselves as denizens of a “world city.” The former British colony, which has a population of 7 million, has an undeniable cosmopolitan sheen as a financial center and budding cultural hub. Yet, lurking beneath the flashy skyscrapers, are hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities who don’t fit comfortably into this Chinese city’s conception of itself. Many, particularly among the South Asian community, have roots here that predate some of Hong Kong’s Cantonese people by generations, yet they are often made to feel like outsiders. Most Africans and South Asians living in Hong Kong have their own horror stories of racism, from humiliating police searches on the street to being blocked from entering clubs and bars. It’s not out of the ordinary for an Indian banker to be denied a flat for rent on the grounds that the landlord doesn’t want his property to smell like curry. “This has been going on too long in a city with world-class aspirations,” says David O’Rear, chief economist of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, which sat in during the drafting of the law. “It was getting embarrassing.”
Read also Hong Kong enacts controversial new anti-racism bill by Amrita Sheokand.