When being a local is second class to westerners in Hong Kong

And the subtle racism in the city

Background Information

An article on South China Morning Post discussed the issues of subtle racism in Hong Kong. The writer encapsulated the hidden racism pervading the city, as well as an inferiority complex of Hong Kongers towards Caucasians.

From an anecdotal point of view, it was suggested that a white face is more marketable than a Chinese face in the food industry.

Excerpts from the article

Anecdotal incidents abound, but I do think a certain structural bias exists in the restaurant industry. No matter how well a local chef has trained, Western restaurants tend to prefer hiring head chefs from France, Spain, or Italy because a white face is more marketable. Some customers also automatically assume a European native will be a better cook of that respective cuisine.

What I find interesting is how Western chefs are given the benefit of the doubt when they attempt Asian cuisines. Let’s face it, a white guy can fusion the heck out of dim sum and our reaction is, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But if a local chef wants to open an authentic trattoria or brasserie, many diners’ automatic inclination is to think, “Well, it’s probably not as good as if an Italian or Frenchman is in charge.”

My personal view and experience

As a 17 y/o who is born and raised in Hong Kong, I have come to terms with the fact that this problem also exists in the education sector, and by extension the whole job market. Speaking from anecdotes, the average white employee earns more than a local with the same or better level of qualifications. Private education companies that serve the upper middle class in Hong Kong tend to prefer Europeans and Americans. The subconscious racial bias in both employers of such companies and some upper middle class Hong Kong families is the culprit of such conundrum.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The status quo in the city’s education ecosystem is indicative of the underlying racial bias. The qualification taught in local schools is simply seen as inferior than its international counterparts, like the British A-levels or the Swedish International Baccalaureate. Universities in the city give preference to school leavers with non local qualifications and critics bemoan the harm caused by such practice. As a result of favouritism towards non-local qualifications, private tutorial centers that teach the A-levels or the IB made billions of dollars tutoring students at international schools.

The demand for western teachers in such companies has skyrocketed over the past 10 years. English speaking whites are regarded as better educators and parents are willing to fork over a large amount of money for an English speaking lesson.

This is detrimental to society in so many ways. The most obvious issue is that local university graduates face fierce competitions from those with overseas degrees. On a deeper level, it is destroying and eroding the self perception and pride that Hong Kong people should have. The truth is Hong Kong parents and students are fed with the exaggerated fantasies of western education and at the same time sell themselves short by believing that their own education system is inferior. Even though there’s a slight correlation that shows graduating from an international school leads to better job prospects, no major study has shown a clear causation that suggests being educated at a Hong Kong school leads to lower salaries than being educated at an international school. But the false ideology and misunderstanding of both western and Hong Kong education has only exacerbated our subconscious racial bias.

The problem is alarming not only because foreigners see locals as inferior educators, but because some Hong Kong parents are racist to their own people by assuming or thinking Hong Kongers can’t teach as well as Americans or Europeans.

We are fortunate that the city isn’t plagued with the extreme racism that takes the lives of innocent people, but there’s a subtle but problematic racial bias in the job market. Hong Kong people need to realize their own racial bias and should be proud of who they are. Perhaps, the power of subconscious racial labelling has worked against locals in the city for so many years and it’s important to raise awareness about this and understand that no locals should be second class to foreigners in their own city.

Let’s hope 2021 will be a year where more Hong Kong people realize this and can be proud of who they are!

Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash

Goldilocks 17y/o traversing the tapestry of life

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