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Educating racism

The exhibition of hooliganism displayed during a soccer match listed as an international friendly between Hong Kong and The Philippines on June 5 comes as a disappointment to most people, especially Filipinos in the city, as they belong to a minority group and have been the butt of much taunting and derogatory remarks over the years.

It is a disappointment, as most people in Hong Kong, despite what their true feelings about another group may be, would not be so crass as to express their sentiment in the throwing of plastic bottles or by hurling public insults at another group.

However, racial bias in sport is not new and this incident comes hot on the heels of a similar one during an Australian Football League match in Melbourne.

One spectator yelled what was identified as a racial slur at Adam Goodes, an Aboriginal footballer. However, he was able to identify the 13-year-old girl who made the remark and she was taken away by ground security.

Goodes, who has borne plenty of racist slurs since childhood and also during his more than a decade-long football career, is ever the gentleman and held his peace, saying only that since the girl was only 13-years-old she probably did not know what she was saying and was just repeating what she had heard in the school yard or at home.

Rather than prosecution, he asked that she submit to an educational programme on racism, which the opposing team, whose colours the young offender was sporting, willingly agreed to sponsor.

In the wake of the ill-fated match at the Mongkok Stadium, there have been calls for the full weight of the law to be brought down on those who abused the Filipino team and its supporters.

However, while punishment may well be warranted for what people did, it is not the answer to the problem. The truth of the matter is that everyone holds racist attitudes and the further disturbing truth is that purging them from our consciousness is not always possible.

Racist attitudes are imbedded in culture, language, education systems, history, religious tradition and family experience. They are picked up unconsciously and often expressed in unknowing ways, especially humour, which for some reason some people think is funny and inoffensive.

Ultimately, punishment does not address the problem of racism in societies. As Goodes pointed out, a good dose of restricted liberty or banning from football games could have been handed out to the young girl, but the chances of her learning anything would be remote.

The bottom line is that while we all have racist attitudes, the immediate challenge is to identify them, so that we can at least teach ourselves not to act on them; in somewhat the same way we may not always feel great affection for our boss, but we can learn to be polite.

It is also important to be aware of some of the myths that lead to racist attitudes, as they are built on presumptions and perceptions that are quite unrelated to reality.

In addition, people that belong to minority groups should never believe that they do not harbour racist attitudes just because they are the victims of racism, because they do, and probably unwittingly, victimise others as well.


Education is the name of the game and should be included at all levels of life and society organisation. JiM