By SANIKA KULKARNI
Shedding light on the potential and impact of Black businesses to achieve racial justice in Hong Kong
When the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement originated in the United States in 2013, it intended to fight against police brutality and racial injustice faced by African Americans. Seven years on, the struggle continues.
According to the movement’s founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometim, it is “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”
Earlier this year, the movement regained momentum after the murder of George Floyd by an armed police officer on May 25. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minnesota, was pinned down by Derek Chauvin after being arrested over the report of Floyd using a counterfeit US$20 bill. Chauvin proceeded to kneel on Floyd’s neck for over six minutes, causing his death. Footage of his murder was widely circulated on social media.
The perpetrators have faced charges after a wave of protests swept across the nation, bringing to light countless other instances of police brutality faced by the Black community. BLM activists are still protesting to seek justice for multiple other victims, such as Breonna Taylor, who was wrongly killed by the police in her own home on March 13.
The resurgence of the movement has not only disseminated conversations surrounding systemic racism, but also created room for Black leadership and opportunities. It has also acted as a vehicle to spread awareness about a multitude of issues–such queerphobia, transphobia, ableism, health inequalities, the dangers of white supremacy, antisemitism, and more–providing people with the drive to speak up about social subjugation and how it is deeply ingrained into the fabric of society.
Activism in the United States
The BLM movement in 2020 has brought structural oppression faced by these communities to the surface in an unprecedented way. Over 15 million people have taken to the streets to demand change in the past few months, making it one of the significant civil rights movements in U.S. history.
According to Kella M., a U.S.-based student activist, “Black Lives Matter is a movement of Black liberation, which ultimately liberates all people.” Kella is vocal about anti-Blackness and hopes that the world can develop empathy for people who hold differing and intersecting identities.
“We build generational wealth by supporting each other and investing in the community,” she adds.
Black entrepreneurs may not have equal access to resources or financial backing due to their position and perceptions about them in society. In this social and political climate, consumers worldwide are coming together to support Black entrepreneurship, reducing social inequality, and paving the way for all marginalized communities to flourish.
Racial injustice in Hong Kong
Although the BLM movement originated in the U.S., it quickly gained momentum and support in other parts of the world, highlighting the global injustices faced by People of Color (POC). The situation is no different in Hong Kong.
A recent report reveals that ethnic minorities such as Arabs, South Asians, Africans, and Southeast Asians face more discrimination in Hong Kong than Caucasian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean communities. This segregation is evident in schools, the job market, the housing market, and other social avenues, as harmful stereotypes are perpetuated.
Ethnic minorities constitute 8% of Hong Kong’s population, yet it is difficult for them to assimilate into society. A Lingnan University study found that the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in Hong Kong has severely affected the mental health of the city’s African migrants. They have reported being trailed by security guards, paid unequally at work, and profiled as refugees or asylum seekers.
Nerice Gietel and The Career Lounge
Nerice Gietel is an Executive Coach who moved to Hong Kong with her family over three years ago. She is originally from the Caribbean Island of Curacao and has also lived in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
In 2017 Nerice started her career coaching company, which she rebranded as The Career Lounge in 2019. The idea came from her work researching childcare policies at The University of Hong Kong, where she realized how difficult it is for women to return to work after giving birth. She offers Return-to-Work coaching services for clients to re-launch their careers. She also offers regular career coaching and has developed The Career Breakthrough Online Course for professionals who are looking for direction in their work.
Her passion for helping people build their careers has led her to build a diverse and robust network allowing her to empower people. She acknowledges her privilege, and recognises that her experience within a higher socio-economic class is not representative of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong as a whole. Even so, as a Black female entrepreneur in Hong Kong, Nerice found very few people who looked like her in the industry. This meant that she needed to find the courage to go out and try to create a space for herself in the market.
“There is so much cultural richness that comes from people bridging the gap and learning from one another,” adds Nerice. She urges people from her community to break out of the bubble that mainly consists of White expats and expose themselves to different cultures.
Nerice also stresses the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses as a tool for Hong Kong society to view these ethnic minorities differently, providing opportunities for a diverse range of people to excel.
She shares an instance where her Black friend found it extremely difficult to find a job in Hong Kong until he deleted his picture on LinkedIn, highlighting how the color of his skin influenced his job prospects in the city. He has also faced verbal abuse in public places, further demeaning his identity.
“It is important for people to explicitly recognise that all human life is equally valuable.,” says Nerice. “People need to be aware of their biases.”
She adds that it is often the lack of knowledge and understanding that creates the divide in society; a cultural exchange needs to be facilitated to narrow this gap. According to SCMP, Hongkongers can be racially insensitive at times because “they may not be wholly aware that they are doing something offensive.” Unfortunately, this lack of awareness is a loss for the wider community, as it creates social bubbles rather than a melting pot for different cultures to unite.
Since the BLM movement’s resurgence, Nerice has noticed that both Chinese and Caucasian people around her have taken an interest in understanding what they can do to combat explicit and implicit racism in Hong Kong. Through such conversations, there has been a process of learning how to empower these communities and unlearn the negative stereotypes that individuals may have perpetuated in the past.
“Highlighting Black businesses is about changing the perception about Black people as they run their businesses and do something positive for society,” she adds. “I want to continue to be a role model for other People of Color.”
Changing our perspective as a society
The BLM movement has highlighted the need to support these communities through social media, protests, and giving back to the community. Black and other POC voices are finally being heard, and people all around the world are taking the initiative and educating themselves.
However, supporting Black and POC businesses should not be reduced down to a trend that we must follow in the given moment. As a society, we must show a lasting commitment to support and uplift marginalized communities to live in a more just and equitable world.
Images courtesy Nerice Gietel.