Postcard from Hong Kong: So what will you do next?

Marie-Louisa Awolaja calls for action to end racism

The World Today
2 minute READ

Marie-Louisa Awolaja

Legal Project Manager and co-host of the HomeGrown Podcast, Linklaters Hong Kong

Where do you call home? For me, I take the saying ‘home is where the heart is’ quite literally, and my heart is dotted across the globe: from London, the city in which I spoke my first words, to Lagos, soil of my father and forefathers, Johannesburg, San Diego, Paris, with the summer mornings of mismatched English and French with my cousins, and now Hong Kong, my home of nearly two years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, with the exploration of new cities, cultures and local cuisines, travelling has long been a love of mine. So much so that in 2017 I started my own food and travel blog, determined to share my findings not just with the world, but specifically with young women who looked like me. Because as a black woman moving through the world, expressions like ‘global citizen’ and ‘the world is your oyster’ didn’t always seem to apply.

If you were booking a trip to Dubrovnik in Croatia for example, how likely would your search history look like: ‘Are people racist in Dubrovnik?’, ‘Croatia racist?’ ‘black people Croatia’. Googling whether or not people are racist in my destination of choice is as normal to me as checking the weather.

Initially, moving halfway across the world to Hong Kong seemed like a huge gamble. Touching down in the city that first July morning, and now over two years later, Hong Kong’s lush green mountains, sprawling beaches, and street after winding street of bustling bars and restaurants were new and familiar all at once.

But of course, race here, like everywhere, soon came into play. The wary eyes when I walk into certain stores, the taxis that speed away in response to the darker hue of my outstretched arm, the increasingly frustrating conversations with close friends here, about being stopped and questioned by police, time and time again. Eventually, it became part and parcel of the black experience in Hong Kong.

That is, until the backdrop became the chilling image of a black man with a white officer’s knee on his neck. Suddenly the death of George Floyd meant that the world was listening.

It had previously felt like another day another black man or woman, paying their life, freedom or dignity for the burden of their race.

But this time the world did not have its holidays, bars, shopping trips or parties to serve as a distraction or reprieve from the horror. Suddenly, my largely silent daily struggle was being brought to the forefront: people all over the world were picking up banners and joining the fight against racial inequality and injustice.

But three months since George Floyd’s death, we are not all living happily ever after. Yes, for a moment the world was watching, and listening, and posting black squares on their Instagram feed – but what’s next?

Honestly, some days I am tired. Tired because the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor as she lay in her bed are still sleeping comfortably in theirs.

Tired because publications like the South China Morning Post rarely feature pictures
or stories of black people in Hong Kong, and when they do, it often has a negative storyline. Tired because we are still waiting on serious and lasting change in the face of racial injustice.

So I take it one day at a time, although some days are harder than others. When I hear news of yet another black person losing their life at the hands of police, or when I am refused entry to a restaurant or bar because ‘some black women were picking pockets here last week’.

But on my best days I use my voice. I speak up, not just for myself, but for every young black girl or boy that will come after me. I write posts and articles to share my perspective; I have courageous conversations with non-black friends and colleagues.

Most recently, through the newly launched HomeGrown podcast, I have teamed up with a friend and fellow black expat in Hong Kong to inform, inspire and entertain through personal stories of black expats. In our first season we interview a range of black guests all living in Hong Kong to get their perspectives on life in the city, their experiences and the lessons they have learnt so far. Representation matters – especially now.

But these actions – or those of any black people – will only make lasting impact if the international community continues to engage with our movement.

I can and will continue to radically care for my community through giving voice to its untold narratives. But your work in business, domestic and international policy will profoundly impact our collective survival.

And so my question to you, international community, is simply: what will you do next?