Hong Kong prides itself on being a free and pluralistic society. Sometimes it is even referred to as a “melting pot of cultures”. But local ethnic minority YouTuber Zain Syed says the city is far from being a model of inclusiveness and diversity.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, the 25-year-old of Pakistani and Arab descent is no stranger to being treated as a foreigner in his homeland. Like many ethnic minority youths, Syed had a hard time in school, where he was the only non-Chinese in the entire student body. He would always become the centre of unwanted attention, and was made fun of because of his skin colour. During his junior secondary years, he was so afraid of being teased that he would skip lunch and hide in the classroom instead.
Luckily, when he entered senior classes, he found a group of friends by teaching them English and was never bullied again. But this doesn’t mean that he is free from racial prejudice on a daily basis.
When Syed introduces himself as a Hongkonger, it is often followed by questions like “So where are you actually from?”, as if people are not convinced that a South Asian can be a native of Hong Kong too.
“When I tell people that I’m a Hongkonger, they just keep asking questions about my race, and I’m really annoyed by that,” he says.
Sometimes, Syed receives even more absurd questions. He was once asked if he knows the television news presenter Nabela Qoser personally, because some people think that all South Asians in Hong Kong are somehow related to each other.
“I would tell them, ‘Yes, I know her. Well, you know her too!’,” says Syed, rolling his eyes.
As farcical as it sounds, these questions reflect how ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong know little about the city’s minority groups. Syed believes that although many people have called for better integration between the two communities, there is still a lack of interaction, and hence the long-standing racial prejudice remains serious.
He notes that the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong has improved the relationship between Chinese and minority Hongkongers, as friendly gestures have been extended by both sides, such as when citizens volunteered to clean up the Kowloon Mosque after it was sprayed with blue dye from the police’s water cannon, and when drinks were handed out to marchers during demonstrations outside Chungking Mansions, a building which is home to many minorities in the city.
However, these gestures have only improved the relationship on the surface, says Syed. He believes that there are still deep-rooted misunderstandings of ethnic minority groups, largely shaped by misrepresentation in the media, that need to be eliminated. He refers to how local television shows often cast South Asians as criminals - thieves, murderers, rapists - which may lead some viewers to form unfair stereotypes.
“When people are constantly exposed to a biased portrayal, they will become brainwashed and begin to believe that it is true,” he says.
Tired of being misjudged, Syed decided to challenge and help shatter the stereotypes by launching his YouTube channel in November last year. So far, he has over 51,000 subscribers and more than 12,400 followers on Instagram.
“I thought the content on YouTube was very repetitive, so I wanted to bring in something different,” he says. “It’s also because I have a lot of discontent, so it provides an outlet for me to vent.”
From mocking TikTok users to commenting on the ongoing anti-government protests, Syed entertains viewers with his satirical take on trends and social issues in Hong Kong.
He displays a sense of humour through an interesting feature - mismatching subtitles - where he makes a positive comment, but puts scornful remarks in the subtitles.
Although his YouTube channel is getting more attention, Syed believes he still has a long way to go in changing the perception of ethnic minorities in the eyes of local Chinese. Rather than applauding his “achievements” as a minority, Syed simply hopes the local community can accept him and other minorities as Hongkongers.
“I know that a lot of people see me as an exceptional case, and they don’t think that other ethnic minority youths can do the same,” he says. “Don’t celebrate what we do because you think we’re ‘catching up’ with other local youths. We are the same as everyone else.”