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Open Forums: Can't We All Just Get Along?

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The complex relationship between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders recently resurfaced (this time in the YouTube universe) when a video of a young child from Mainland China urinating in Hong Kong streets went viral.

What a mess. In the video a crowd of Hong Kongers are heckling the child and the parents are attempting to grab the memory cards of those capturing the incident. The child is crying, the adults are screaming in a cacophony of Mandarin and Cantonese, and the Chinese state media is infuriated over perhaps the greater issue of Hong Kongers' attempts to browbeat civility and etiquette into their Northern neighbors.

This recent brouhaha is just another example of the prickly relationship between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders, which can be seen over the debates from baby formula, to Hong Kong's burgeoning population, to the cut-throat competition over jobs and spots in elite kindergartens. In March, Hong Kongers hit the streets of the shopping mecca of Mong Kok in an anti-Mainland China tourist protect.

An annual HKU poll in December 2013 found that 31.8 percent of Hong Kong people have "negative" feelings for people from Mainland China, an all-time high from the time the poll launched in 2007.

The stereotypes on both sides are as obvious as night and day, but unfortunately kept under the radar in conversations. It is simply not politically correct to openly discuss these stereotypes in the open. The complaints and banter are contained to taxi cabs, wet markets and in the safety of dinners amongst close family members. On the surface, both sides co-exist with Hong Kongers knowing that practically they must adapt to the newcomers who are also their consumers and clients.

In the meantime, the dislike, the stereotypes, the bias and xenophobia continue to fester like a cancer, potentially harmful to Hong Kong's development and brand. International cities should be open-minded and accepting of different cultures.

The solution, both simple and incredibly un-Chinese or contrarian to the cultural norms of not saying anything, is to discuss the issue publically, openly or even via social networking platforms. What if the Hong Kong government created a public campaign that promoted open dialogue between different racial and ethnic groups in Hong Kong? This would include a series of open forums, and panels that feature members of the community, educators, students and key leaders in business and politics. The series would ignite open dialogues with the aim of fostering cultural understanding between Hong Kongers, Mainland Chinese, Southeast Asians, and subsets of the population including refugees and expatriates. Could such an initiative be beneficial to Hong Kong?

Exchange whether it be through the use of film, music, food, or even emerging technologies such as Skype can help ignite an open discussion. Last spring a fellow journalism educator and I used Skype to create an exchange between my students in Hong Kong and her class in Chicago, U.S.A. The conversation about producing stories quickly moved into a conversation about culture. The American students were unaware of the problems between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders, and the Hong Kong students were unaware of affirmative action or the efforts of newsrooms to diversify their staff. The handful of Mainland Chinese students in my class shared their frustrations with the stereotypes they are placed under, while the Hong Kong students openly shared their views.

Open discussion and dialogue about these stereotypes and bias can only help foster healthy communication between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders. The alternative is continued resentment between both sides, and more dangerously a growing perception by those outside of Hong Kong that Hong Kong people are close-minded and biased, which goes against the very grain of the city's reputation as an Asian gateway and an international city. As the late Rodney King, the subject of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, once asked, "Can we all get along?" A question worth pondering.