How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Endemic Racism

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.

3. A Tilted Playing Field – Endemic Racism

Foreign Policy looks at South Africa for an example of extreme racism, especially one which stipulates what kind of work someone may do based on their race. It meant that black South Africans “were condemned to work as unskilled laborers” and meant that South Africa “failed to improve the living standards of 80 percent of its population for almost a century. For 15 years before the collapse of apartheid, the South African economy contracted.” 
In Asia, there is not such an overt display of racism that a colour bar is placed, but there is a startling amount of racism not immediately evident to a newcomer. Skin whitening products overflow the cosmetic aisles, and fairness is almost universally accepted as the beauty standard. Beyond shades of skin, races within Asia have tense relations with one another, something that was demonstrated by a recent debacle in Singapore. Although it is emphasised in the media as a one-off overt racist remark, which it is, Asia is in a covert racism epidemic.
This is especially reinforced in business by who gets hired for what, and who is making that hiring decision. In my own observations, the human resources departments of Singapore are mostly populated by one gender, in one age bracket, of one race. It means they tend all tend to hold a certain bias. This is a really difficult subject for me to write on as a foreigner in a country that actively enforces censorship – I’m not quite sure what I can say. However, I will say that my partner is Malay/Indonesian heritage, and from our very own first hand experience, we have felt the heartache of systematic racism in Asia. It affects not only your self esteem and your mood, but it affects your life plans, your economic position, your financial stability, your whole family’s outlook and attitude. It perverts and distorts your view of opportunity, and makes a group of able-bodied intelligent people become riddled with a doubt and perception of themselves which comes entirely from someone else’s repulsive projection.
I believe a society that is the most successful  is the most inclusive. I do not believe that meritocracy means inclusivity. I believe inclusivity means making a concerted effort to incorporate those who have been disadvantaged in some way, and that means acknowledging the disadvantage and not just saying ‘everyone is seen based on their merit’. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by enforcing inclusive hiring practices, including supervising people who make the final judgement on candidates for their own bias. Human Resources departments should be just as diverse as the society it is trying to hire and manage. Just these two simple acts would change so much of the employment landscape in Asia – it would start individual’s careers, change their lives and their family’s lives as their income increases, it would expand the local talent pool for future ventures, and it would change the employment landscape as opportunities become evident for future generations. 

Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience – and perhaps on this topic in particular, I am a little over passionate and muddled for objective writing. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject – I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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  • 19 October 2012