2020-11-24 10:37

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Racism & Feeling Invisible - Expats Talk About Life in Hong Kong

Source: SCMP

A new weekly podcast by British Nigerian expats Folahan Sowole and Marie-Louisa Awolaja sheds light on the black expat experience in Hong Kong.


Its Wheres Waldo. Im looking for my black man, where are you? He doesnt exist here, laments Janelle Mims, an African-American expat from New York who recently moved to Hong Kong. Were unicorns, replies Folahan Sowole, a 30-year-old British-Nigerian business development manager also living in the Chinese city.

Chicago native Jarius King, a DJ and performing artist whos lived in Hong Kong for five years, thinks hes telling his girlfriends mother Im happy to meet you in Cantonese C only to discover he is saying something quite inappropriate.


These are just two of the many hilarious moments on HomeGrown C a new podcast launched to shed light on the black expat experience in Hong Kong. From workplace dynamics, to how school systems work, to the chasm between local and expat communities, co-creators Marie-Louisa Awolaja (33 and a legal project manager), also British Nigerian, and Sowole (aka Fantastic Fo) have it all covered.


The weekly podcast, which came about because of the lack of resources Awolaja and Sowole found to help prepare them for life in Hong Kong, also serves as a guide for black expats who are moving or looking to move to the city.


Though Awolajas transition was relatively seamless, as she had visited the city before and knew what to expect, she says: Itd be great if, when I was coming out to Hong Kong, I had some kind of guide. While Googling black hairdressers and black girls in Hong Kong, she came across Facebook group Sisters in Hong Kong, through which she met 11 black women in the week she arrived.

In contrast, before moving to Hong Kong Sowole searched #blackexpats and #hongkongblackexpats on Instagram C Just to see if I could find a community, and information about where to go, C but recalls: I couldnt find anything. There was a hashtag but it was all black people on holiday.



In addition to being a functioning guide, HomeGrown invites guests to explore Hong Kong racial dynamics in a lighthearted but revelatory manner. Everyones experience is so different, and every guest weve had says that C there is no one universal experience, often thats based on how you come into the city, says Awolaja.

Harmony Anne-Marie Ilunga, who came to Hong Kong as a refugee from Congo, to Kat Ofori-Atta, a Ghanaian-born investment banker. Their vastly different experiences in the city are reflected in their stories.

ritical to the podcasts agenda is sharing the diverse range of experiences among the citys black community. By speaking to expats from different backgrounds who arrived in Hong Kong under various circumstances, the show avoids stereotyping and generalisations. It is relatable to all Hongkongers in unexpected ways.


The act of code switching C alternating between languages, in this case between cultural groups C is one such social interaction often discussed on HomeGrown. While its specific to their experience being black, its something may people in and from the city do.



Because there are so few black people here and theyre often African-American or black British, those cultures are similar, so you can code switch. If Im in a room full of white British guys, Ill code switch and itll be seamless because I speak their language, explains Sowole. Its the same as when youre in school in England and youre the only black kid, youre used to it.

Sowole and Awolaja have been surprised by some of the cultural tropes they covered. For Awolaja, the issue of being highly visible as a black woman, and simultaneously invisible, was unexpected.


One drunken white person doesnt change the perception of their entire race, whereas one drunken black person can be a reflection on everyone from Nigerians to African-Americans and Jamaicans - Folahan Sowole, co-creator of HomeGrown.


I was surprised at how invisible I was, in a way. I expect to be stared at on this side of the world. People dont necessarily, especially locals, they just carry on C most of the stares you get are from mainland [Chinese] tourists. But when it comes to service, it becomes more evident. They sometimes just dont acknowledge you. Its as if you dont exist.

For Sowole, the weight of representing his race was reinforced by the fact it was a burden white expats dont have to bear. The eye-opening thing for me has been how white expats dont feel any particular need to behave themselves in a foreign country the same way black expats do. They are a lot more relaxed, they basically act the exact same way they do at home. he observes.

When one black person does something bad, the entire race is stereotyped, so youre much more aware of how you behave. One drunken white person doesnt change the perception of their entire race, whereas one drunken black person can be a reflection on everyone from Nigerians to African-Americans and Jamaicans.

While Covid-19 dampened the pairs ambition to make HomeGrown about the black experience in Asia rather than Hong Kong alone, the desire to provide a documentation of history prevails.

Its for posterity. A hundred years from now youll want to know what its like, Sowole explains. At this time, these people were here and were doing this. Its a journal that doesnt die.


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