Why deny what is still here?
The year is 2020, and the Little Red Dot has managed to position itself as a thriving and peaceful city. Most of this tranquility can be said to have stemmed from the racial and religious harmony forged among the citizens of Singapore, accounting for a particularly cohesive community.
But, consider this: Are we truly the harmonious society we project ourselves to be, absent of all errors?
With the recent surfacing of the racial prejudices prevalent in America, Asian countries have taken it upon themselves to further reflect upon their own communities’ dynamics. This has given minorities the platform needed for them to finally speak up about the discrimination that has long plagued them.
This serves to contradict the long-standing Singaporean sentiment that if it isn’t brought up, the issue is far from everyone’s minds. It is this practice which has condemned the racial minority groups in Singapore to accepting such instances as the norm, as they have been so accustomed to incidents of casual racism that society has generally swept them underneath the rug of our own social fabric.
In particular, our local Malays and Indians have started to come forth about the discrimination they have faced over the years, in a valiant effort to bring these issues to light.
A Birthday Blunder
In April 2016, a student posted a photo on Instagram, where her group of friends celebrated a boy’s birthday with beauty masks and a birthday gift. However, the beauty masks were black in colour, the gift was crudely labelled “The Whitening Kit”, and the birthday boy was actually of Sri Lankan descent.
The setup was as bad as it sounds, but imagine: It took four years for someone to look at this post, which was sitting on the user’s profile all this time, and to realise that there was something wrong with it. People saw it, liked it, and maybe even just scrolled past this display of supposedly ‘harmless fun’ back in 2016.
So why has it finally been brought up now? With the Black Lives Matter movement taking over the global headlines, some Singaporeans were quick to point out that the crux of these issues were also present in our community. This recent wave of social awareness has managed to bring such incidents to light, fueling the condemnation of any degree of discrimination or mockery towards a particular race.
Societal Change: Stay-Home Edition
This has culminated in a wave of online activism. As we all sit within the comforts of our own homes, we wonder what we can do to help the situation at hand. Everyday social media users have taken to spreading infographics and stories, showcasing the reality of the racism present in our community, sparking up a multitude of online conversations. It is this outreach that has spread awareness of such issues to more Singaporeans, serving to bring these long-seated prejudices into light.
This has, in turn, spurred more citizens to learn about and understand what the minority community truly faces. Previous public efforts, aimed at counteracting such misconduct, have been mainly concentrated on institutionalised racism, as as outlined in Aisyah’s post here. As such, this wave of social awareness has naturally then been angled towards unearthing, and hopefully eradicating, instances of casual racism occurring in our day-to-day lives.
It’s Not That Simple
However, with these revelations permeating the Singaporean society, which has long been accustomed to deflecting uncomfortable topics, there is no end to the comments which remain ignorant to the issues at hand. Online conversations have created the opportunity for people to voice out how they truly feel, and this sense of freedom has also led to a negative response to these matters being highlighted as well, where they choose to place our civic harmony on a pedestal instead.
Such is what happened with the aftermath of the E-Pay advertisement last year, which stirred controversy due to its use of ‘brownface’ and perpetuation of racial stereotypes. It led to many Singaporeans weighing in on the matter, prompting the racial minorities to (unfortunately, once again) discuss the racist undertones in even the media industry. YouTuber Preetipls then released a video exhibiting her frustration towards the callous habit of Singaporeans exhibiting casual racism.
This, however, heralded a response piece by a representative from our very own Singapore Kindness Movement, titled “Preetipls, it’s not because I’m Chinese,” — which acknowledges the existence of our casual racism, but falls short of the organisation’s aim for harmony, by conveying to the racial minorities that they should “be okay with it.” Is this the harsh reality of how Singaporeans want us to handle the issue?
It is perhaps unfair to reach a conclusion on the average Singaporean’s attitude towards both the existence of the problem, and how to approach it. Some may say that the inability to understand the plight of the minority races stems from one not having had much contact or interactions with said minorities. We then ask: Given that Singapore is so widely connected, and so harmonious, why haven’t you really made a minority friend?
The truth is: Casual and systematic racism are not two separate entities — the interactions in our daily lives have a profound impact on the inner workings of the institutions around us.
And this is where we have to state: Having a minority friend does not justify any ignorance on your part. In actual fact, instead of celebrating how your friend is tolerant of your any insensitive remarks, you should take the time to understand the roots of the issues they face.
Why aren’t we talking about these issues, for starters? Social change has to start somewhere, and it mostly does because people have these conversations. Talking about it and bringing it to the surface is what garners awareness, and a desire to make things better.
It is this ability to have conversations that forms a goal for our community, and avoid simply moving away from what makes us uncomfortable. Then, and only then, will we be able to overcome the normalisation of casual racism in our society.