We can’t keep turning a blind eye to racial discrimination, prejudice and biases. It’s time to acknowledge our privilege and call out racism in Singapore.
Here we go again. Another day, another racist incident pops up on our radar. The last week has been exhausting. You’ve probably watched the video of a Chinese individual harassing an interracial couple in public, spewing racist remarks at them. Sadly, it’s not an isolated incident.
We’ve had the viral MRT lady harassing minorities in public. A minority was publicly assaulted for not wearing her face mask while brisk walking. People’s Association had a tone-deaf display of a Malay couple’s wedding photograph (used without their permission) as a standee for Hari Raya Aidilfitri decorations – and later released a defensive statement with a half-baked apology. And the cherry on top? The video of the woman intentionally disrupting her neighbour’s prayers by clanging a gong. Wow.
Of course, it set social media ablaze with polarising views, comments and similar recounts.
Reading my fair share of stories and comments took me on a rollercoaster of emotions too. One that struck me was an article by The Guru Project on racial stereotypes and how racism exists everywhere, even among minorities. It made me check myself: am I racist too? My family is welcoming of people from all racial and religious backgrounds but honestly, they’d have reservations if I were to date or marry them. During family gatherings, racist comments have popped up. Sure, I’ve stood up and corrected that member but I’ll admit sometimes I’ve laughed along at a seemingly harmless joke.
How are racial biases and stereotypes formed?
I’m no expert but I think racial biases stem from a mix of things. It begins with your upbringing, along with systemic oppression through government policies and employment, casual racism in schools and at the workplace, negative experiences with other races, and, of course, the lack of representation in the media. As adolescents, it’s culturally ingrained into our thoughts and actions that a particular race is supposed to be a certain way. It gets worse when we don’t delve outside our circle of friends and family of the same race. Eventually, these discriminatory beliefs escalate, leading to poor cultural awareness and sheer ignorance when it comes to racial prejudices and stereotypes.
Why are more racist incidents happening now?
If you think that’s the case, you’re wrong. Racism has always been prevalent in our lives. Thanks to camera phones, social media, and movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsianHate, more minorities are empowered to speak up against racial discrimination.
So, what now?
As a minority, I’ve been privileged to live in a bubble of supportive friends from all racial backgrounds, with close to zero experiences with racism. And whenever I did face some form of racism outside, I’d let it slide and go back to my safe bubble.
But with viral events that have come to light over the last two years, I’ve realised that’s not the case for everyone.
It got me thinking… Maybe I should have called out the cab driver who was shocked that I spoke “really good English for an Indian”. Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed along with my friends when they made “harmless racist remarks”. Or maybe I should have shared more about my culture with my non-Indian friends. My friend once commented that she forgets I’m Indian sometimes. I didn’t give it much thought then, but maybe I should’ve asked her why she felt that way. Or did I let internalised racism get the best of me?
We all know race is a taboo topic and it feels like we’re stepping on eggshells to kickstart the conversation. But enough is enough. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, it’s paramount that we talk about race. I’ll put it simply. If you’re having relationship issues, what’s the best advice you’d receive? Probably that “communication is key to fostering good relationships” and” it takes two hands to clap”. So yes, it’s EVERYONE’s responsibility to be an ally. ‘Cos TBH, it shouldn’t be about tolerating race. We have to learn to embrace race and the diverse cultures, practices and habits that come along with it.
What can we do to eradicate racism in Singapore?
A disclaimer that there are no hard and fast rules. But we gotta start somewhere and fight until we see some change. After reading countless posts, articles and recounts, I thought I’d share what I learnt…
#1 Educate yourself
There’s no excuse to be ignorant. Social media has myriad resources to study the ins and outs of racism in Singapore. Once you’ve got a sense of the current climate, don’t be afraid to ask questions. BUT READ THE ROOM. Be wary of how you’re phrasing the question. Ask yourself, “would I be insulted if that question was directed at me?”
Have a mature conversation with a friend from a minority race. Hear them out and give them space to share their struggles. But, remember your one minority friend isn’t the official “voice” of the issue. Be mindful that everyone has varied experiences and thoughts. And no gaslighting, please!
Don’t have a minority friend or even an acquaintance? Well, it’s time you ask yourself why. As you diversify your social circle, look to local resources like Wake Up, Singapore, Rachel Pang Comics, Beyond The Hijab, Minority Voices, Mental Act, Lepak Conversations, Wake Up Ur Idea, Where Changes Started and Other Tongues that give us succinct info about racism in Singapore.
#2 Identify your privilege
I’ll start. I’m a minority and I acknowledge I’ve been privileged in some way too. Did I choose it? No. Does that make me a bad person? Also, no. It takes maturity and self-awareness to identify your privilege. Over the years, the “Chinese privilege” tag has received a bad rep. So much so that the majority gets defensive when it’s used on them.
Everyday Feminism’s article on “Checking Your Privilege” unwraps it nicely: “When someone asks you to ‘check your privilege,’ what they’re really asking you to do is to reflect on the ways that your social status might have given you an advantage – even if you didn’t ask for it or earn it – while their social status might have given them a disadvantage.”
We’re not dismissing your struggles. We’re just asking you to put them aside for a sec and look at the bigger picture. I think the real-life experiences Minority Voices share on their IG feed will give you some perspective. Have you experienced these discriminating acts in your own country? If the answer is no, it means you have some kind of privilege.
Now that you’ve identified your privilege, don’t dismiss or invalidate the oppressed. Listen to their stories with empathy and think about how you can be an ally.
#3 Unlearn what you’ve learnt in the past
This is easier said than done. It takes balls to admit we all have hidden biases and stereotypes in our daily lives. Even as a minority, I’m embarrassed to say that xenophobic thoughts and instinctive racial biases have popped into my mind now and then. It takes time and effort to unlearn the ideologies instilled in you. And that’s okay, as long as we’re actively challenging these biases.
#4 Call out racism
Racism is racism, no matter what. Call it racial ignorance, casual racism, harmless stereotyping… It is what it is. We’ve come to the point where it’s just not enough to be apathetic or neutral about it. Sure, confronting your racist friend or family member can be uncomfortable. But every time we brush aside a racist remark, it enables them to think it’s ok to do it. Now, imagine the difference it’d make if it actually struck a chord with them? We can all do our part to (hopefully) cause that ripple effect.
If you’re in the majority, I urge you to use your platforms to share stories, spread the word and stand up against any forms of racism. Let’s stop encouraging it by turning a blind eye. Be an ally and educate others. And to all those doing their part, thank you!
Even if you don’t really have friends from other races, it should anger you that an individual can’t conduct their prayers in peace without someone mockingly banging a gong at them. Race aside, where’s the humanity?
To minorities, you have a part to play too! Be empowered to speak up the next time you experience racism. You have the choice to laugh along with your friends or stand up for yourself. It’s about time we pick the latter. And yes, that includes xenophobic comments too!
#5 Can we not fight racism with racism, please?
Minorities, I get it. We’re all tired of tolerating the bullsh*t. But what’s the difference between you and a racist if you rebut with a stereotype or racist remark? It eventually turns into a never-ending loop. Let’s do better and end this nasty cycle of hate.
#6 Take a break
Reading horrifying racist attacks that minorities have encountered in Singapore has been heartbreaking. I had to get off social media ‘cos my morale reached an all-time low. But let’s not give up the fight. It may seem like a lost cause sometimes but it’s important to pick your battles and move on. Manage your expectations, and remember to celebrate the small wins. Reach out to loved ones, share the burden and come back stronger. Your pain and struggles are valid, even if it means taking some time off.
On the other hand, I acknowledge the challenges that the majority (who are already in this fight with us) are facing. As BYO Bottle SG puts it eloquently above, it can be overwhelming even as a majority to absorb the multiple quick explainer posts. And that’s ok, but “fighting racism goes far beyond our digital sphere.” It’s tiring and uncomfortable but the “fatigue [you feel] will never compare to our minority friends.” So yes, take a break on social media but never in your daily lives.
#7 Stay strong to continue the fight
Sure, we can’t end racism in a day (this isn’t a magical Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner) but let’s not lose sight of the battle. Can we all be just friends and uplift each other? I mean, we’re already living amidst a pandemic that sees no race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
We all have a part to play in eradicating racism in Singapore. We all can do better.