With all the talk about racist incidents in Singapore, we speak to minorities about their personal stories.
Over the past month, we’ve seen a handful of racist incidents making headlines. It’s led to a wave of minorities speaking up on social media about their lived experiences of discrimination. There’s also the “Call It Out, SG” movement, where people are encouraged to speak up against prejudice. We’ve talked about how we can all do our part to eradicate racism, and now we’re taking a closer look at minorities’ personal stories – how they’ve dealt with and been affected by racist encounters in Singapore.
Racism in Singapore told through the eyes of minorities
“It’s made me feel like I need to do a lot more to achieve something compared to my friends from other racial groups.”
To me, racism is judgy. It’s a form of oppression of an individual based on their race and skin tone. It’s a weak reason to strip someone of what they deserve and deny them the right to celebrate their culture. Instead, it makes them feel inferior.
It doesn’t allow them the right and opportunity to shine, to be recognised for their ability and qualities of who they are, instead of being stereotyped and categorised due to the racial group they belong to or their colour.
My fiance and I had booked a cab on one occasion, and we were in a hurry to get somewhere. After a while, the app indicated the cab had arrived. But we were at the location and the driver was blocks away. My fiance called the driver and told him that he was at the wrong location.
The driver started shouting and he asked if he was Indian. He immediately went on to say, “You Indians always do this, that’s why I don’t take Indians. You come here and take my cab. I’m not coming to your block.” Upon hearing that, I took the phone and spoke to the driver. Because I spoke a bit of Chinese, he came to our location. He said, “I thought you were Chinese, that’s why I came; if not I’d just drive off.”
I was really upset and had so much I wanted to say, but I just controlled my tongue. This was just one of the many incidents. Racism has made me feel like I need to do a lot more to achieve something compared to my friends from other racial groups.
“In hindsight, there must have been some form of internalised racism at play.”
The recent spate of racist events has made me realise I’ve unconsciously turned a blind eye to racism. Growing up, I’ve always tried to distance myself from my own culture. In hindsight, there must have been some form of internalised racism at play.
I don’t have a particular incident to highlight, but I’m sure I’ve experienced it. However, I chalked it up to something else. But the truth of the matter is that I decided not to address it because I simply chose to believe racism didn’t exist. That’s not the case after all. I’ve also struggled with acknowledging racism. If I address it, does that make me a victim of racism? These are some of the struggles I had growing up as a minority.
Now, I’m slowly learning to appreciate my culture and not view it as a hindrance. I’ve also learned to be proud of my race. It’s a lot of unlearning I had to do on my part. With the current social climate, I feel it’s my responsibility to do my part in calling out racism when I see it.
“I’ve seen what racism can do to a person’s confidence and mental health – especially if they start experiencing racism at a very young age.”
Emily Edison, 29
Racism is discrimination of a smaller community based on race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or skin colour, by a community that deems themselves superior based on unreasonable conditions.
The first time I experienced targeted racism was while dating my husband, who is of Chinese ethnicity. A trans-woman stopped and loudly made a racist comment as we passed by in the mall. We pretended not to hear and continued walking, but it made the people around turn around to look at us. Though the comment didn’t hurt me, I was very confused as to why a person who was also part of a minority community said such things. Why was this (and us) her problem?
I’ve seen what racism can do to a person’s confidence and mental health – especially if they start experiencing racism at a very young age. They carry the trauma for a lifetime. I think the best thing to do is to not feed the racist person with the kind of response they want – which I believe is to make us feel inferior, express fear or anger, and influence the thoughts of others. You don’t have to go into refutation; simply call it out and move away from the toxicity.
“The recent racism events that have come to light is proof that racism is prevalent in Singapore.”
Luckily for me, I’ve not experienced outright racism. However, it irks me when people ask if “I’m a Singaporean” or say comments like “I’m pretty for an Indian” or “I can speak really good English for an Indian.” I don’t see people asking the majority group these questions.
I believe I’ve grown a thick skin over the years, just living with these comments that happen every now and then. But I’ve realised recently that not everyone is as lucky as me. The recent racism events that have come to light is proof that racism is prevalent in Singapore. I’m glad there are more platforms out there to create a safe space and community for people affected by racial discrimination.
Call out racism. Even if it’s sheer ignorance, it’s important to let the person know what he or she is saying is not okay. Majorities need to be allies. It’s not just the minority’s fight against racism. It affects everyone, too. Teach your kids empathy. Aside from discussing different races or cultures, it’s important to paint a picture of what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
We hope these lived experiences help to shed light on the discrimination faced by our fellow minority friends. Everyone has a part to play in dismantling racism and creating a more accepting society, whether you come from privilege or a minority group.
[Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.]