I watched the tram racist video from the UK with a mix of shock and fascination. How did so much hate against other races build up inside her? Did some foreign immigrant run over her dog? Scratch her car? Steal her job?: Racism. So much talk about it recently.
Someone once said, if one day mankind all woke up blind, and couldn’t see each other’s skin colour, we would find something else to be prejudiced about.
It is not perfect here in Singapore but I am glad we have racism under control. Do we have racial harmony? Sometimes I think we do. Sometimes, I am not sure. We do have racial tolerance, at the very least.
How many of us have friends from other races? How many of us truly feel we know the customs and mores of our neighbours from other races? How many of us truly feel one with our fellow Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion?
Perhaps it is good that we constantly check ourselves and ask those hard questions. Racism is an ugly thing that can rear its head when you least expect it. It is easy to get complacent and assume that everyone is onboard with the racial harmony wagon. Racism is always there, hiding in the shadows.
This doesn’t mean we should stop all talk about race or not even joke about it. I think it is healthy to talk openly about issues of race. A strong society is one that should be able to have healthy debate about race without falling apart.
The reaction to MP Seng Han Thong’s remarks about what he thought the SMRT said about the English standards of their Malay and Indian MRT staff was swift. Rightly or wrongly, people got very upset at the racial undertones and some accused him for being racist.
I think it is heartening to know that Singaporeans are intolerant at even the slightest hint of racism. If that tram lady incident had happened in Singapore, I believe the condemnation from our society would have been as strong, if not stronger.
Yet, our society faces fresh pressures. As foreign workers from China and other nations fill our shores, for some there is a new common “enemy”. And even the most racially-harmonious foreigner-friendly society can get antsy when faced with a sudden influx of foreigners, as the influx strains our infrastructure, tests our cultural tolerance, and leads to increased competition for jobs, housing and other limited resources.
We had decades to get to the point where our races got along but a mere few years to deal with these new developments. I hope that both citizens and newcomers can learn to adapt and get used to each other.
Maybe we can have a Foreigner Harmony Day in school. Make all the kids dress up as races from the new batch of foreigners. I am kidding, of course. That would be silly and superficial.
By the way, I am a new fan of Halimah Yacob. I thought she had guts to speak up on her Facebook when she felt unfair things had been said during the Seng Han Thong/MRT disruption saga:
“Several friends have raised their concerns over MP Seng Han Thong’s remarks. I am also disturbed by the remarks which are inappropriate and unfair even though he may be repeating what someone else said. Having worked in the labour movement for 33 years before taking up my present post, I am reminded of how employers in the past sometimes try to pin the blame on the lowest level workers as a way of… deflecting responsibility from the management whenever a major problem occurs. Effective communication as we all know requires a properly thought out strategy and plan, putting a system in place, training of employees and testing whether the plan works, among others. It is not right to pin the blame on workers and, what is worse, Malay and Indian workers for the purported lack of English proficiency…”
Now that is sticking up for employees, especially the lower level ones, regardless of race. That’s the kind of leader I want to see lead my country, regardless of race.
This incident confirms that it is important to guard against racism in our multiracial country, which is why we have the The Sedition Act and the government has stressed that racial harmony is imperative to Singapore’s survival. We should be careful even when repeating remarks by others lest we are misconstrued, as MP Seng found out. But do remember that we should also avoid reacting in ways that can further stir up emotions and worsen the situation, since MP Seng has apologised and clarified his statement.
Let me leave you with this thought: Although we have Racial Harmony Day (July 21st for those of you who don’t know), we should remember that racial harmony is important every day of the year.