ST Jun 8, 2011
Racism a thing of the past? Think again
I BEG to differ from the views put forth by Professor Lee Wei Ling in her letter last Saturday (‘Singaporeans are mostly not racist’).
Prof Lee posits that racism is a phenomenon limited by and large to the elderly and the less educated, and cites the substantial Indian population in her working environment and in her social circle as evidence of that claim. Yes, this does illustrate Singapore’s racial diversity, but it tells us nothing about the supposed absence of racism.
The writer seems to be suggesting that most Singaporeans are ‘colour-blind’, which is to say that we disregard racial characteristics when taking a person into account. It seems apparent to me, however, that this is far from the truth.
I believe the conclusion that Singaporeans are mostly a colour-blind people is an assumption that members of the dominant racial group here, such as Prof Lee and myself, are privileged with, since we do not bear the brunt of racial discrimination and prejudice.Racism is not just about Indians and the Chinese from the People’s Republic of China, and it is not just about migrant workers, though it plays out most explicitly in the majority’s relations with the minorities.It involves all of us, and it is present whenever we derisively use the term ‘PRCs’; whenever we treat a Caucasian with more respect or accord him more attention than we would an Asian; or whenever we dismissively refer to any group of dark-skinned men as ‘Banglas’ regardless of their ethnic origins.It is present in our media, in our television commercials, advertisements for new condominiums and fashion spreads that make out our country to be full of successful, happy and wholesome Chinese, pan-Asian and Caucasian professionals and families.
Prof Lee tries to distinguish between racism and xenophobia. But where do we draw the line between wariness of foreigners and those of a different race and culture from us? And why doesn’t our xenophobia seem to extend to the lighter-skinned expatriates?
Singapore is for the most part a racially harmonious melting pot, and that is something to be happy about. But don’t let the privileged majority fall into the easy trap of believing that racism is a thing of the past, or being complacent with racial diversity and forgetting the pursuit of social justice.
Tan Yee Hui (Miss)