We grew up learning in social studies class that Singapore is a multi-racial, religiously diverse and culturally vibrant city. In fact, we recite in our pledge that our country is built “regardless of race, language or religion”.
The government often reiterates its commitment to maintaining racial harmony. So much so, that there are moves afoot to amend the criteria for the elected presidency to ensure that minority races are represented.
Why then are stories of gross intolerance and blatant racism still so common? It would appear that incidents of racism are not isolated and permeate many faucets of our society. From tuition agencies to public spaces to entertainment circles, racial bigotry and ignorance pervades.
In the Kiss 92 saga, I do believe that it is not the intention of the deejays to cause offence. That said, it is also manifestly clear that their unconscious bias has come to the surface. While they may not consider themselves racist, they certainly hold misconceptions – pre-judgments that are so ingrained that they are not even consciously aware that what they are saying is in fact racist, no matter the intention.
The questions to ask are therefore not whether there was an intention to be racist but whether the statements are in fact racist. It is an objective test. By openly implying that Indians and Malays are lazy is a slur made on racial grounds. Most people would struggle not to find those declarations racist even if they do not personally take offence.
So, if the perpetrators did not intend to be racist but yet utter racist views, where do these objectionable opinions come from? While education has focused on hammering home the message that we are a racially harmonious country, have we done enough to counteract unconscious bias? Are we even aware that we are unconsciously bias?
Perhaps we should consider guidelines in all schools and workplaces to be aware of the possibility of unconscious predispositions.
In the tuition agency debacle, two things stand out to me. Firstly, that people even hold such deplorable views in the 21st century and secondly that the tuition agency cannot see the fallacy of putting across the racially motivated decisions so unashamedly.
While I deplore racism, I accept that we cannot police the private thoughts of people. As long as these racially bigoted thoughts remain private, that individual can think whatever he or she wants. But what has made the tuition agency so ignorant that it feels it can openly state that these decisions were made on the grounds of race without any sense of wrongdoing? Where did that sense of blind entitlement come from? What kind of misplaced privilege do the parents possess that they feel able to explicitly say they only want Chinese tutors in the first place?
While you cannot police the private thoughts of people, you can certainly police their actions! Laws need to be instituted to ensure that job agencies and parents are not permitted to request for applicants based on race!
Also, when has it been unSingaporean to hug? Is the Chinese man at Changi Airport opposed to hugging or does he have issues with who is doing the hugging? Statements like “go home” etc should be made illegal with actual punishments for contraventions.
That is the only way to nip racially motivated actions in the bud. While education with emphasis on the presence of unconscious bias would have a greater long-term effect, laws and regulations need to be implemented in a complementary fashion.