Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. Source: CNA

“Some improvement” in race relations among Singaporeans except in workplaces, says Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam … but do minorities concur?

While there has been a “slight increase” in the “perception” of racial discrimination at the workplace against minorities in Singapore, there has also been “some improvement” in race relations among Singaporeans overall, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

“Is there racism in Singapore? Of course there is. There is racism in every multi-racial society that we know of. And there is, in Singapore,” said Mr Shanmugam in a Facebook post on Sun (4 Aug).

He said that the government has never shied away from the fact that racism exists in Singapore, and have in fact opened multiple avenues such as the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) surveys to “discuss it openly”.

“They come out once every two years – details our people’s views on race, religious issues. The latest IPS survey issued last week showed in fact a slight increase in perception of workplace racial discrimination. In some other areas of race relationships, there was some improvement,” said Mr Shanmugam.

The “IPS-OnePeople.sg Indicators of Racial and Religious Harmony: Comparing Results from 2018 and 2013” survey, conducted by the IPS at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, found that compared to other areas such as public infrastructure including transport and hospitals, racial minorities in Singapore were found “more likely” to perceive discrimination in the workplace.

While overall perceived workplace discrimination was “still relatively low”, with under seven per cent of respondents stating that they have regularly perceived such discrimination, the proportions were “expectedly were higher for racial minorities”.

The researchers found that approximately nine per cent of minorities “often, very often or always perceived discrimination at work compared to 2 per cent of Chinese respondents (see Table 28)”, with around one-third of Malay and Indian respondents perceiving discrimination at work “sometimes, often, or very often or always”.

“Conversely, one in 10 Chinese respondents expressed similar sentiments,” according to the researchers’ findings.

The perception of discrimination when applying for jobs, according to the IPS survey findings, was also higher among Malays and Indians (see Table 29).

The proportions who perceived such discriminatory behaviour often, very often or always was also “marginally higher in 2018 compared to 2013”. For instance, 22.3 per cent of Malays in 2018 felt discriminated “often, very often or always” when applying for a job, an increase from the 19.4 per cent who felt similarly in 2013, the report found.

Similar patterns were observed in the area of job promotions, in which it was reported that “at least 18 per cent of Malays and 20 percent of Indians” had “sometimes, often, very often or always” experienced discrimination when seeking job promotions, in contrast with around only three per cent of of Chinese Singaporeans who reported such sentiments.

The perception of racial discrimination in seeking job promotions have also increased over the years from 2013 to last year, according to the report, with 32.4 per cent of Malays reporting “sometimes” having such a perception last year compared to the 26.7 per cent who felt similarly in 2013, while 18.4 per cent reported “often, very often or always” in 2018 compared to 17.1 per cent in 2013.

 

 

Highlighting that MHA and other ministries have taken proactive steps to combat racism in Singapore society through various initiatives such as “regular conferences, symposiums, and dialogues”, Mr Shanmugam said that the Government can only do so much, and that “there are aspects where people have to become more aware, and more sensitive”.

“We have made much progress from that day on 9 August 1965, when Mr Lee Kuan Yew very powerfully said, “We are not a Malay nation, we are not a Chinese nation, we are not an Indian nation. This is a country for all Singaporeans,”” he added.

Nair siblings “had every right to raise the issue of racism”, but they did not do it correctly: Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam

Touching on rising YouTube duo Preeti Nair and Subhas Nair’s video response to the NETS E-Pay advertisement, Mr Shanmugam said that while “[t]he Nair siblings, like everyone else, had every right to raise the issue of racism”, he disagreed with the way they had expressed their indignation.

“I agree with their right to raise it, but question the way it was done. If everyone starts discussing race and religion in the way they did, then you will in fact get more racism, not less. That is our key concern. They have used the language of resistance in America, but we thankfully are in a very different situation,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam, however, also criticised the E-Pay advertisement, saying that it was done “in poor taste”, and that given the overwhelming backlash against the advertisement and the people involved in its production, he said that others “need to learn from that” and to “be much more sensitive” of the implications behind even such “casual” racism.

Highlighting political and social unrest happening elsewhere such as the Hong Kong protests, the Texas mass shooting, the Kashmir militant attack alert, and the arrest of 600 protestors in Russia, Mr Shanmugam said that while such countries “face different issues”, there is “much that we can be positive about as Singaporeans”, and that Singaporeans “can be thankful that we have avoided headlines like these”.

“As we approach our National Day, there is much that we can be positive about as Singaporeans, and look forward to further progress … We must continue to focus on getting things better, discuss issues openly and work on them,” he said.

Some minority race netizens sceptical of Mr Shanmugam’s claim that race relations have improved in areas other than the workplace

Several netizens, including those from minority race communities, agreed with Mr Shanmugam’s statements and the government’s efforts to improve race relations among Singaporeans, while claiming that other individuals of minority races who take a similar approach to the Nair siblings in their video are being “overly sensitive” and are merely fanning racial tensions among Singaporeans:

However, many minority race netizens have also questioned Mr Shanmugam’s criticism of the Nair siblings’ response to the E-Pay advertisement, suggesting that the policing of the latter’s language misses the point of the rap video, which was intended to spark an honest discussion about racism beyond the sanitised avenues of “dialogues and symposiums” as suggested by the Minister:

One commenter, in particular, suggested that racial discrimination at the workplace can be mitigated by banning job advertisements that require applicants to “be able to write and converse in Mandarin/Chinese”, as such a requirement will inevitably exclude many applicants from minority races who may have limited proficiency to none in Chinese:

Another commenter pointed out that certain government policies and measures appear to run contrary to what Mr Shanmugam has said about not engaging in inflammatory debates on racism:

MHA slams the Nair siblings’ “insincere” first apology, says Police are still investigating and seeking advice from AGC

In the rap video response to the E-Pay advertisement, which was released last Mon (29 Jul), the siblings were seen repeatedly uttering “Chinese people always out here f***king it up”, while condemning Chinese Singaporeans who engage in the exploitation of minorities such as Indians and Malays for their own profit via such racism.

Subhas, who was notably dressed similarly to the “K Muthusamy” character portrayed by Chew in the advertisement, pointed out in the video what many Singaporeans have highlighted in their response to the parody: “You should have cast a makcik [informal term for a slightly older Malay lady], you should have called her.”

“How can a man wear brown and wear a tudung? Two wrongs don’t make a right,” read one of the lines in Preeti’s verse, in a subtle jab against the perceived act of “brownface” done by Chew in dressing up as a Malay woman in a hijab.

The controversial advertisement, which has since been modified to remove the offending material, portrayed Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew as multiple “characters” of different races in Singapore, such as a Malay woman in a headscarf and an Indian man with darkened skin, a Chinese woman in a pink jacket and a Chinese man with a moustache in the advertisement.

The advertisement drew flak from many Singaporeans, with parallels being drawn to “brownface” — the racist act of darkening fair skin for entertainment purposes at the expense of people of “brown” races such as Indians and Malays, regardless whether or not it is intentional. Many critics have also pointed out why actual Malay and Indian actors or models were not hired to portray individuals of their respective races instead.

Preeti also poked fun at the C.M.I.O acronym — Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others — that typically characterises the fabric of Singapore’s multiracial society, saying: “Cancel Minority Is Ok!”.

In a scene depicting a conversation between Preeti and Subhas, the latter pointed out that an advertisement for last Deepavali entailed the same “brownface” act, in which a Chinese man was dressed to portray a Sikh man.

The video garnered 4,000 views and almost 150 shares on Facebook just two hours after it was posted. However, the video was taken down from Facebook and other social media channels by last Tue (29 Jul) afternoon after it was condemned by the government.

A police report was lodged against Preeti over the video, following which police said in a statement the same day that the video was being investigated for “offensive content that causes ill-will between races”. Police has also reminded the public not to circulate the video.

Subhas was also removed from “ROAR”, a CNA National Day musical documentary, for his involvement in the video, CNA announced last Wed.

MHA, in response to the siblings’ purportedly “mock, insincere” apology last Fri (2 Aug), said that Police are currently “continuing their investigations and taking advice” from the Attorney-General’s Chambers regarding the duo’s case.

Their apology, said MHA the same day, “is a spoof of an earlier apology issued by Havas Worldwide for the E-Pay advertisement (Nets subsequently issued an apology)”.

“This spoofing is a pretence of an apology, and in fact shows contempt for the many Singaporeans who have expressed concern at their blatantly racist rap video,” added MHA.

The Nair siblings issued a joint statement the next day, stating that they “unconditionally apologise for the tone, aggression, vulgarities, and gestures used in the K. Muthusamy music video”.

“People are offended and we sincerely apologise for it,” they said, adding: “If we could do it over again, we would change the manner in which we approached this issue, and would have worded our thoughts better.”

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