Singaporean influencer Sheena Phua’s recent Instastory at the F1 Grand Prix on 21 September drew strong criticism from netizens over her insensitive remark on two Sikh men.
She uploaded a picture of two Sikh men in white turbans sitting in front of her, and captioned it with “Dang! 2 huge obstructions decided to appear out of nowhere”.
As expected, many online users slammed the Instagram beauty and travel content influencer, who has more than 76,000 followers. This is because they felt that her comments insulted the two men and their religious beliefs.
However, in a later Instastory, Ms Phua apologised for her comment that many deemed as “racist and culturally insensitive”. She also insisted that her intention was not to offend the Sikh community, or any other religion.
She clarified that the “obstructions” that she meant in her previous Instastory was actually “physical obstruction” as both the Sikh men were very tall. As such, they blocked her view from seeing what’s happening in front of her, Ms Phua said.
She also added that her message had been “misinterpreted” and that “this would have been the same were there any other race or gender”.
Sikh association responds in kindness
After reading such a controversial and insensitive message, many would expect the Sikh community in Singapore to seethe in anger. However, the Youth Sikh Association (YSA) took a rather unconventional route to address this issue.
Instead of being furious at Ms Phua, the association decided to reach out to the social media influencer and invited her for a personal tour to a Gurdwara so she can learn more about the Sikh community.
In a Facebook post on 28 September, YSA stated they believe “actions speak louder than words”, justifying the reason why they gave Ms Phua an opportunity to join them on a four-hour visit to the Central Sikh Temple in Towner Road to understand the Sikh religion and community better.
Ms Phua told ST that, “I did some reflection and agreed with (some) people that although the video was not outrightly racist, it was insensitive and had caused a lot of distress to the Sikh community…I decided to take up the YSA’s offer to learn more.”
While at the gurdwara, Ms Phua did not only learn about the Sikh culture and religion, she also did some sewa, or an act of service, by making chapati in the community kitchen.
YSA also stated that when they met the influencer, she shared about “her community and some of her experiences growing up in Singapore.
“By her own admission, she shared that she didn’t know much about the Sikh community. She didn’t have or know of any Sikhs who may have been at school with her,” it added.
After knowing Ms Phua personally, the association pointed out that it’s unfair to penalise her for her initial offensive post given that she was not well-informed about the community that time. “We all have our own experiences that inform what and how much we know about others in our community,” it stated.
Additionally, YSA also mentioned that most of us hope that people will forgive and understand us when we commit an unintended mistake, and reach out to us in friendship.
“Also, don’t we all hope that when we make a mistake and cause unintended offence or hurt, that others will show us empathy, be understanding and forgiving? Better yet, when we make mistakes don’t we all hope that we can expect people will act on their convictions and reach out to us in friendship, as opposed to reacting based on emotions and pointing fingers to blame,” YSA wrote.
In the end of its post, YSA noted that it was grateful towards Ms Phua for making the time to meet the association, and hoped that she enjoyed “what we (YSA) feel was a meaningful experience for all of us.”
It also mentioned that Ms Phua gave them an idea for an initiative that the association plans to take on in the future. “She felt like her, many would also appreciate a less structured visit to a place of worship and learn through conversations and sharing our experiences. We think we just might take this up next year!”