Left: Facebook post by MP Yacob Ibrahim which was removed after wide criticism. Right: Minister K Shanmugam

The Corona Virus outbreak in Singapore has thrown up many issues not least of all the inherent and disturbing racism, classism and ignorance that exists in our society.

What makes things worse however, is the fact that a national broadsheet with a large readership has allowed an article/letter dripping with bigotry to be published.

This article, published in Lianhe Zaobao pointed to the lack of hygiene on the part of our foreign blue collar workers as well as their cultural differences with us in relation to cleanliness as what led to the COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.

Needless to say, this is an article written by someone with zero understanding of how our country has enabled and allowed our foreign blue collar workers to be poorly housed. Do you think anyone would share a room, toilet facilities and kitchens with twenty to thirty other men by choice? Do you think they wouldn’t rather eat at a nice swanky restaurant on off days rather than sit outside on the floor?

The truth of the matter is that they are paid so little that there is hardly anything else that they can afford to do but to sit outside. The fact that the columnist is a self-entitled ignoramus is not something that needs proving. His or her article speaks for itself.

What is morally reprehensible and utterly irresponsible is the editorial decision to allow such an article to be published in the first place and at a time of pandemic to boot! Are there going to be repercussions for this poor editorial decision? What a pity that the “fake news” act (i.e. the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act ) (also known as POFMA) cannot be used on this because this sure falls under the umbrella of propagating “fake news”.

This Lianhe Zaobao article must have caused consternation within the ranks of government as well given that Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has commented that the letter revealed “underlying racism” and was “xenophobic and deeply insensitive”. That it also typecasted “an entire group and reflected a “lack of understanding of why we have this transmission of COVID-19  amongst our foreign workers.”

While Shanmugam’s comments are spot on, the government in which he serves must also take some responsibility in enabling this sort of “Chinese privilege”.

Firstly, why has our education system not taught us about the contributions our foreign workers make? Why does the curriculum not show us the reality of how they have to live?

Secondly, why are Members of Parliament (MP) such as Yaacob Ibrahim not publicly chastised for deeply offensive posts on Facebook (FB) such as the one he recently made where he was essentially celebrating the absence of foreign workers in open spaces in his constituency at a time when the migrant workers are unable to come out because they are in quarantine or lock down?

As a member of the ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP), his public statements reflect government opinion. In the face of public ignorance, Ibrahim’s public statements as a PAP MP will definitely be taken by some as conclusive proof that our migrant workers are somehow culturally inferior. Singaporeans (including Ibrahim) have conveniently forgotten that they only have the lives they have because they (by callous fate) were born into a first world country and the opportunities it affords. Had the wheel of fortune spun a different way, they could have been born into a third world country and be labourers themselves!  It is simply luck – nothing to do with superiority or inferiority.

Thirdly, our Ministry of Health and our Ministry of Manpower consistently makes our migrant workers the centre of focus in relation to the COVID-19 spread.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo consistently stresses that the spread is within the ranks of our migrant workers and even blamed their socialising as a reason behind the spread.

With this kind of messaging, of course there will be people who will come to the misguided conclusion that it is our migrant labour that is responsible for the spread. As Teo puts the migrant workers in the centre of the spread, she negates to mention that her department had been aware of contagion as early as February but did nothing to contain it.

Whose fault is that? The migrant workers or MOM? She also negates to mention that they are forced to live in close proximity and are therefore unable to self-isolate appropriately. It is also important to remind people at this point that the government DID NOT initially provide any masks for the migrant workers.

While Shanmuggum is right to call this Lianhe Zaobao letter out, he should perhaps also call the members of his own government out for possibly contributing to this situation.

Also, if it were the independent media that had allowed such a letter to be published, what repercussions would they face?

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