A decision made by Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon Group Representative Constituency, Lee Bee Wah to don the “tudong” in a photograph for a Hari Raya banner sparked controversy recently.
While some have praised her initiative as one that attempts to cultivate religious understanding and acceptance towards the Muslim community, others have denounced her photograph as “insensitive”, saying that the photograph ignores the reality that “regular hijabis are constantly being denied jobs” and “face micro-aggression at school or at work” for wearing the headscarf, due to structural prejudice and discriminatory policies.
A positive that has come out of this photograph (whether intended by Lee or not) is that it has generated some healthy debate in relation to the discrimination that non Chinese people may face in their everyday life.
Singapore prides itself as a multi cultural, multi religious and multiracial country. The government is also constantly stressing the need to maintain racial harmony within Singapore. However, the bigger question to honestly examine is whether or not our minorities have genuine equality to opportunities in Singapore.
While there is ostensibly equal opportunities for all, does this translate in day to day life? According to some of the commentators, this is not so. There appears to be racism and discrimination to the Malay community in all spectrum of daily life ranging from school to work. This may be an uncomfortable truth to confront but if we genuinely believe in the values that are meant to underpin life in Singapore, this is something that the government must boldly face up to and address.
It is easy for MPs to pay lip service to their commitment to racial equality and posing for a photograph in traditional costume is an easy win. Without questioning Lee’s intentions, one can only hope that the photograph signals her ongoing commitment to ensuring that her minority constituents (in this case the Malay Community in Nee Soon) have access to equality.
If Lee’s photograph opportunity is followed up by genuine efforts to engage our minority Singaporeans while ensuring that diversity and inclusion is reflected in every aspect of our daily life, then her photograph will be considered a great attempt to connect with the minorities in her constituency.
However, if it is not followed up by any further action, then it will simply be a cheap publicity stunt.
Inclusion and diversity are everyday themes. Not just for Hari Raya or other special cultural or religious holidays.