Singapore celebrated its Racial Harmony Day on Tuesday (21 July), which is a day to commemorate the 1964 communal riots, where students would dress up in traditional costumes of various cultures.
While many were looking forward to what the celebration might bring, one netizen described on Facebook about how he has always felt “a sense of unwanted responsibility” to the event.
“Today is racial harmony day, as an educator and a minority, I’ve always felt a sense of unwanted responsibility or stewardship attached to this day, and I have grown to dread it,” said the netizen, who used the moniker Kishan Kumar Singh.
Mr Kishan shared about how people would speak “the most ridiculous things” during the annual event, and that he would end up correcting them.
“Like a hall monitor (read: often only minority), I inadvertently become that person correcting them: after the ‘indian dance’ number during assembly I get asked why there isn’t a tree (‘haha all bollywood films must also cast a tree, right?’), or why i don’t understand the tamil words during the quiz portion of the assembly programme (‘eh, you not indian meh?’),” he explained.
Noting that others would seem “happy” at the end of the event and “baptised anew with the knowledge of what a harmonious and diverse society” Singapore has, Mr Kishan on the other hand, feels “battered” and would rather “go home”.
“It’s like living through the purge where you are the target, only more emotional and less gory, but potentially equally horrifying,” he added.
Knowing that this year’s Racial Harmony Day will fall during the school break and amid the pandemic, Mr Kishan said he was “quietly thankful” as there would be no assembly programme.
He indicated the annual event as “purposely” and “continually anchored in a more tumultuous past”, where the old pictures of the 1964 communal riots will be displayed in class and students are asked to be thankful for how far the nation has “progressed”.
“Understanding the history is important, but we must refrain from talking about race and racism as if there is nothing else left to fix, as if done and dusted, as if racist ‘incidents’ that happen now are minor or less significant and something minorities can and should tolerate,” Mr Kishan stated.
The science educator opined that there is little space to discuss the “current insidious manifestations of racism” if people are only focused on history.
“Racism becomes a relic of the past and we never learn how to deal with it. Is it any wonder why Singaporeans continue to behave the way they do? Why would we continue to handicap our youth like this?” he added.
With that said, Mr Kishan urged Singaporeans to talk about the racist incidents that are happening now, and students should instead be asking their teachers to share their personal encounters of racism.
“Discuss George Floyd and BLM [Black Lives Matter]. Make them aware of privilege and performative allyship. Discuss policy. These things are complex and must be done thoughtfully, but do not underestimate students’ ability to sit in their own doubt, to question, understand and empathise,” he asserted.