The issue of race has been at the forefront of the General Election (GE) 2020, and people now have greater sensitivity when race or religion are weaponized for political ends, said activist Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib in the Ethos Books’ gathering of civil society.
Mr Imran was among the panellists in the Ethos Books’ gathering of civil society which had brought together activists from different areas. The gathering, which titled The Ground Speaks: Civil Society After GE2020, was livestreamed on Facebook on 26 July.
“I think you can’t deny that issue of race has been at the forefront of the last General Election, but we should not think that this is deliberate. We must not forget that there was really an ongoing public discourse on race, particularly of racism over the last few years,” he noted.
Mr Imran said the awareness of racism is “really high” due to constant exposures of racism issues by various advocates, especially among the youngsters and active users of the social media.
“Now, you probably remember the Tan Wu Meng saga with Alfian Sa’at happened just before the General Election and the uproar over brownface was pretty recent. Yet we do know that the issues of race and religion remain tricky in every General Election,” he added.
Mr Imran noted that Singaporeans are constantly reminded that race or religion should not be mixed with politics and they have also seen the effects of bringing up race in the GE. However, the recent GE has brought up “some interesting observations”, he said.
He recalled the case of Raeesah Khan from the Workers’ Party (WP) who was alleged of promoting “enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race” during the GE campaign period. Despite two police reports were lodged against Ms Raeesah, many netizens had offered their support after she apologized publicly on the remarks she made in the past.
“With the outpouring of support for Raeesah Khan, does it mean that people are more accepting of divisive racial or religious remarks? I don’t think so. What clearly happened is this, people now have greater sensitivity when race or religion are weaponized for political ends,” said the activist.
With that said, Mr Imran believes it’s a “good thing” because this means that the Government’s own emphasis to not allow the politicization of race and region in the GE is working.
“Now, it cuts both ways saying something is divisive can itself be a divisive act with an intentional political end. This is something that we have not seen before which clearly speaks to greater civic political awareness,” he added.
Mr Imran also discovered a “clear shift in discourse” on racial issues from the alternative parties in the GE. For example, the WP’s candidate Fadli Fawzi had called for socio-economic issues of the Malays to be addressed at the structural level which has won “quite a few respects” from the non-Malay community.
“It is not that the PAP [People’s Action Party] has not looked at the Malay and the development issues through a structural lens, but somehow they did not see a need to emphasize structural interventions for whatever reason. I see this as a failure in strategy,” he noted.
However, Mr Imran opined Singapore is only at “a maturing state” when it comes to racial discourse. He then urged fellow activists and advocates – who are dealing with racial issues – to determine their end goal for the post-GE 2020.
“Is it to achieve a post-racial society where race or religion plays no role at all in society? – Which I think is not possible, it’s naive and pose even greater problems – Or, to continuously educate society on the pledge of regardless (not without) of race language or religion.
“And advocates should seize the space and develop something productive to bring the discourse to the next level,” he said, adding that advocates must also go beyond exposing casual racism and stereotypes.
In terms of how advocates can lead the conversation of racial issues on the ground, Mr Imran believes it’s important to discuss “the idea of offense” so it will not be weaponized by groups who want to “shield and protect themselves against critics and imperatives to dialogue”.
“Second is intersections. How race intersects with the different life experiences and to be aware of the multiple layers of domination across and also within a race or religion along lines of class, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, education background, and many more.
“Last but not least is to us, ourselves as advocates, what would inter-racial solidarity look like. To go beyond the majority-minority debate and beyond the racialized categories of the CMIO [Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others] that unfortunately continues to frame how we respond to racism even as we try to combat racism,” he explained.