The “swift backlash” from multiple segments of Singapore society against recent high-profile racist incidents reflect “tectonic shifts in societal norms” taking place between the younger and older generations, said Leader of the Opposition and Workers’ Party chief Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Singh made his remarks in a Facebook post on Tuesday night (8 June) following the viral case of a man who was subjected to a racist remark from a man later identified as a Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) senior lecturer.
Mr Tan Boon Lee had accused Mr Dave Parkash of “preying on Chinese girls” while the latter was on a night out with his girlfriend.
Mr Dave clarified that he is half-Indian and half-Filipino, while his girlfriend — who recorded the incident — is half-Chinese and half-Thai.
Undeterred by Mr Dave’s reply, the man continued his verbal abuse against Mr Dave, saying: “I got nothing against you staying in Singapore.”
”The only thing is you are preying on Chinese girl, I tell you the Chinese won’t like it,” while admitting that he himself is “racist”.
The man also accused Mr Dave’s girlfriend of “disgracing me”, saying that the interracial couple should date people of their own race instead.
“You don’t see a Chinese guy preying on an Indian girl,” he further said to Mr Dave.
Mr Singh noted that hesitancy toward interracial marriages, particularly amongst the older generation such as the late statesman Lee Kuan Yew who had publicly expressed his views on the matter, is not unheard of and is not limited to the Chinese majority.
“I know of Indian and Malay parents of Mr Lee’s generation who feel the same way. Their views tend to evolve towards greater acceptance when they see the happiness in their children’s eyes over the choices made, or when the grandchildren come along,” he said.
Mr Tan’s “serious and fatal misjudgment”, said Mr Singh, was to bring his private views into the public sphere such as what was seen in the incident on Sunday.
“Bigoted views, even if privately held, have a nasty habit of showing themselves up opportunistically in day-to-day circumstances.
“It would be important for those who host such private views to reflect deeply on how these can hurt themselves and more importantly, those around them. When it comes to racism – there can be no ifs or buts,” he said.
While everyone is entitled to their own private views, Mr Singh stressed that moving forward, it is also a duty as a society to “call out bigoted private views with a view to make the public space safer and accommodative for all”.
“The secular public space belongs to us all, not one single racial or religious group or community,” he said.
Mr Tan teaches at NP’s School of Engineering. He appears to have been awarded The Long Service Medal in 2019 under the annual National Day Awards, as listed on Prime Minister’s Office website.
An NP spokesperson told CNA on Monday that the polytechnic is aware of the video and has suspended him from teaching duties.
“We regret that the individual in question is a member of our staff,” said the spokesperson.
They added that the polytechnic takes “a very serious view” of the matter, as the remarks are “highly offensive, disrespectful and go against our staff Code of Conduct and values as a community”.
“We are investigating this matter internally, including considering the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken. Meanwhile, the staff in question has been suspended from his teaching duties,” the spokesperson added.
The incident is currently under police investigations. The police confirmed on Sunday that reports had been lodged and that a 60-year-old man was assisting with investigations into the incident.
“Tolerance” implies “begrudging acceptance of diversity”; fails to dismantle racism
Touching on Singapore’s “secular public space”, Mr Singh said that in such a space, all members “practice tolerance” and “make adjustments so that everyone is a proud member of the Singapore family”.
left.sg, an Instagram page dedicated to examining Singapore’s history from the perspective of a left-wing political framework, however, argued that the concept of tolerance merely serves to further entrench racist sentiments and structures in society.
The page cited Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks in 1988, in which he stated that in order for Singapore to move forward, Singaporeans of different racial and religious make-up have to learn to “put up with each other”.
In 1999, Mr Goh Chok Tong told Parliament that at the time, Singapore was not yet a nation but merely a sovereign entity, as Singapore did not have a homogeneous society.
He added that “we have to accept the hand that we were dealt with”.
Such statements from Singapore’s top political leaders, said left.sg, demonstrate how the government views diversity as “antithetical to unity” and nation-building.
left.sg posited that such a view has been “the prevailing view of the government for over six decades”.
“Singapore’s brand of multi-racial harmony is predicated on a fear of difference. Tolerance dictates that we stay silent and cordon ourselves from the differences among us,” said the page.