Minorities in Singapore are already disadvantaged in many ways and shouldn’t have to worry about or be shamed for their names, said Red Dot United (RDU) Secretary-General Ravi Philemon.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday (24 Aug), Mr Philemon referred to the now-deleted post by People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng in which the politician took a jab at Vice President of the United States (US) Kamala Harris’ name, pointing out that it is “alamak” when spelt backwards.
Mr Philemon noted in his post that the name Kamala means ‘flower’ in Tamil, adding that there are probably hundreds or thousands of Singaporean Tamils who name their daughters ‘Kamala’.
“To say the name is ‘alamak’ spelt backwards is a racially based sting and an insult,” chided Mr Philemon.
“If a very powerful VP of USA like #KamalaHarris cannot escape such name-based microaggressions, what chance do ordinary women have?” he added.
Mr Philemon went on to say that no one should have to make their names more convenient for others or adopt an Anglicised version of their given name simply to “blend it, belong and be seen as equal to their peers”.
“So, never make fun of someone’s name, regardless of how funny it may seem to you because of your privilege or your own circle of friends,” he asserted.
“Don’t post it on social media. It just adds to mental stress.”
Author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh weighed in on Mr Seah’s comment as well, saying: “I’ve seen this Alamak – Kamala “joke” on private forums and comedy boards, but for a politician to do so publicly…hmmm. Classy.”
“He wouldn’t dare do the same to any Chinese leader, methinks,” added Mr Vadaketh.
Instead of allowing “another luntut politician to steal the stage with throwaway jokes”, he suggested that it would be better to use this moment to think about the name “Kamala” instead.
Mr Vadaketh quoted an abc7News piece which said: “Kamala means ‘lotus flower’, a plant holding deep meaning in Indian culture. Harris describes the flower in her memoir as growing underwater, with flowers that rise above the surface, with roots planted firmly in the river’s bottom.”
“The best way we can explain the correct pronunciation is to take the word ‘comma’ and add a ‘-la’ sound to the end: Comma-la,” he added.
Mr Vadaketh concluded his post saying, “‘A culture that worships goddesses produces strong women,’ their mum Shyamala told the LA Times, in explaining her kids’ names derived from Indian mythology (Kamala Devi’s sister is Maya Lakshmi.) ‘Kamala comes from a long line of kick-ass women.'”
Mr Seah’s faux pas
On Ms Harris’ second day in Singapore on Monday (23 Aug), Mr Seah, who is also CEO of NTUC FairPrice, wrote in a Facebook post that a friend pointed out to him the “coincidence” of Ms Harris’ first name.
However, the post was removed soon after.
Mr Seah told Mothership.sg that he posted the remark on his page just before going for his meet-the-people session (MPS) that evening.
The MP for Marine Parade GRC explained that he received a ‘ping’ from a friend midway through the MPS about the post and on reflection, decided to remove it.
“Yes, I did post this on my FB page last evening just before I went for my MPS. Midway through my MPS, a friend ping me and as I reflected on it, I agree it was not appropriate and decided to take down the posting,” he explained.
Ms Harris arrived in Singapore earlier on Sunday (22 Aug) for her first official visit to the region. She departed for Vietnam yesterday.