Racism in Singapore is getting worse. Or maybe it’s always been this way but lowkey because there weren’t smartphones and social media for it to reach a wide audience. Either way, racism is a problem and there seems to a ton of racist Singaporeans.
The recent incidents with Beow Tan and Tan Boon Lee have shown us one thing; they’re not afraid to be in the limelight. Yes, they’re slapped down hard but soon another rises to take their place.
I’ve been doing multiple sentiment analysis posts, where I take a look at Facebook comments regarding these topics. What I found was that there are pockets of closet racists here and there.
These Singaporeans think along the same lines as the two mentioned above, but are emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet (even if the profiles are real). Some will eventually act out their racism, self-destructing either on social media, or like the two above, explosively in public.
While the racist Singaporeans in our midst have so far been relatively tame, make no mistake, there are hardcore racists hiding within our midst.
These are the guys (and gals) that really, really, reeeeeeeeeeeeally believe in what they preach (not like Beow Tan and Tan Boon Lee didn’t) and would willingly hurt (or even worse) those they hate.
I guarantee you that when they do pop, chances are we’ll be too stunned to stop them.
Just take a look at all the recent incidents. These relatively minor outbursts all happened in public. Did anybody that wasn’t involve step in to help out those being targetted? Nope. Beow Tan’s tirade on the MRT just got her weird looks from the other passengers. Nobody lifted a finger to assist the Malay people she picked on.
Same thing with Tan Boon Lee.
That incident happened on Orchard Road, in plain view. NOBODY came to even find out what happened despite Tan and Dave shouting at each other.
If minor things like these incidents don’t get the bystanders stepping in, is it a big leap to think major ones (like somebody getting beaten) will get a positive response?
Perhaps if the right people were around, but chances are Singaporeans will just stare (or record) and then move on.
Asian (and Singaporean) mentality is just to mind your own business, ignore everything else. It’s much easier to do that if the person being racially attacked isn’t of your own race.
Or maybe they don’t want to escalate the situation.
You step in to stop somebody being beaten and the next thing you know, you’re getting pummeled too. Better to just ignore.
It’s a sensible point of view, if not the morally right one.
It’s easy to say you’re going to step up and help when everything’s hunky dory. In reality, when the crap hits the fan, you might just feel otherwise, no matter how strong your earlier conviction was.
Unfortunately, it’s shown that talking to racists will rarely ever work.
Dave Park Ash talked with Tan Boon Lee, trying to make him see his point of view and how racist and illogical Tan was. Didn’t work one bit. Tan wasn’t swayed at all. Hell, he stuck to his beliefs even more. By the end of the incident, Tan was visibly more agitated. Perhaps if Dave had continued to press Tan, a fight might have even broken out.
While it might be satisfying to see a racist get a beatdown, it’s going to set a precedent going forward. The next time a racist Singaporean causes an incident, those involved may be much more willing to throw down instead of just verbally sparring.
Both sides believe they’re right.
It doesn’t matter that racism is wrong, to the racist it is right. It’s easy to try to stamp out racism with violence…but in the long run, it addresses nothing. It’s much better to address the issues that create the racism in the first place.
However, these issues will undoubtedly be sensitive ones.
Negotiating these opposing values and conflict is a complicated and delicate balancing act. Going too fast, too soon, will be counterproductive. Unfortunately, for those at both ends of the spectrum, such contestations are seen as zero-sum games.
In their eyes of racist Singaporeans, only they are right and only they can win and the other side must lose.
In a country as compact and diverse as us, such conflict can be de-stabilising. In the end, Singaporeans lose. Our harmony will be compromised. Singaporeans, especially the silent moderates, regardless of the colour of your skin, or the religion you adhere to, will suffer.
Singapore is not perfect and can improve in terms of fostering greater harmony and understanding. Racism needs to be rooted out and not be allowed to fester, but the manner in which we do so should be guided by rationality and an awareness and appreciation of what we have and our vulnerability.