TL;DR – Not bad, but still far from race-blind. We oughta do better!
This was a headline in the Straits Times a few days ago:
Hindu devotee saves life of elderly Chinese.
It was the story of Mr U. Silvakumar. Mr Silvakumar was heading to a temple along Serangoon Road when he saw a crowd around an elderly Chinese man who was lying on the ground. The elderly Chinese man was unconscious.
After determining that the Chinese man had no pulse and showed no signs of breathing, Mr Silvakumar proceeded to administer CPR. Thanks to Mr Silvakumar’s efforts, by the time the elderly Chinese man was taken into the ambulance, he had started breathing again. (Unfortunately, the man had passed away.)
Even before Straits Times reported the story, it had already gone viral on Facebook. It generally drew positive comments. But when Straits Times reported it with that headlines, there were people who questioned whether there was a need to highlight the religion and the race of the people involved. Some asked if we were truly race blind, then would there be a need to mention religion and race in a headline.
But the reality is that we aren’t race blind. Nor should we be. Not yet at least. Not until we truly understand other races and religions. Not until we are sensitive to one another. And we are still a long way from that. Why do I say that? Just look at these two examples.
The Smart Local being not very smart…
The first example was this video by The Smart Local (TSL), a website that is supposedly familiar with all things Singapore and Singaporean:
The video was about five-minutes long. It featured people comparing ladoos to diarrhoea and giving blank looks when asked about the meaning of Deepavali. The people featured in the video also made faces as they tried those Indian snacks. Presumably, those who tried the snacks and made those comments are Singaporeans.
This apology was also widely criticised. People asked why more research is needed to produce content that is not ignorant and offensive. Shouldn’t that be something that is basic common sense? Well… apparently racial sensitivity and common sense aren’t all too common in Singapore. Enter the second example.
Mediacorp also not that sensitive…
You would have thought that Mediacorp, with their army of experienced script writers, directors, and producers would have greater sensitivity for issues such as race and religion. But you would be wrong. In an episode of the Toggle original called I want to be a star, a Chinese actor, Shane Pow, put on blackface and an Afro wig so that he can take on a role as an African.
Shane Pow went from this:
If you think this is bad, you should know what happened in the episode leading up the scenes above. The story went that the assistant producer wanted an African man to be an extra on the show. But due to some miscommunication, the agency arranging extras wasn’t able to get an African. So the manager of the agency called… Muthu, his Indian friend. When the assistant producer clarified that she wanted an African, not an Indian, the manager of the agency said this:
“It’s all the same what!”
But Muthu wasn’t available either. Hence Shane Pow’s blackface and afro wig.
Really? Doesn’t Mediacorp have some system to make sure such things don’t happen? That such things can happen even at Mediacorp shows that we still have a long way to go in being sensitive to race and religious issues.
We still need to do more to improve
A survey by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on race relations found that a large proportion of Singaporeans are living out multicultural ideals. Many have positive interactions across ethnic groups. This is certainly much better than what other countries are experiencing.
Just look at USA. The “leader” of the free world and the “ideal” of democratic societies. 63% of Americans think that race relations in USA are generally bad. There’s a great distrust between the African-American community and law enforcers.
That said, there is still much that needs to be done to improve our racial and religious harmony in Singapore. Nearly 50% of respondents of the IPS survey still recognise that racism can be a problem and are aware that there are substantial groups of Singaporeans who are at least mildly racist. Across races, respondents have heard racist comments with 45% at their workplaces.
All in all, the relationship amongst the different races and religions in Singapore is much better than in most places. That’s something we can be proud of, guard closely, and most importantly, improve on. We need to have frank discussions about issues about race and religion. Don’t pretend that they don’t exist, but, like Mr Silvakumar, look beyond it.
With that, we leave you with this heartwarming message by Mr Silvakumar: