Opinion The Multi-Coloured Face

The Multi-Coloured Face

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You have to hand powers that be for being able to distract you from the issues that matter. The latest row involved the Minister for Law deciding to take on the might of the racist minority by accusing a YouTuber by the name of Preeti Nair of trying to stir up racial hatred in multiracial Singapore because she had the audacity to do a rap criticizing an ad by “E-Pay” because it centred around a Chinese man dressed as a variety of people in Singapore, including an Indian and Malay woman, to which he had to darken his skin tone (The fact being that ethnic Malays and Tamils tend to be a few shades darker than those of Chinese decent.)

Much is being said at the moment. One of my former juniors from my agency days is on Facebook talking about racism in Singapore. A few of my Chinese friends or at least the ones who like to think of themselves as nice people, are having a moment of angst, suddenly realizing the “apu-neh-heh” jokes that used to crack with their Tamil friends might actually have been offensive.

It’s good that we’re talking about race, which is a rightfully touchy subject and I have to stress people from any ethnic majority tend to forget that people from minorities have feelings too. I don’t disagree with the fact that many “racist” comments are actually made with the kindest of intentions. I remember one of my favourite Englishmen telling me that his dad used the term “Chinky” all his life (it was the term for the Chinese take away) and although the term is often used to be offensive, I believe my friend. People do use terms that are overtly racist, without meaning for there be ill will.

Having lived as an ethnic minority for a good part of my life, I also believe that you’ll end up killing yourself, if you took offense at everything that was said. By all means, call me a “Chink” but don’t expect me not to think of you as “Gwei Lo” (I prefer this Cantonese term meaning “Ghost Person” to the one used in Singapore or “Ang Moh” – which means Red Hair – Gwei Lo, is well…….). It is possible to be insulting and well meaning at the same time.

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So, I look at this whole incident as nothing really serious. Yes, the ad was done in bad taste. Yes, “Brownface” was not meant to be “complimentary” but nobody called for violence to be done on any particular ethnic or religious group. So, why on earth is there such an almighty row here and why is the minister taking on two rappers?

I believe that the Ms. Nair and her brother are wonderful distraction from the real discussion about race. A few days before this entire incident, a report by the Singapore Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) foundthat half of all Malays and Indians feel discriminated against when applyingfor a job.
Let that sink in. In “meritocratic” Singapore, a country where it’s citizens pledge to be blind to things like one’s pigmentation, a third of the population feels they are screwed for merely being the wrong colour, when it comes to basic things like applying for a job.

Unlike Malaysia, which is open about favouring one ethnic group over others, Singapore makes a song and dance at every opportunity of being “regardless of race.” We bleat to the “foreign investor” community that they can happily set up business in Singapore without having to favour any particular ethnic group and every year (National Day being the day we do this most) we talk about how every citizen is equal and we judge people by their capabilities rather than their skin tone.
This isn’t just a statistic from a “government” organization. I’m quite open about why I never took up a job in an organization that everybody (including the owner’s family) assumes I run – whenever I’m offered the job, its always significantly less than someone of a fairer complexion and that’s after I’ve over achieved in doing what should be done (bringing in them money).

But who cares about me? I don’t take the job on a full-time basis and everyone seems happy enough. I think of the number of times that I’ve been told “can don’t recommend Malay ah….” or the legal copout being “Must be a Mandarin Speaker,” for jobs that don’t deal with business from PRC China.
I think of the number of times I’m told that a “slave” wage for Indians and Filipinos is “good money” where they come from – hence, they’re damn lucky we let them shovel our shit.

The most prominent example of “work place” racial discrimination comes from the one organization that was built to be a “people’s force,” and force of national unity – the Singapore Armed Forces. It’s no secret that being a “Muslim” is a sure way of ensuring you don’t get promoted (a few years back, Indonesia’s President, JB Habiebie made some remarks about how Singapore lacked “brown” colonels and the very next day our national paper published the picture of every “brown” colonel and above.”) The argument was the fact that we didn’t want our Malay population to feel a conflict of loyalties should we ever go to war against Malaysia and Indonesia. However, with the nature of conflicts changing (going against trans-national extremist) as opposed to nation states, isn’t this form of discrimination actually harmful?

The most interesting part about the “real” debate on racism in Singapore is that you have ethnic minorities promoting it. Back when I lived in Dad’s condo – I remember the one Indian security guard telling me that the management of the building was quite right not to hire Indian people. You got to admit that this is a sign of genius when you get the downtrodden to justify things.

We need to be a real meritocracy and we need to stop pretending that a “cast” system does not exist. Sure, Singapore looks pretty damn good compared to most places – or at least to the people with money – but this cannot go on. Name calling and tasteless ads are the least of our issues. Who really cares if someone paints their fac brown or calls someone a brown face? Let’s not get distracted that one third of our population feels discriminated against in the things that matter. Let’s ask ourselves some hard questions like – are we stopping ourselves from actually using our “human” resources because our prejudices get in the way. Time to look beyond the noise and get to the real issues.

Article taken from BeautifullyIncoherent

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Independent Singapore.

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