Are Singaporeans chicken, or simply bo chap?

Straits Times Forum, 10 July 2007

Tirade of racial abuse aboard bus and no one bothered to act

ON JULY 4, while travelling on bus service 16, my fellow passengers and I were the victims of racial abuse.

The incident was sparked by a person who boarded the bus but had no change for bus fare. At that moment, an elderly Caucasian woman came up and offered to pay the fare for that person.

She did this while raising her voice and commenting that Singaporeans will never help anyone but themselves and that all Singaporeans were money-minded.

She even went so far as to add a four-letter vulgarity before the word ‘Singaporean’ in every sentence she uttered.

At that moment, I could not remain silent any longer and I interrupted her, merely uttering the words, ‘excuse me’. It was then that her racial slurs began, referring to Chinese people as ‘chinks’ and how she hated all of them.

I then accused her of being a racist which she freely admitted to being, all the while adding again the four-letter vulgarity directed at all ‘chinks’.

She then remarked to the entire bus how Chinese people could not speak proper English, adding that she did not know how they could see owing to their small eyes.

To say the least, I was shocked and horrified by her bigotry. Being lost for words and disgusted at her deplorable behaviour, I just called her a disgrace.

After the dust had settled, I found myself utterly disappointed at how such a small and hateful person was allowed on our shores, if in fact she was in Singapore on a long-term basis.

However, I was even more disappointed in the extreme apathetic nature of my fellow Singaporeans. This racial abuse lasted a good five minutes on a bus packed full of Singaporeans who had just finished work, and no one except me had shown disapproval of this verbal abuse.

Everyone just sat there without saying a word. If we Singaporeans do not stand up for ourselves in the face of such blatant tyranny, who will? The ironic thing is that I am Eurasian and my girlfriend is German and I was the only one who said something when she went on her racial tirade.

This debacle has left me with the opinion that our Government’s drive towards attracting foreign talent needs to be approached with great caution.

More stringent checks on potential immigrants are required, which should not be solely based on paper credentials, but on their sentiments towards Singapore and their people. One bigot allowed to grace the country I love is one too many.

Shaun Jalleh

I think that old woman is a little off her rocker. I’m sure she does not represent all Caucasians in Singapore, whom I’ve noted are generally less bigoted than the majority of Singaporeans.

What I’m more concerned about is how Singaporeans are so averse to standing up against racism and injustice, that they just set Shaun Jalleh defend Singapore on his own. I think that is the real disgrace about Singaporeans. Perhaps it’s our education system, our political emasculation or simply our bo chap (indifferent) attitude to everything other them ourselves.

Community regulation, not prosecution for "No Pork" podcasters

In my previous post, “‘No Pork’ podcast shows racism is alive and well in Singapore”, I criticised the makers of that podcast for being racist. I also took issue with bloggers who re-circulated the clip while endorsing its brand of humour. Finally, I was saddened by the reaction of so many Singaporeans (including some people I know) who thought it was funny and saw nothing wrong with that clip. I saw all this as evidence that Singaporean society — particularly the Chinese majority — has a long way to go to come to terms with, and tackle our prejudiced attitudes with regards to race and religion.

Now that the news of the clip and the reaction has gone mainstream, with the Straits Times and TODAY newspapers both reporting it, I thought I should state my stand on what I feel the authorities should or should not do in reaction to this.

Although there are some grounds to charge the makers of the clip under the Penal Code (Section 298), I do not think this is the appropriate course of action that the police and the Attorney General should take.

Firstly, it appears the clip was made with humour in mind, not with a “deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person”, as is stated in the Penal Code. While it revealed the podcasters’ immaturity, insensitivity and their prejudice, Singapore does not have any laws against racist attitudes, per se. In any case, it seems the recording was staged, and there was actually no Indian-Muslim involved in it.

Secondly, this incident has proven the ability of Netizens to self-regulate — at least to some extent. After being flagged as inappropriate by a YouTube user, the popular video hosting site took down the clip, presumably because it violated their terms of service clause, which prohibits “speech which contains slurs or the malicious use of stereotypes intended to attack or demean a particular…religion…”. It also provoked a strong reaction by many bloggers like Speranza Nuova and blog readers (who posted comments) who felt that the clip was demeaning to Muslims.

I would imagine that if the police were to take action against Ximiwakoz, the goon who posted the clip, it would be mainly to demonstrate to the Muslim and Indian communities that the Government does not tolerate racial and religious prejudice, and to prevent any strong reactions from those communities in response to the clip. I believe that our society has progressed since the 1960s, and the authorities should not fear anything other than a measured and rational response to such relatively minor incidents.

Having said that, I do hope that Chinese community leaders will take note of this incident, and speak out against prejudiced attitudes towards minorities, which are so prevalent in the Chinese community.

Teachers should show the clip to their students to impress upon them that this is inappropriate behaviour, whether in public or in private. It is wrong, not just because we live in a multi-racial society, but because prejudice against other races, religions and socio-economic classes is intrinsically immoral.

"No Pork" podcast proves racism is alive and well in Singapore

There is a audio recording circulating the Internet in which two Chinese Singaporean men are poking fun at an Indian Muslim food stallholder by insisting on ordering pork, despite the stallholder repeatedly telling them he serves only halal food.

I was furious when I heard it. It isn’t funny at all. It’s not just extremely insensitive to Indians and Muslims. It is downright racist.

Full-time blogger Xiaxue posted it on her blog and remarked that it was “super funny”. Her post alone attracted over 260 comments, most of which agreed with her.

It turns out the recording was staged — the “Indian” character was actually a Chinese guy and the recording was done at his house. This according to the girlfriend of one of the men who recorded it. However, this does not detract from the gravity of this offensive recording.

Coming hot on the heels of the British reality show Celebrity Big Brother in which the participants racially abused Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, this clip and its response has revealed an even uglier side of Singapore. At least in the UK, the participants were roundly criticised by the public. Here in Singapore, most Chinese (including the makers of the podcast) don’t even realise that it is wrong. It makes me wonder if our façade about being a model of “tolerance” and “racial harmony” is a farce.

Chinese Singaporeans really need to engage in some serious introspection about our racist attitudes towards minorities. I have often heard comments from Chinese Singaporeans that “there is no racism in Singapore”, unlike in Australia and the UK. Who are they to make such judgments? Those of us in the majority race would never know what it is like to be a minority in your own land, unless they have lived in as a minority before.

“Chinese speaking environment” preferred

Another thing I’ve noticed recently is how job recruitment ads have evolved. Previously, they used to say “Mandarin speaker required”. Now the wording of choice is “Chinese speaking environment”, with the hope that non-Chinese will shy away from even applying in the first place. We all know that this is just another way for some companies to avoid employing minorities. Just look at these ads and judge for yourselves.

One of them, Zeal Infotech, asked for a Java programmer who is preferably “able to speak Mandarin” as the candidate “will be working in a Chinese-speaking environment with Chinese Singapore Citizens and PRs, or with Singapore PR invitation letters”! [read: We welcome all Chinese, even if you’re a foreigner, but non-Chinese Singaporeans should think twice before applying.]

This shameful state of affairs has got to stop NOW if Singapore is to become a developed society. It begins in the home. Parents need to realise that every casual generalisation about a certain race leaves a lasting impression on their children, many of whom carry their “inherited” racism for a lifetime without even realising it. But where parenting has failed in this aspect, the education system needs to revise its curriculum to not just preach “tolerance” (which leaves room for people to be racist behind closed doors or under the cloak of anonymity), but inculcate a genuine revulsion for all forms of racism — including employment bias and racist jokes.