'This is Singapore' is no excuse for racist behaviour

'This is Singapore' is no excuse for racist behaviour
Pupils at a school celebrate racial harmony day in 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

YOUR SINGAPORE V. MINE

What is your definition of Singapore, and what happens when a fellow Singaporean has a vastly different idea of what the country should be or represent?

A 28-year-old poet has taken to social media to relate an incident last week in which racism reared its ugly head.

Ms Jennifer Anne Champion, a Singaporean with Ceylonese Tamil, Malay, Indonesian and Chinese heritage, was waiting for her partner's return at Changi Airport last Tuesday, according to her Facebook note. Standing next to her were other people waiting to welcome returning family and friends, including a bespectacled Chinese man in his 40s.

When a Filipino family reunited at the railings near the exit of the gate, the bespectacled man began his tirade. At first, he said: "No hugging here. Can you see? This is Singapore. Go hug outside."

In her note, Ms Champion said she thought the man was perhaps asking the Filipino family not to obstruct the exit. Unfortunately, she was proven wrong.

When confronted, the man reiterated his message, this time in nastier words. "This is Singapore. You Filipinos. Go back to the Philippines. This is Singapore."

Ms Champion said she was stunned.  "My heart feels sick for this family that such ugliness is the first thing that greets them. The entrance to Singapore, so heavily checked for tax-evaders, contraband smokers, drug takers, but not racists," she wrote.

She decided to stand up to the racist. "Sir, I am Singaporean and I don't approve of what you did just now," she said.

"You Singaporean? I don't care," came the curt reply.

The subsequent exchanges followed in the same vein.

It was then, Ms Champion said, that she realised how the bespectacled man might view her.

To him, being xenophobic was the norm, believing he was higher up the food chain in "cultural superiority".

But a Singaporean who did not tolerate or abide by his viewpoints was an even greater "unknown".

"In all fairness," she wrote, "what happen(ed) here between us should be a national conversation. How to deal with the trauma when Singaporeans come head to head with different ideas of what Singapore is."

She added: "In my Singapore, the invocation 'This is Singapore' as a way of excusing bigoted behaviour in public is not regrettable, but punishable. Because the people of Singapore are a result of never-ending waves of migration."

The bespectacled man, Ms Champion believes, routinely mistakes privilege for a sense of entitlement that stems from nationality and social standing.

"You work hard, other people are lazy and cannot own your success. You, however, can buy and own others," she wrote.

"We are a lot of things, but the one thing our historical, cultural, societal make-up does not allow us to be is bigoted."

Ms Champion's note had more than 250 likes, comments and shares. But a post's popularity, or lack thereof, has no bearing on how insightful a piece of writing can be, or how accurate it is.

On social media, many studies have shown that in this era of fake news, it is often the hateful pieces that feed racism and xenophobia that do well and spread quickly.

After all, it is easy to like, share or comment upon a piece that will likely not have any impact on your day-to-day life.

But there is no doubt that there are strong undertones of bigotry in many facets of social media, across all platforms. This is why it makes it all the more important that encounters like what Ms Champion experienced should be shared to encourage dialogue.

  • NOTABLE TRENDS

    GIVE ME BACK MY TERREX CHIA: YouTuber Alvin Oon uploaded a humorous music video addressing the Terrex incident in a lighthearted manner, sung in several dialects. It is the top- ranking local video, according to search giant Google, with more than 270,000 views since it was uploaded on Jan 9.

    OBAMA FAREWELL: US President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on Jan 10, as his second term in office comes to a close. Aside from his farewell speech, the other video that trended was of him awarding a surprised US Vice-President Joe Biden with the Medal of Freedom.

    O-LEVEL RESULTS: The release of the results was a top trending search on Google. Students who took the O levels last year have outperformed their seniors, with 84.3 per cent of the cohort attaining at least five passes.

Prankster Verma has posted videos of himself abusing customers in a barber shop by covering their faces with a towel. Ms Chieze posted a photo of lemons arranged neatly in an egg tray to represent breasts with symptoms such as bumps, redness, indenta
Ms Chieze posted a photo of lemons arranged neatly in an egg tray to represent breasts with symptoms such as bumps, redness, indentation or skin erosion, to show what breast cancer could look like and raise awareness of the disease. PHOTO: ERIN SMITH CHIEZE/CORRINE ELLSWORTH BEAUMONT

BREAST CANCER ISN'T A GAME 

If your Facebook feed is suddenly filled with little heart emojis, there's a chance it may have something to do with breast cancer.

The premise is this: A user posts a heart on a female friend's Facebook wall, then sends her a private message to tell her to get her breasts checked for lumps.

This "game", which has resurfaced several times over the years, is supposedly meant only for women. The person who posts the heart emojis is supposed to keep silent if a male user asks her what it is about.

But the "gamification" of the potentially fatal disease has made some critics see red. They argue that the way the game plays out does little to raise awareness of the cancer. Last week, a breast cancer survivor came out to condemn the act even further.

Facebook user Erin Smith Chieze said she realised she had breast cancer in 2015 when someone on her Facebook feed posted a photo of what the cancer looked like.

"I saw an indentation that looked like one of the pictures, I instantly knew I had breast cancer," she said. "A heart did nothing for awareness."

She was diagnosed with the cancer five days later, and was informed that it was stage 4.

"A picture of what to look for keyed me into knowing I had a terminal disease. We need to give real information, not cute hearts."

Instead of posting emojis, Ms Chieze posted a photo of what breast cancer looks like, using lemons as a guide. The lemons, arranged neatly in an egg tray, show symptoms like whether a breast has bumps, redness, indentation or skin erosion.

"If you truly want to help people with cancer, or those who will get cancer, share photos like this one," she said.

Her message seems to have worked. The photo, posted on Jan 11, has been shared more than 36,500 times.
 

Prankster Verma has posted videos of himself abusing customers in a barber shop by covering their faces with a towel. Ms Chieze posted a photo of lemons arranged neatly in an egg tray to represent breasts with symptoms such as bumps, redness, indenta
Prankster Verma has posted videos of himself abusing customers in a barber shop by covering their faces with a towel. PHOTO: THE CRAZY SUMIT/YOUTUBE

PRANK VIDEO GONE WRONG

There are limits to playing pranks in the name of raking in hits, as one YouTuber recently learnt.

Police in India arrested prankster Sumit Verma last week for his prank videos which showed him kissing random girls in public places without permission.

The 21-year-old Verma, who goes by the moniker "The Crazy Sumit", has more than 155,000 subscribers on his channel.

Following the outrage, Verma took down the video and put up an apology, saying that his pranks were purely for "entertainment".

Some of his other videos involve abusing customers in a barber shop by hitting them and using a towel to forcibly cover their faces, and going up to strangers sleeping in a park and hugging them.

The police have charged Verma with assault. His accomplice, camera man Satyajeet Kadyan, has also been arrested.

New reports say that Verma has denied the charges, and that he kissed only women who had given their consent. So far no one in the video has stepped forward to defend his actions.


This article was first published on Jan 15, 2017.
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