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By Natalie Devan
“Is racism still a problem in Singapore?”
This question was asked during our Racial Harmony Day assembly session last week.
Although the answers were mixed, there was a distinct trend in terms of those who said yes and those who said no, as most of the Indians and Malays in the audience answered yes while most of the Chinese said no. Thereafter, we were asked to share stories of our experiences with discrimination in a safe and confidential environment.
Most of the recounts were about racial microaggressions people had faced in their daily lives. Racial microaggressions are brief, inconsequential insults or jokes said to those of a certain race by someone of another race who is unaware of the hidden messages being said. While racial microaggressions may seem tongue-in-cheek at worst, they can actually accumulate into something much bigger. Targets can be made to feel excluded and like they don’t belong in a certain community, which can ultimately affect them socially and psychologically.
I, myself, have never experienced racial microaggressions in Singapore. However, when I’m overseas and someone finds out that I’m Singaporean, they immediately ask me, “Why is your English so fluent if your first language is Mandarin?”
These comments are usually well-intentioned but ignorant, which I think is also the case for most of these occurrences in Singapore. Thus, although the Singaporean government has successfully managed to stamp out institutionalised racism, such as discrimination in the workplace, they have not been able to properly educate the public on racial sensitivity and the different cultures present in Singapore.