That Little Racist in All of Us

Things happen fast in this country.

Someone posts a really badly thought-out Facebook post on Sunday, then loses her job on Monday (with an ad placed for her position immediately after too), then gets a police report filed against her the same evening, and now we’re told she’s fled the country.

The scriptwriters for 24 couldn’t think of a more fast-paced story if they tried.

Then again, was there even any thinking involved throughout the entire fiasco?

Amy Cheong obviously wasn’t thinking when her post went up that Sunday; apparently thinking wasn’t a habit she cultivated because as it turns out, there were a whole series of posts depicting her very ugly personality. NTUC’s swift action to dismiss her, though warranted and appreciated, couldn’t have been much more than a reflex action given the time span it took to inquire and fire and process the rehire. And that police report. Aiyoh.

Now there’s even word going around that another hapless female did the same thing, barely a day after the previous incident reached its climax. Whether this is substantiated information or not, we can only sit back and watch the show.

But for everyone who’s got their popcorn out: it isn’t the first time such a thing has happened (let’s see, there’s one, two, three, four, geez, the list seems endless), and it’s not going to be the last. But there is one vital difference each and every one of us can and should make before succumbing to pride and prejudice: if no one else is thinking, we need to do the thinking.

So do let’s put things in perspective here.

Sit Down, Order a Teh Peng, and Think

If you think about it, Amy Cheong’s post(s) targeted a Malay wedding, a cultural phenomenon stemming from a racial tradition, and not the race itself. So was this a racial slur or cultural boneheadedness? Bertha Henson hits that point home for us in her take.

In the same vein, if you think about it, p_n_s can spell pants as easily as it can spell penis, just as v_g_n_ can spell vegans instead of… yeah, you get it now. So from blind reaction, do we see things in terms of genitalia instead of wardrobe and eating habits, just like we draw the conclusion that Amy Cheong is being racist instead of ignorant? If that’s the first thing that comes to mind, doesn’t that make all of us racist, however much or little our racist sentiments may be? I’m not even the first Singaporean to ask this out in public; Today published an opinion piece way back in 2003 (reproduced by by Think Centre) talking about this exact same notion in eloquent detail.

It’s even backed by science. The Scientific American published an article in April 2008 condemning pretty much the entire planet for its discriminatory ways. Racial, religious, sexual, age, weight and even habitual discrimination is hard wired into each and every individual that thrives in societal living. It’s a survival instinct, one that is as complex as it is natural, and hence a reaction rather than a thought process.

Admit it; we all discriminate. Amy Cheong has discriminated against a Malay cultural practice, and those who have reacted in shock, awe, shame and hate have in turn discriminated against her — lynch mob style. The incident has even spurred a handful of people to discriminate against themselves! We’re all guilty here.

The good news is, admission is the first step towards learning proper tolerance.

Are We Missing Anyone?

Be that as it may, one segment of our human race is nearly completely unaware of this concept we call discrimination: very, very young children. Our very, very young children. They’ll learn about it sooner rather than later though, one way or another. And who best to teach them but us adults? More specifically, us parents.

Image via schoolbag.sg

You know as well as I do that primary and secondary schools aren’t going to formally touch on the ugly side of humanity for more than a few minutes at a time; they would prefer to leave the school of life teachings to mums and dads while they handle the tough things like calculus, algebra and PE.

And we don’t do our children any favours if we shield them from what’s already in front of us. They’ve got to learn how to handle themselves, and we have to trust they will know how to, we need only point them in the right direction. So as a responsible parent, you teach your kids everything in your power and knowledge about everything they need to know about everything that’s out there. White, black, yellow, brown, blue and red, Christians Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, gay and straight, fat and thin, good and evil, right and wrong, Luke and Leia, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and everything in between, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

The important thing to note here is that because we’re already admittedly racist (right?), we know (well, most of us anyway) when to draw the line between when to joke and when to call someone out for going too far. In other words, we understand tolerance. And really, that alone will qualify you to teach that which our nation proudly proclaims as “racial harmony”. Hopefully if the entire country reads this post and agrees, the next generation won’t produce another Amy Cheong. I’m not getting my hopes up though.

But if you’ve gotten this far down The Blogfather’s ramblings, here’s something to start you off. You can teach your kids that Malay-Muslim void deck weddings cost as much as $25-50,000 (my restaurant wedding dinner only cost about $21,000), can stretch up to 2 days, and they do throw one hell of a party.

Also, I once played Hotel California at one Malay wedding when I was a teenager and the guests gave me a hearty round of applause for my guitar solo. We played Metallica as well; that didn’t go down so well, but talk about tolerance! True story.

8 thoughts on “That Little Racist in All of Us”

  1. Personally, I’ve always had a problem with the term ‘tolerance’ even back during my undergrad days when we had to cover racial/gender discrimination. Tolerate what? It only tells people to adapt a permissive attitude to cultures/races other than our own. I prefer ‘appreciation’ or ‘acceptance’. You try to learn and understand, not grin and tolerate for the sake of doing so. You know Singaporeans lah, like to take things literally. You tell them to “tolerate”, sure they will tahan in front of you then 1hr later bitch tweet about it. You either ignore the ignorant or try to educate them. I prefer to ignore them. What for make my blood pressure go sky high? Medicine expensive these days leh.

    1. “Tolerance” has to be the fallback term because seriously, we cannot accept our society to be appreciative and accepting, gracious and harmonious all at once. We start with step one first, because if we can’t even get step one right, how can we expect ourselves to grow into steps 2,3 4 and 5?

    2. Yeah I’ve always thought that ‘tolerance’ is an unfortunate (yet accurate) viewpoint held by many. I’d much prefer ‘understanding’. Takes more effort, but when you do, it beats mere tolerance any day.

  2. hahaha bro! Must you mention our first ever gig? Don’t forget Sweet Child of Mine! Well, going back to your article, it does leave us with 1001 questions on where did we go wrong. We live and breathe together back then..I do really hope as parents ourselves, we could tell our kids that the essence of friendship is about sitting down with your friends regardless of race and religion, and TCSS! And yah, accepting and learning from one another. P.S. The plakciks and makciks went wild when we played GNR song! HELL YEAH!

    1. Hahahaha! I was wondering if you’d read to the end, my brother from another mother!

      As for everything else, the problems we have as a society is not a zero-sum game with instant noodle solutions. We all have to learn as we go along, and more importantly we got to think before anything else. But if we can live by the basic principle of respecting others to respect ourselves, we can and will get by just fine.

  3. “Amy Cheong?s post(s) targeted a Malay wedding, a cultural phenomenon stemming from a racial tradition, and not the race itself”.

    I beg to differ. She did mention about divorce rates and all and how ‘people’ should not be allowed to marry for $50. Who is she referring to if not the Malay community?

    Honestly I don’t give a crap about what she says and whether she got her just dessert. People can be as racist as they want but they have to be prepared for what’s to come and not hide behind free speech and all. Not that I condoned the lashing she got but since she said she is shocked that one ‘generic’ post of hers generated so many hurtful comments, then she has to accept that others can use that argument too.

  4. “Amy Cheong?s post(s) targeted a Malay wedding, a cultural phenomenon stemming from a racial tradition, and not the race itself”.

    I beg to differ. She did mention about divorce rates and all and how ‘people’ should not be allowed to marry for $50. Who is she referring to if not the Malay community?

    Honestly I don’t give a crap about what she says and whether she got her just dessert. People can be as racist as they want but they have to be prepared for what’s to come and not hide behind free speech and all. Not that I condoned the lashing she got but since she said she is shocked that one ‘generic’ post of hers generated so many hurtful comments, then she has to accept that others can use that argument too.

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