If you think that racism does not exist in Singapore, then don't read this.
I'm actually starting to feel unsafe just existing as a minority in Singapore.
This keeps happening over and over again--the ones perpetuating racism get a wrist slap, the ones who call out acts of racism have the instruments of the state used against them--through the weaponisation of police reports, as well as minority MP's lining up to perform the overpolicing of their own, as if to demonstrate to the majority that they're still committed to majoritarian interests.
I'm really tired of witnessing this ugly dysfunction where a majority keeps on insisting that they should get to define what is funny, and what is offensive, and that their views should become the norm. Of course majoritarianism exists in Singapore but this particular form is one of the most wicked.
Because what is 'funny', or 'scary', are minorities. We become the figure of fun, the brunt of jokes, the bogeymen, the 'don't be like that', the low-IQ long-drawl Malay accent, the head-bobbing Indian accent, the image of the drug addict, the drunkard, the prata-man President, the fake-Malay President, Ahmad the chauffeur, Aminah the cleaner, Apunehneh the whoever he or she is.
Who was it who said that we don't really have racial harmony in Singapore, what we have is racist harmony? Because that harmony is built on the eternal forbearance of minorities. To be able to take a joke, to laugh at ourselves, to inspect our flaws obsessively and self-criticise, because minorities are obliged to aim for self-improvement rather than to demand social justice. Tell the other side to take a joke and the police are summoned.
I see so many of my Malay friends say the same thing: 'penat lah'. It means we're tired. We're exhausted. Why are we facing this again and again? How come when we say that your amusement is the cause of our pain, we get told that your amusement is more important than our pain? What is it about brownfacing that people don't get? Why is it that I see some people even asking 'is it you're ashamed of your skin colour and don't want us to draw attention to it?'
No, it's because when you get a Chinese person to do racial drag, you're effectively saying that being Chinese in Singapore is the standard and all other races are deviations from the standard. In one of the photos, Dennis Chew tries to play an Indian man called Muthusamy. His skin is darkened. He wears an oily-looking wig with curls. He has narrow eyes, so he widens them, and the effect is that he looks deranged. There is nothing innocent about brownfacing. It reduces an entire race to physical features that are supposed to be reproducible through makeup, while at the same time ridiculing those features.
I pause here; why am I even writing this? What is this labour--of describing, contextualising, explaining--that I have to perform even as I feel, like so many of my compatriots, that the only thing I want to say is 'penat lah'? A resignation beyond sorrow. Why do I always expect better of people only to become so crushingly disappointed? Why can I not let empathy just do this seemingly ceaseless work that minorities have to do in Singapore? What failure of imagination must there be to not be able to sense what it would be like if done to you--if someone squinted to make slit eyes, slathered on yellowish foundation, wore a China-doll wig to represent you?
As much as I deeply believe in anti-racist work, it is not my chosen career. I want to write about so many other things, I want to make connections beyond this weird dystopian bubble. I don't want to have most of my energy consumed by pointing out racist things, explaining why they are racist, telling racists not to (in Preetipls's pithy words) fuck it up.
What is the exit strategy? Can we gather some day soon and discuss how to leave this country and all this garbage behind? Of course 'there is racism everywhere' but I don't know any other society that has so internalised its own propaganda on multiracialism that it is unable to process any contrary accounts of racism. Denial, defensiveness and hostility shape most conversations on racism. Messengers bearing a less than rosy picture are disbelieved and terrorised. If something is flagged as racist, it is not that racist thing that will earn censure. The flag however, will be torn to shreds.
It's time to go. Penat lah.
Honestly if you really penat, then just go. Nobody is stopping you.
But if you choose to stay, let's all try our best to not F things up and live in harmony.