Being in a conservative, traditional Chinese school, I have heard sexist and racist comments too many times to count. Every time a racist or sexist comment is being uttered, it is in response to a particular member of said subgroup wronging them in ways irrelevant to their race or religion, or a commentary about said people fulfilling the stereotypes of their race or religion.
Personally, I strongly believe in choice and equality. I believe that everyone has a choice in what and who they want to be, without hurting others in the process. I also believe that people are human beings and should be accorded with a basic form of respect – respect for what they believe in, again, as long as it does not hurt others. I do not preach my beliefs as I believe in choice. But it has gotten to a point where the situation is intolerable.
I think the social pressures of making friends and keeping them have eroded my beliefs. I have let my friends, and even my significant other, say racist and sexist remarks. I did not stop them, I did not scold them, or even explain why it is wrong. I guess I believed they were joking (as they claim they were) and I believed that they are better people than that. They are good people, but at the end they are racist and sexist. Moral absolutism does not exist, people can be good in many aspects of their life, and still be fundamentally bad in some ways. It took me this long to realise that. It also took me this long to realise that I have compromised on my beliefs just so I can keep some relationships.
In retrospect, there a few significant things that happened and phrases that I have let slip in the past. Now, they are back to haunt me, and remind me of how I have let my beliefs become affected by my incessant need to feel accepted. Now, they disgust me. These are serious things that could and in some cases, will hurt people.
1. Rape jokes, like no really YOU DID NOT GO FUCKING THERE.
2. Sexist jokes like, oh they belong in the kitchen/ why does she even bother she should focus on tending the house
3. Racist comments about malays, indians, blacks and actually every single race that exists except for of course, chinese.
4. When they were younger, they thought that the (other race) hawker over-charged them, so they laced their plates with a taboo food and dumped it in the plate collection bucket. *not mentioning anything in case there are consequences/this goes viral (unlikely)
Regarding 4, I think that is the most insensitive and disgusting act anyone can commit. The next step would probably be racial radicalism. I MEAN WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. He actually said that since no one but them knew about it, they didn’t really offend anyone. ARE YOU KIDDING THIS IS COMPLETELY A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE. Looking back, I am disgusted at myself for begrudgingly accepting such a lame-ass excuse/disguise for racist behaviour. The whole affair is rude, wrong and offensive in principle and the amount of people who know does not change the fact that it is wrong.
This leads us to the actual problem.
Almost everyone thinks that joking about stereotypes or any racist/sexist statements or norms is alright, as long as they themselves do not partake in racist or sexist actions. Unfortunately, such jokes are already considered as perpetuating the sexist and/or racist problem. By treating rape or discrimination as a joke, you will then treat the actual occurrence as a joke. According to a commentary (http://kentridgecommon.com/?p=17815), Singapore has a much higher occurrence of rape than in India, with more than 4 cases of rape for every 100 000 people. (India has 1.8 cases per 100 000 people) Though it is true that we have a more open culture with a higher intolerance for sexism and discrimination, the statistics do not lie. Evidently, the problem lies not with the legislation against such crimes, but the society’s reaction to such crimes. Society does not look kindly upon victims of rape, even considering them almost as ‘low class’ as the rapists themselves, as if they have made themselves susceptible to rape. After eons of treating discrimination and pressing sexism and racism issues as a joke, when the punchline becomes a reality, people would prefer to look the other way.
The Little India riots are a brilliant example of Singaporeans’ callous attitudes towards foreigners and the very pressing issue of discrimination. Though it is true that the brusque and riotous way the foreign workers have reacted to the bus incident is uncalled for, the increasing discrimination against foreign workers is disturbing. We are driving them to a corner, and as with anyone, they fight back.
So what can we do, as individuals? We may not have the power to change society, and alter its norms, but we can suppress the urge to move away when a group of Indian workers flood the train at Little India. We can choose to sit beside foreign workers on the bus, instead of standing and leaving a seat empty (move out of the way bitch, move out of the way). We can choose not to teach our kids, or our younger siblings to fear the ‘ah pu neh neh’. We can choose to treat them like any other normal human – with respect.