Monday, July 13, 2015

It just takes a match

There is a video going round cyberspace, which has proven to be a very instructive guide into the state of race relations in Singapore. The video was taken on an MRT and it shows an elderly Caucasian man behaving in an abusive manner towards an unseen Singaporean teenager. Finally another commuter has had enough and tells the old geezer where to get off. The police then get involved and the old man and the commuter who stood up for the victim are called off the train. The video of the incident can be seen at

What has been encouraging about this incident has been the fact that is has created a new hero for the people. The man who confronted the abusive passenger appears to be Malay, while the victim of the abuse appears to be Chinese. In the 14-years since I’ve moved back, 

I’ve found very little imagery of Malays in Singapore being portrayed as heroes for the majority Chinese population. September 11 didn’t help either. If you read official statements on “Malay-Muslims” you’ll often find that there’s an underlying message – “Ditch the religion – get with the program.” Talk to enough Singaporean Chinese and you’ll find that there’s still a huge misunderstanding of the Malay Community – whatever the PAP government may tell you.

So, this situation being broadcast all over the social media couldn’t come at a better time. Singapore needs to see the Malay community as being part of the wider community. The majority, especially the Western Educated need to see that Malays and Indians are on the same side as everyone else. The best part about the whole situation was the fact that the young man was humble enough to point out that he was merely standing up for someone else’s rights as a citizen.

It didn’t help that the abusive Old Man was a White Englishman, thus adding to the potentially combustible situation of race relations. You could say that this man was a yob and would probably have been an abusive arsehole in England too.

However, he wasn’t caught being abusive in England, he was caught being abusive in Singapore, which as much as many Singaporeans may not like to admit, is part of Asia and in Asia, the colour of your skin does determine where people fit in.

Generally speaking, Singaporeans, like other Asian tend to give Caucasians plenty of leeway. I remember a publisher of a series of magazines describing a good friend of mine as being, “The living example of the sad fact that Asians simply cannot see beyond White Skin.” Part of the reason for this lies in the fact that we were once a colony. As the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said in his biography, “The superiority of the White Man was a fact of life.”
Our economic miracle also enforced the position that White people were the natural leaders in culture and economics. While the majority of post-colonial societies screwed themselves by being culturally proud, we in Singapore sold ourselves to White Colonial multinationals and prospered.

While the majority of White Expatriates are decent and hardworking people, Singaporeans have been trained from birth to think of them as the bringers of all things good. We are prosperous because they made us so goes the rationale. Ironically, this rationale has grown stronger among Asians as it has dwindled among Caucasians.

So, while the majority of Caucasians in Asia are decent people (including many of my friends), the system does encourage the week minded among the community to develop superiority complexes.

Doesn’t help that the law of the land tends to be applied differently when it comes to people of the fairer complexion. I know of an Afrikaner who got his employment pass approved the moment the immigration authorities understood that South African did not necessarily mean the man was black. Think of how quickly the police work to corner Indian and Bangladeshi workers sitting in a corner minding their own business and by comparison seem powerless to do anything when Caucasians physically assault Singaporeans (they are less powerless when Singaporeans assault Caucasians.).

This incident proved that things might be changing. If cyberspace is an indication of things, the public is getting loss tolerant of yob like behavior – even from Caucasians.

Which leads to a more worrying point. The crowd on the MRT remind silent while the old man hurled abuse and threatened the young man. It was as if they were cowed. Then when it someone took the step of standing up to the bully, the entire train erupted – you could actually hear people yelling, ”Go back to you own country.”

This type of emotion is dangerous. It’s the type of thing that skillful demagogues thrive on. A mob, as one author described, is not a collection of people but a single entity. Logic and reason do not exist within the mob.

It took one guy to be different and suddenly the crowd which was passive became emotional. In this case it didn’t go beyond a few shouts – but what if it did?

This video has remained largely confined to cyberspace but Singapore’s social planners need to look at this incident more carefully. There are pent up emotions and there needs to be a way of letting these emotions subside or be released. If they are ignored, who knows what will set them off into something more drastic. 

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