Tuesday, February 13, 2007

racism, offense and discrimination (purple)

i have two embarrassing confessions to make in this post.

the first is that, despite all the recent buzz regarding "no pork", i haven't seen the podcast yet. it is not because, like ben, i'm so convinced of its filth, but rather, i'm actually only on a dial-up internet connection, and i don't have enough bandwidth to download even a meager podcast. =(

the second confession will be at the end of this post.

i once heard someone say this: "many years ago, when i was in school, i was in the school hockey team. we were all good friends. like any other kids our age, when you screw up on the hockey pitch, we would give each other hell. if the guy who screwed up was a malay guy, some of the teammates might say 'eh melayu, you cannot play properly isit?', or if an indian, 'eh thambi, the ball so big you cannot see ah', or if a chinese, 'eh chinaman, what happen to you?' we were all friends, so nobody took offense. but nowadays if you say such things, you might get arrested."

when i was in secondary school, we had this national education talk by this speaker, who was an indian lady. she said her son came home from kindergarten one day, and draw a picture of himself and two friends. he coloured himself dark brown, another friend light brown, and the last friend beige. then he told her "this is me, i am indian. this is a malay, and this is a chinese." she got so angry that she went to look for the kindergarten teacher and asked her "why are you teaching my son how to tell apart the races? we are all singaporeans, you should not teach children at such a young age to segregate each other into different races!" i thought she was nuts.

these are two different approaches to racial harmony. which do you prefer?

during the feminist movement, many feminists preached that there were no differences between the sexes. anything men could do, women could do as well. nowadays, we think this is ridiculous. in many ways, men are different from women. men are in general, physically stronger, women are better in forming inter-personal relationships and close bonds, for example. similarly, shortly after the civil liberties movement in america, many denied any difference between black and whites. blacks and whites are equal in every way. in fact, they can't even use the word "black" or "white". everyone is an american. nowadays, blacks are proud to be blacks (and different from the whites). they have a culture, and the derivatives of that culture, such as hip-hop, is taking the rest of the world by storm.

a common reaction when it comes to discrimination, be it racial, religious, gender, or sexual orientation, is to deny that there is any difference between different groups. sometimes, we fool ourselves to think that is true, but usually, deep inside our hearts, we know that we are different, but for the sake of being politically correct, we claim otherwise. in the comments thread of Sperenza Nouva's article on the "no pork" podcast, Agagooga made the claim that deep down inside, we are all racist. i've taken issue with the term "racist" in my blue post, but i find it plausible that for most of us, we have certain elements of ethnocenrism or xenophobia, be it inherent or nurtured.

the question should then be, how ought we view groups of people who are different from us? for me personally, i find that denying differences is just silly. telling a kindergarten kid that there is no difference between a malay, an indian or a chinese is just inviting cognitive dissonance. of course there is a difference. it is in the colour of their skin, but not just that, it is in the clothes they wear, the language they speak, the religions they believe in, the festivals they celebrate, the culture and traditions they live in.

it is not denying differences, but respecting them.

just because other groups are different, doesn't make them superior or inferior. they are just different. this is one thing which i believe we ought to repeatedly teach our children. but lets say i believe that to be true, i really do. but still, i feel uncomfortable around someone from another race. i prefer to be with someone of my own race. does that make me a bad person? of course not. it is a good idea to interact and have friendships with individuals who are from different races, but if you're not comfortable doing so, that is not something which you are at fault for, although it may be something you might want to change, or rather, you should try to change.

i do not know about you, but i would rather my children be able to play soccer with children from other races, be able to be good friends with them and be so comfortable with each other that they each can poke fun at each other's race without feelings of offense, than for them to be told that there is no difference between chinese, malay and indian in class, and for them to always be fearful of not saying sensitive things or they will be caned by the teacher.

but how does one achieve the former scenario, given that we probably have dispositions to favor our own race. not to mention the existence of racial stereotypes? i've been thinking about this, and i realized the issue (and the solution) is the same for all kinds of discrimination, not just for race, but also for gender, religion and sexual orientation. this brings me to my second embarrassing confession.

when i first started blogging last october, i explored the blogosphere and i stumbled upon yawningbread for the first time. before i read any of the articles, i read the profile of Alex Au first, and upon finding out that he was a homosexual and a gay activist, i dismissed the blog and didn't bother to read his articles anymore. a few days later, i found that many other bloggers linked to yawningbread, and upon reading his articles then i realized that i almost chose to totally dismiss what is one of the best blogs in the singaporean plogosphere.

a few days ago a friend asked me "are you homophobic?" i found that i cannot give a very straightforward "no" as an answer, and this set me thinking. do i intellectually believe that homosexuals ought to be treated differently from heterosexuals? absolutely not. but do i feel somewhat uncomfortable around people who have identified themselves to be homosexual? i must admit, i do. i have, however, been much more comfortable with them after i discovered one of my good friends was actually a lesbian (and i didn't know before hand), and i realized she was still equally human, not unlike my other friends at all.

i believe many people think the solution to discrimination is the clamping down of the expressions of such prejudice. that is why we argue for laws against hate speech, and we label and stigmatize actions which are discriminatory. but the cause of such discrimination in the first place, is a lack of sufficient understanding between different groups, and that lack of understanding will still be present (since that is not addressed) when laws and structures are in place to curb expressions of discrimination. only now it is hidden over the cover of political correctness. worse still, because there is no outlet for the resentment and tensions caused by such lack of understanding, having to force such feelings under such a facade may in turn breed more tension and resentment. that is why i think singaporeans of today are actually more racist than singaporeans of 20 years ago.

the only way to be free (or as close as possible to that) of such discrimination is not to focus on the restrictions of what we can or cannot do (i'm not suggesting we do away with laws and restrictions totally, they have their purposes), but to focus on how we can greater achieve mutual understanding and respect between different groups. firstly, can you convince yourself intellectually that you are not superior to anybody else just because they are different from you? (this may be more difficult than it sounds) if you can achieve that, then secondly, take steps to try and get to know those different from you better, and probably you will realize, these people are not much different from you, and the irrational fear and distrust of those who appear different from you will slowly fade away.

i believe that the war against discrimination should not be fought by laws and legislation, but by convincing one heart, one mind at a time. i hope one day, i will be able to meet Alex Au, shake his hand without feeling that irrational fear, sit down and have a good chat with him over coffee. and then i will tell him "i'm sorry that the first time i read your blog, i decided to skip it because you were a homosexual. but i would like to better understand our differences, and i hope that we can be friends"



~[z][x]~ said...

Another brilliant post FO. I just love your pink/blue sharings. How do u do that! haha.

Coincidentally, I am caught in a debate with my church friends over the issue of homosexuality. So I went to read all your posts on homosexuality but I do not agree with some of your views.

Most of your posts are focused on how Christians should not bully/impose their beliefs on homosexuals. I think most Christians, at least by word of mouth, can agree to that. But by advocating this you are already assuming that Christianity and Homosexuality are inherently incompatible.

I am not a homosexual, but because I incline to the doctrines and beliefs of Liberal Christianity, I do not believe homosexuality is a sin, as much as why I do not believe that menstruation is "unclean" even though that was explicitly written in the bible as well.

Would love to be able to talk to you more on this. I've just sent something to your email. Do look at it, and then it is your call where you would like to discuss this issue, assuming you want to - on your blog or through our private email accounts. :)

YCK said...

Thanks for pointing out the difference betwen being blind to differences and respecting them. For the former it is possible to legislate against expressing that knowledge in some ways percieved unfair. But for the latter you can never do anything. Suppressing it just makes it fester below the surface.

kwayteowman said...

Fearfully Opinionated,

Well said. The problem of discrimination exists in the mind.

As a corollary, legislation is not the way forward in dealing with the problem, unless people are convinced that legislation can change mindsets. Apparently some people are conviced. The KTM is however skeptical. :-)

piper said...

I do agree with your post that we should respect people's differences, and that cuts across all societal groupings and not just race. Isn't that what the government is partly encouraging with all their reports on Malays visiting old Chinese Temples etc?

They are at the same time, encouraging us to be blind to the differences but not allowing us to talk and engage with others about racial issues. So really, perhaps they don't know what route they want to take?

Frankly the whole race / racism thing has gone overboard in Singapore. Is there really a need to classify us by race? I really, really hate how the government is determined to classify us by race. I personally think race is such a major issue in Singapore because the govt has made it so.

Anyway, this is a pet peeve of mine mainly because of my mixed heritage.