SINGAPORE: Progress on race and religion occurs when issues like the recent “offensive” video targeting Chinese Singaporeans surface, said Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh on Wednesday (Jul 31).
Mr Singh was commenting on the video by YouTube performer Preeti Nair, also known as Preetipls, featuring her and her brother Subhas Nair rapping a stream of vulgarities in response to a controversial advertisement.
The ad by NETS to promote the E-Pay platform featured Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew, who is Chinese, portraying characters of different races. This sparked criticism over the use of “brownface”, the act of darkening one’s fair skin to mimic that of another race.
“Every so often, progress on race and religion occur precisely because an issue surfaces,” said Mr Singh in a Facebook post.
“The announcement of an investigation against Preeti Nair and Subhas Nair for offensive speech against the Chinese community is a case in point.”
Mr Singh noted that the status quo on race and religion in Singapore is the result of tolerance, compromise and give-and-take among different communities.
“And the system - its safety valves and even perceived hair-triggers - play their part in keeping the peace,” he said.
“In other cases, social peace is the result of luck, with Singaporeans - both in the majority and minority communities - living in their own silos and own worlds,” he added.
“For them, far from mixing with the other races - they stick to their own, living under a veil of ignorance, perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices from one generation to another.”
PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT THRESHOLDS ON FREE SPEECH
Mr Singh shared that he is “nonplussed” about the E-Pay ad.
“That is probably a reflection of my own threshold for what I consider to be distasteful or offensive or perhaps even how thick my skin is,” he said. “But my lived experience is different from someone else’s.”
“If one experiences racism all the time, he/she would logically respond differently and feel like a lesser citizen.”
On matters concerning race and religion, it is “very difficult to find the sweet spot of equanimity”, Mr Singh said.
“It is for this reason a fair amount of understanding should be extended to the authorities to manage and pre-empt potentially problematic issues. After all, different people have different thresholds on free speech,” he added.
“But should things go awry, it is the authorities, the police and ordinary people who have to pick up the pieces, to say nothing of other unintended consequences.”
The police have said they are investigating the Preetipls video for "offensive content that causes ill-will between races”.
They also advised members of the public not to circulate the rap video, which has drawn sharp criticism from religious leaders and ministers, including Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
There is “no magic bullet” in addressing questions on racism, Mr Singh wrote, adding that discussions on the issue are important for Singapore.
“Addressing racism requires constant attention and an acknowledgement that strengthening the Singapore core is a collective responsibility, with every race an important part of the conversation,” he said.