Singaporeans should speak out against racism

June 02, 2014

I read with concern the discussion, especially online, that ensued from the civil society statement on racism and xenophobia (“Civil society groups warn against growth of racism, xenophobia”; May 29).

The statement was criticised for supposedly blaming honest Singaporeans who are speaking up to defend our homeland against unbridled immigration.


It was said that while the statement correctly pinpointed economic policy as the cause of these problems, the headline with the words “racism” and “xenophobia” showed that even these groups favour foreigners rather than suffering Singaporeans.

Racism and xenophobia, if at all, are symptoms of a broken system, said these Singaporeans, who feel justified in taking it out on foreigners.

What I find interesting is that the statement comes from individuals who represent organisations fighting for civil rights, whether of humans, women, migrants or Singaporean workers.

That they expressed such a concern makes a strong statement about the state of our nation, that racism and xenophobia are not some imaginary monster the Government created to deflect attention from other issues.

However, these signatories, hailed yesterday as heroes by the same critics, have become pro-government flacks today, going by online comments. Basically, if you are not with us, you are against us.

To say now that these activists did themselves a disservice, by aligning with the immigration policy, is at best disingenuous.

They represent civil society groups and individuals who have spoken up for Singaporeans all this time, while engaging in real work to assist poor and marginalised Singaporeans. I do not think they represent Singaporean interests any less than before.

There should be room for disagreement, but we should disagree without concluding that those who disagree with us do not have the interests of Singaporeans at heart.

As Singaporeans, we are all for Singapore first.

That does not mean we should be unkind to foreigners in our midst or to Singaporeans who express concern about the way some of our people are treating them.

I doubt that most Singaporeans are xenophobic or racist. Unfortunately, they have remained silent. If nothing else, I hope they step forward and engage in a civil conversation.

Whether we agree or not with the civil society statement, it is time to speak up without being intimidated by ungracious reactions to what we say, if we believe that it is for the common good.

And we can do it with respect for others, full of grace and truth.

Dr William Wan
General Secretary
Singapore Kindness Movement

First published in TODAY – May 31, 2014

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One thought on “Singaporeans should speak out against racism”

  1. May I say public engagement, if it is determined by populist votes or the voice of a particular interest group, may become an end in itself rather than a means to an end.
    The online public engagement is mostly dominated by the tech-savvy generation. Perhaps, we should also consider the voices of the pioneer generation and baby boomers who have walked the journey and are not all tech-savvy. We should not stereotype this group as ‘uncles’ and aunties’ who do not have any political competency to engage in public discourse. Some of them are well-educated individuals with high social standing and have Singapore’s interest at heart. They might have invaluable insights and good old values worth considering. They are the cornerstone of our social fabric and a guide to our moral compass. The last thing is to receive brickbats from netizens who disagree with their views, for example the recent Anton Casey’s saga. With the increase in infidelity, eroding of moral values and virtual crimes these days, it is critical to maintain that intergenerational relations to call for dialogue, engage and seek new grounds for negotiation and understanding. A great social divide between the generations will only harm our society’s fabric. Let’s have faith to work towards doing social good and yet not harming our social security or eroding our moral values..
    Civil society in Singapore is still a vertical civil society- to- state relationship. At 50, Singapore is still a young nation. It takes time to nurture a culture of civility. To disagree with mutual respect and reciprocity and put the interests of Singapore at heart? We hope to get there someday.

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