Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh asks S'poreans to think about how to deal with racism

Minorities all have different lived experiences and thresholds.

Sulaiman Daud| July 31, 06:50 PM

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh gave a nuanced response to the recent "brownface" ad/ vulgar rap video controversy.

Sharing a Facebook post on July 31, Pritam remarked that he was "non-pulsed" about the original "brownface" ad.

Broadcaster Mediacorp, through its celebrity management wing, later apologised for the controversial ad. The website has also removed it.


Each person's experience is different

However, he also acknowledged that his own lived experience may not be the same as others, who may have face worse cases of discrimination.

Pritam said:

"Imagine having a racist or insensitive boss or being rejected from job after job because you do not speak the correct language, have to pray at certain hours, or being made fun of because you smelt different or sport a turban or a tudung etc.

If one experiences racism all the time, he/she would logically respond differently and feel like a lesser citizen. And when the response comes, it is usually escalatory and cutting, like the video in the question."

The status quo, with its ups and downs

Pritam said it was difficult to find the "sweet spot of equanimity" on racial and religious issues.

"It is for this reason a fair amount of understanding should be extended to the authorities to manage and pre-empt potentially problematic issues."

He added that the authorities and "ordinary people" have to pick up the pieces and face the consequences if things go awry.

Pritam then gave his take on the current status quo on race and religion in Singapore.

He said it was maintained by tolerance and compromise, and the current system with its "safety valves" and even "perceived hair-triggers" plays its part in keeping the peace.

But he also pointed out that in other cases, social peace is the result of "luck", where Singaporeans from different communities lived in their "own silos and own worlds".

"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."

Questions raised

However, Pritam believes that progress on race and religion can be made precisely because an issue surfaces.

He said that while some have been "quick to cast judgment" against the Nair siblings, there were three questions raised by the incident:

"1. What are we going to do the next time a brownface ad hits us, bearing in mind that criticism (and more importantly, awareness) against the ad appeared to became more pronounced after action was taken against the video-makers?

2. How do ordinary citizens raise issues that may be deemed racially insensitive by some for public discussion and consideration openly, but without the fear of recrimination? (please don’t say through People’s Association).

3. How do we address racism that affects minority communities and makes them feel like lesser citizens?"

He added that there was no "magic bullet" for these questions, but that strengthening the Singapore core was a "collective responsibility".

PAP response

Previously, ethnic minority politicians from the PAP roundly condemned the response rap video.

Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for the Ministry of National Development & Ministry of Manpower, wrote that the original ad had "offended many due to its insensitivity", but the response video "is totally offensive and uncalled for".

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of Health, Amrin Amin, called for “stern action", and said:

"I saw Preetipls’ rap video. Disturbing, bad taste, unacceptable.

It’s one thing to be upset over the ‘brownface’ ad for e-pay - yes, insensitive ad. But it’s totally another, in fact, very wrong to rub salt and respond with such disgrace and spite. Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it’s harmless!"

Related stories:

Top image by Sulaiman Daud and E-Pay.