Memedef Co-founder: This is to all the young people in S'pore who feel their opinions don’t matter

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership| July 04, 2020, 10:26 AM


Are there grounds for a young Singaporean to be optimistic about post-Covid-19 Singapore?

We invite Singaporeans to share their hopes and anxieties for our future, including their thoughts on leadership and pressing social issues that are close to the hearts of the younger generation.

Writing for Mothership, 23-year-old Raphael Yee, Co-founder of Memedef, shares his hopes for young people in Singapore to not give up on their ideas for change. Even if it's an uphill task.

By Raphael Yee

I'd always wondered when I'd get a seat at the adults' table.

At 18, I was handed a rifle but told that I wasn't mature enough yet. At 19, I was reminded that I haven't paid taxes. At 20, I was called a strawberry, and at 21 I was called a snowflake.

Now, GE2020 is here in the middle of a pandemic, and we will have to vote for the leaders that can lead us into a better tomorrow.

The truth is, the youth of today have grown up in a much different world from the one our parents had grown up in.

Most of us live comfortably with access to affordable healthcare and clean water, without worry that school will get too expensive. As such, we have been afforded the time and resources that our parents never had to think about beyond putting food on the table.

Social media, for example, has greatly improved access to what's going on in other countries. Their problems help us, in some ways, understand our own.

Because every generation grows up in a different context, it is then understandable that we would prioritise different issues.

I remember trying to start a conversation with my parents about racism in Singapore. My mum had initiated the discussion by bringing up the Black Lives Matter protests. I shared with her some of the more common talking points; of name-calling, microaggressions, race jokes, and even the Nets e-Pay ad.

By the end of it, I couldn't get her to see why it was important. ("We didn't grow up taking offense to everything, even Kumar makes those jokes.”)

Needless to say, I exited that conversation feeling thoroughly exhausted. Had I expected to be shut down again, I would have probably not bothered.

As a young person, I think we've grown up doubting our actions, our choice of words and even lifestyle. Often, it seems like what the younger generation say or do is perceived by the older folk as being unrealistic.

That we are only concerned with our lofty ideals -- distractions that take our attention away from the *real* issues. As the years have gone by, I've learned that any issue that isn't about our economy, about jobs or CPF, falls out of the category of what is important because they aren’t 'bread and butter' issues.

When contemplating my own future in Singapore during such times, I can’t help but wonder if I'm to champion my own beliefs or the ones I've borrowed from my elders.

Don’t get me wrong – the tangible is important. But have we also created a culture of apathy towards the less tangible issues, which arguably also have a significant impact on our people? Issues like discrimination of the LGBTQ community, censorship, minimum wage, support for the arts in Singapore.

It's not hard to imagine how the youth might become disillusioned if they keep getting shut down. But regardless of whether or not we actually agree on the conclusions to these issues, they are still discussions that need to be had.

"If you're not happy, then leave lah" is a phrase often used by online trolls against any purveyor of change. It is convenient, but displays an unfortunate lack of empathy for those who have yet to have their issues addressed.

It is convenient because it fails to account for the many reasons why we choose to stay: our family, our friends, our communities with whom our hearts are inextricably linked. And above all, our commitment to a wider society. When we tell people to leave, we are not just telling them to find a better place to suit their needs. We also give up on ourselves, as a nation, to build an inclusive society for all.

This is one of the driving forces for us at Memedef. It is easy to see us as just content creators – churning out memes for the likes and shares. But at the core of it is a heart for the youth that, like us, yearn to contribute and engage with others in some way.

My time in NS has taught me that it is no easy feat to move an army. It’s an uphill battle when it comes to changing cultural attitudes in such a large organisation, which I find is still plagued with casual racism and homophobia.

So at Memedef, we always try to be on top of cultural issues where we feel our influence and our voice can be borrowed to see improvements in the lives of NSFs and NSmen.

Most importantly, we try our best to listen and validate the struggles of the youth to chip away at any form of apathy that might have been built up from years of feeling like their opinions do not matter.

My wish for this GE and (the many more that will come!) is that our young people will not give up on their ideas for change. That they will return to their convictions and remember that their opinions do matter, no matter the sticks and stones that are flung at them.

We might not be the loudest voice or the most influential but we should take pride in our youthful optimism and hope for the future.

We should let our aspirations light the path we choose to take and know that no matter what happens, Singapore will be a better place because we care.

Top photo: YouTube screengrab, photo author's own