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Thursday August 15th 2019

Brownskin, racism and lesson learnt from Lebanon

Yet again another racial fracas popped up almost less than a month after the police spot-check allegation that they are targetting Malays at the MRT stations.

Except for a stern police warning of not trying to stir up the spot-check issue for security reason, it was left buried – as usual – in the decades of racial disharmony that has crept up occasionally whenever something like this happens.

It seems that our racial harmony is best seen during Racial Harmony day in schools whereby children try to dress up in the other races’ attire and we celebrate it together as a nation as if everything racially  is under control. I wonder also how many of us truly have real other-race friends in our life time.

As for the brownface video incident, this time round, the authorities took real punitive action by hauling up the sibling rap duo for questioning and maybe charges will be levelled possibly for sedition which is a jailable offence.

Those who share the Youtube video on social media were also asked to take it down or else…

The video though funny and actually quite creative came across as racist if you hold true to the racial card as the word Chinese kept popping out of the satirical rap. Of course, the F word and the middle finger don’t help to soften the accusation that Chinese “will have it all” so it is not surprising that the authorities come down hard. It may help if the duo just focus the messenge on the indiscriminate advertisement and lighten up on the vulgarities.

Vulgarities hardly sell and the message however noble will get tainted if it is laced with the F word and middle finger.

Many people have also commented that Mediacorp -the original culprit of the whole racial fiasco seems to have escaped lightly though frankly I don’t see anything wrong with the advertisement. This also goes to show that the racial fault-lines of our country is still very fragile and unstable. What is acceptable to some may not be acceptable to others and one can’t really fault the authorities for erring on the side of caution when it comes to such sensitive matters.

In Lebanon where I conducted most of the humanitarian trip in recent years, sectarian politics is the norm and parties have seats allocated to them base on their religious/political affiliation. Foe example, the Head of Parliament is a Shi’a Muslim, Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and President a Maronite Christian. Seats in Parliament are divided on a 50-50 ratio among the Muslims and Christians to ensure that their interests are represented equally.

Parliament of Lebanon Seat Allocation
Confession Before Taif After Taif
Maronite Catholic 30 34
Eastern Orthodox 11 14
Melkite Catholic 6 8
Armenian Orthodox 4 5
Armenian Catholic 1 1
Protestant 1 1
Other Christian Minorities 1 1
Total Christians 54 64
Sunni 20 27
Shi’ite 19 27
Alawite 0 2
Druze 6 8
Total Muslims + Druze 45 64
Total 99 128

Though the whole concept of sectarian politics sound laudable on paper but in practice it is far from perfect. Parties  often harbour personal interest because of the high level of political activism among the religious leaders. Religion is often used as a tool politically to advance the party’s inherent interests complicating the whole governance process. Parties’ succession is also often passed down from father to son because of the personal religious/community interests involved within the party.

As power is shared somewhat equally among the President, Prime Minister and Head of Parliament, it is difficult to get things done when no one really can call the shots as each appointee does not want to be accused of nepotism. Thus, nothing really works here and any parties with enough cabinet positions can jam up the cog of the government if they want to. In fact, the government could not be formed up for close to 2 years after the recent election due to general infighting for more cabinet positions from some parties and the stalemate was only broken recently.

Lebanon has fought a painful prolonged 15-year civil war whereby 200,000 people were killed and the country aspires to rise from the ashes but recent racial events have prevented the beautiful country from shining again. It is also once touted as the “Paris of the middle east” before the war and I can testify to this during my frequent visits there. However, it is now a mere shadow of it’s former greatness and many Lebanese are flocking overseas for greener pastures.

Though Singapore may not have relegated to the level of Lebanon’s complex sectarian politics, we must be mindful how race and religion matters can pollute the country if not handle properly as they can bring it down to it’s knees.

For too long, the Malays and Indians have cried foul especially in the area of employment and national service and subtle systemic discrimination means many of our minority races have missed out on much of the nation’s economic progress. The rapper video also pointed out that “Chinese have it all” so it is probably not a message targetting the brownface advertisement per se but also the specific racial discrimination faced by our minority races.

By now, we all should know the frequent discriminatory “Must Know Chinese” job advertisements though it is against MOM ruling. As a Chinese, I don’t have to face up to such blatant display of discrimination but our minority races do feel hurt whenever they look at such job advertisements which will sideline them from a job opportunity. In fact, the sad joke here is that a foreigner Chinese may find it easier to look for a job than our own local Malays and Indians.

On a personal level, I have the opportunity of knowing many non-Chinese volunteers and two of them – a Indian and Malay – actually became close friends of mine for many years. We would go dinner together on and off and communicate daily via a Watsapps chat group for almost five years.

We would joke about anything under the sun and sometimes it is my only comfort especially when I am all alone in the middle east on humanitarian trips.

I wonder how many of us truly befriend someone from the other races and became a true friend afterwards?

It all started many years ago when I realised that I have never attended a Hari Raya outing after Ramadan before as I don’t have any Malay friend whom I am close to. After many years of missing out on Hari Raya, I decided to reach out more with my Malay friends and the opportunity came when I saw some Malays volunteering at our charity events. I am proud  to say now that I get invited to several Hari Raya gatherings each year for the past 5 to 6 years.

Though we talk alot about racial harmony nowadays, true harmony only exists if we can see beyond the colour of our fellow Singaporeans and get to know them for who they are. Unless we could include our minorities races’ friends in our everyday lives, it is tough to say that we have achieve any real racial harmony.

As for the recent brownface fiasco, one can only beg for more racial understanding and acceptance of our minority races as sometimes the Chinese majority fails to comprehend the hurt we have inflicted on them while we try to laugh it off as a non-offensive racist joke.

The authorities should also encourage more avenues for communication on such sensitive racial matters so that it is not swept under the convenient carpet of OB marker – only for it to pop up regularly.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

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