Ensure we keep racism at bay

As a dark-skinned person, I found the commercial for a Chinese detergent - depicting dark skin as dirty and fair skin as clean - not offensive but absurd, if not amusing ("Time to address racism"; last Saturday).

The idea that the detergent could change a person's skin colour was weird and should never have been initiated.

It is admirable that the company issued an apology to those who may have felt offended. I don't believe that it intentionally condoned racism on this occasion. Arguably, it did not have marketing expertise in the first place.

Racism in India, on the other hand, is rooted in the caste system, which, in turn, is the bedrock of Hinduism.

By and large, dark-skinned Indians form the low caste, while fair-skinned Indians are the high caste. It is shameful irony that colour-based discrimination exists even among members of the low caste - darker-skinned people, in particular, women, are shunned in public places and in the entertainment industry.

In today's world, ignorance should not be an excuse for racism. A racist comment or act not only shames the victim, but is also a reflection of insecurity on the part of the perpetrator.

I agree with commentator Kaleke Kalawole that wiping out racism in India is not just a moral imperative.

It is naive to think that racism is confined only to Asians. Racism exists even in the most advanced countries such as the United States and Britain.

It is high time that everyone got involved in promoting social justice.

Needless to say, there are many Singaporeans who have a strong inclination to speak up on behalf of those who have been historically marginalised due to race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, language, culture or disability.

In today's world, ignorance should not be an excuse for racism. A racist comment or act not only shames the victim, but is also a reflection of insecurity on the part of the perpetrator.

While symbols like the first black American President Barack Obama and actors Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman help shape public perception, the importance of teaching about social justice right from the primary school level should not be undermined.

In the context of Singapore, a thorough understanding and internalisation of the national pledge is one of the surest ways of not only keeping racism at bay, but also creating an inclusive society.

S. Ratnakumar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Ensure we keep racism at bay'. Print Edition | Subscribe