True safeguard against racism

The ethnic majority-minority divide has always existed, even within a minority community. So has racism.

Although there exist very strict laws in Singapore against racist insults, arguably, it is the citizens' instinct to be reasonable that has been instrumental in racial and religious harmony (Goodwill takes years to build, but only seconds to destroy, Aug 5).

Whether we like it or not, in this world, almost all the important decisions affecting the minorities are made by the majority.

Even in Singapore, since independence in 1965, the Government has had no choice but to make its decisions on the basis of majority rule.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah hit the nail on the head when she said maintaining racial harmony "requires all races to make a conscious and concerted effort to be mindful of the feelings of other races, to make sure that we act fairly and without discrimination".

Singapore's progress and prosperity, so far, are a vindication that the Government has been mindful of even the minority of the minorities.

The "brownface" advertisement, the retaliatory rap video by YouTuber Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas, and the public reaction to both the ad and the video vindicate the words of Aristotle: "Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within anybody's power and is not easy."

The true safeguard against racism - discrimination, injustice and oppression - is the ability to stand in another person's shoes and feel what he feels.

Getting angry with a stronger person would be disastrous, while there is nothing more shameful than bullying a weaker person.

S. Ratnakumar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2019, with the headline 'True safeguard against racism'. Print Edition | Subscribe