Call out racism in constructive manner to further discussions, say ST webinar panellists

Mr Dave Parkash (right) and his girlfriend highlighted a racist incident involving lecturer Tan Boon Lee last month. PHOTOS: DAVE PARK ASH/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - It is important to call out and challenge racism when it happens, but this should be done in a constructive manner so as to further the discussion, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong at a webinar on race on Wednesday (July 14).

He added that a recent example of someone who highlighted a racist incident constructively was ice cream store owner Dave Parkash, 26, who was harassed along with his girlfriend Jacqueline Ho when they were in Orchard Road last month.

The mixed-race couple were accosted by former polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee who told them that it was a disgrace for a Chinese woman and an Indian man to be together. The remarks were captured on video and posted online by Mr Parkash, who said he felt embarrassed, humiliated and hurt and urged the man in the video to "learn to stop being a racist and let us all live in harmony".

Citing Mr Parkash's response, Mr Tong said that though he knew he was wronged, he had raised the issue in a measured and respectful way that got people talking.

"He was put in a situation where I think most of us, many of us would have reacted quite emotionally because it's a very direct, wrong, (and) distasteful... affront to him and his girlfriend," said Mr Tong.

"(But) he created a platform for people to look at the issue, and I thought his response taught us something. He brought it up not because he wanted to get back at him but because he wanted to raise the issue, and said this is not something that we want to see in Singapore."

Mr Ramesh Ganeson, a viewer at The Straits Times webinar on Race Relations and Harmony, asked how people can call out racism respectfully.

Mr Leonard Sim, general secretary of advocacy group hash.peace, who was also on the panel, agreed that a measured approach would lead to better outcomes than if people "are (pitting) emotion against emotion".

But he cautioned about going overboard, saying that a measured response should not be at the expense of giving due recognition to the emotional pain felt by those who experience racism or discrimination.

Fellow panellist and Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah said those who have experienced racism should be encouraged to speak up, noting that people sometimes may not know who to raise their concerns with.

In such instances, they may then turn to social media or go straight to the authorities, such as the town council or the police, thereby escalating the issue, added Dr Shahira, an associate consultant and orthodontist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

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"I feel that it shouldn't be that way... where you need to go so high up to solve something that can be done face-to-face," she said, adding that speaking to the perpetrator will also help both sides understand each other better.

She also spoke out against "call-out culture", in which people highlight a racist incident publicly to shame others online, saying that "nothing comes out of it except for anger".

To avoid this, people need to develop the language and vocabulary they need to speak out about their experiences of racism and discrimination, she added.

Mr Sim noted that some victims of racial discrimination may just want to vent, which is why it is important to provide a listening ear.

"Sometimes it's just about providing people the space for them to share about their experience and to heal from that experience," he added.

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