Participants share racism experiences at dialogue

Participants at yesterday's workshop scribbling down the biased notions that they have heard about certain groups of people. PHOTO: ONEPEOPLE.SG
Participants at yesterday's workshop scribbling down the biased notions that they have heard about certain groups of people.PHOTO: ONEPEOPLE.SG

A 71-year-old Sikh shares candidly his experiences as a victim of racism in Singapore. He adds: "It is factual that Chinese nationals are loud and rude."

This invites a swift response from a 17-year-old student, whose mother is from China, who points out that the comment is biased.

He goes on to describe his own experience - several Singaporeans have asked him whether he thinks dog meat tastes good because of his family background.

The frank exchange took place yesterday at a workshop aptly titled "You're Prejudiced. And You Are Biased. Admit it."

It was part of the series of dialogues organised by OnePeople.sg, a ground-up national body that promotes racial and religious harmony. Yesterday's sessions were organised in partnership with The WhiteHatters. About 60 participants gathered at Raffles City to share their experiences.

It coincided with the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which concluded on Friday.

OnePeople.sg programme manager Judy Ooh said such "authentic conversations" are important as they get participants to reflect and understand the need for moderation. The dialogues also provide a platform for the public to talk about racial and religious issues.

During the workshop on prejudice, group facilitator V. Vijayalakshmi shared how people often mistake her for a Filipino as they cannot place her heritage.

The 30-year-old social work graduate, who is of Chinese and Indian heritage, said: "It annoys me because people always make me feel like I'm not Singaporean enough. It even makes me question if I'm ever Chinese enough or Indian enough."

But other participants pointed out that prejudiced views are not confined to ethnicity.

A primary school teacher in his 30s described how he was bullied "for being fat" and that people would judge him as not being able to do certain things, such as sports.

Meanwhile, an Oxford University graduate in her early 20s shared how, at networking events, she often felt overlooked as a woman because people "naturally assume that I could never be boss material".

The participants, who declined to be named, said the workshop was a good way to hear other points of view.

 
 

The session opened with local stand-up comedian Rishi Budhrani, who speaks several north Indian languages, sharing how a television producer had assumed that he could speak Tamil because he is Indian.

Mr Budhrani said in jest: "He kept saying to me, 'If you try, you can' - as if all Indians have a default Tamil button. But when he told me that I would get a lot of money for the job, I started spouting Tamil.

"Because, you know, all Indians speak one language - and that is money."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'Participants share racism experiences at dialogue'. Print Edition | Subscribe