Analysis: Struggling with xenophobia in SingaporeBy Kirsten Han Mar 20, 2013 7:34AM UTC
It’s a debate that has been gaining momentum for a long time, but the aftermath of the February protest against the Population White Paper has brought the discussion of xenophobia to the forefront of Singapore’s national conversation.
Everyone seems to have an opinion, but one can broadly break it down into two camps:
Camp #1 – Singaporeans are getting more and more xenophobic and racist, and this needs to be countered ASAP!
Camp #2 – We should not be so quick to label people as ‘xenophobic’ or ‘racist’. We should understand why people are this upset, before jumping to labels.
At times it appears as if both camps are getting angrier and angrier, flinging accusations at one another. It feels a little silly, really, because – when you really think about it – no one is really disagreeing with anyone here.
(READ MORE: Analysis: Singapore and its rare ‘political’ protest)
Both camps agree that xenophobia is a problem. No one is arguing that xenophobia is a good thing. We’re just arguing about what to do about it.
Camp #2 appears to be worried that the labelling will hurt rather than help, and that we should cut those who have participated in xenophobia some slack.
But if someone has said or done something specifically to target, exclude and belittle another group of people, do we really still have to worry about hurting their feelings? What about the feelings of the object of their xenophobia?
There are plenty of people out there who participate in xenophobia (and no, you don’t have to be an out-and-out xenophobe to participate in xenophobia). I count many of them among my friends and family. They are decent people, fun to hang out with and speak to. But that doesn’t make them less xenophobic when they spout anti-foreigner sentiment. And it’s important to point it out to them when they do, so they have the opportunity to reflect.
It is important to know the root causes behind the rise of xenophobia; those are crucial issues that need to be addressed. But we cannot cut people so much slack that they are absolved of responsibility over the things they say or do. That would be giving too much credit and power to the government or the system when the reality is that everyone has his or her own agency.
We aren’t sheep. External factors may affect us, but at the end of the day it’s up to us to be aware of the prejudices and assumptions behind our own beliefs, and reflect upon our own actions.