Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Racism / Prejudice

Have you noticed that when conversations here move towards whether this or that country is a nicer place to stay, e.g. the UK, Australia, the US, then someone will inevitably bring up the subject of racism and perhaps encounters of it in these specific countries? There will be the shaking of heads, the wagging of fingers and even sighs of despondency will be heard. But that in itself is neither here nor there…

What I find curious is that although we tut-tut at the perceived racism encountered in such countries, we hardly bat an eyelid to the stuff that happens in our own backyard! Try looking around for a place to rent in Singapore by using the phone to contact the numbers placed in the newspapers and you will get agents asking about your background, what you do for a living and your race! Many of them would thereafter sheepishly explain that they had to find out on their clients behalf as their client does not want to rent to Indians because they “smell”. I find it incredible that they are so upfront! Look further at the ads and you can see some touting Indian owners looking for tenants. It appears the race of the owner is an important fact to provide! I also new of a Chinese lady with an Indian boyfriend who was looking for a flat to rent… Initially, the agents were welcoming but once they knew the boyfriend was Indian and would also be sharing the flat, their tunes changed!

That’s just the rental scene. How about the employment scene? I have seen cases where Malays seem to get the short end of the stick. There was once when I was going to select a Malay candidate and I was asked by my superior whether I was sure I knew what I was doing… implying that perhaps I should get my head examined,… or was I too sensitive? That was just my reading of the situation.

How about the political scene? Can you imagine the Republican party in the US or the Conservatives in the UK saying they only allow whites or Anglo-Saxons are allowed membership? It would be unthinkable! However in a place like Malaysia we have race-based parties! Yes, there may be a National Front to pull them all together but no-one joins the National Front. Citizens join one of the race-based parties which is then part of the National Front. We do not bat an eyelid about such things and I find that amazing!

Thererfore, I think that;
1. Racism (or prejudice) is everywhere. We need not go to other countries to see it.
2. Racism is just a form of stereotyping. However, I truly believe that practically everyone stereotypes or generalizes. We need to do so to get things done in this complex world. The key, of course, is the extent to which we practice the stereotyping and generalization. For example we say “Singaporeans are generally hardworking people.” Is that not a generalization? I guess since it is perceived to be a positive generalization, it would not be controversial. How about “Singaporeans are quite ill behaved when they go out of their country to say, Johor or KL.” Hmmm, I am sure that will raise some protest...
3. I strongly believe that due to (1) and (2) above, we all have our own prejudices and it is just a matter of degrees. The key question is what can we do about it? For starters, I just hope we can start to recognize that we are all afflicted by it. Only then can we begin to decide whether or not we want to do anything about it.


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