The “riot” in Little India

by Ani

The amount of ignorance being exposed just by incident is disappointing and baffling. The kind of dialogue it’s mostly creating reeks of childish, immature understandings of how a society functions or a culture develops. In this “riot” (apostrophes because the use of this heavily-connoted term is questionable to me) that involves our dear foreigners, it’s fair to say that it strikes in the heart of Singapore’s social issues with its deep-seated xenophobia. This event has (or had, but i’ll be optimistic here) the potential to spark constructive and thoughtful discourse on, maybe, the need for peaceful co-existence with and amongst our foreign counterparts, or in dissecting this incident’s complex causes which uncovers underlying social problems amongst the immigrants: basically issues we have been overlooking.

YET, a certain prevalent form of response to this tragedy of which its emergence that I really couldn’t understand, is the need for people to insert comedic responses. Really? I’m sorry, but really? It was even contemplated that we’re too serious a society to take light-hearted jokes. You have impeccably bad comedic timing. So that joke might be just a thought and I, too, certainly have no control over what you think about – but there needs to be stronger consideration on these commentaries and dialogue, especially when they’re published somewhere for an audience to see, and when verbalised. Firstly, when you do, these are no longer just minor harmless thoughts – they contribute to public discourse, and public discourse has the power to influence daily conversations. Words thrown about recklessly like “banglas”, “drunkards”, or even “prata” are key in orchestrating subconscious representations, which underlies ethnic typecasting or mindless stereotypes. Words that people claim that they don’t mean are conditioning or embedding in you the very stereotypical impulses which pretty much cultivates racial abuse or aggression. Stereotypes don’t spring out of nowhere wholly packaged and explicit – they are born out of an accumulation of mindless comments, and every word counts.

Secondly, to do this in the immediate period after the incident, not only are people showing a great deal of disrespect not just to the families of the deceased, belittling the whole situation, and invalidating the violence and danger of the incident – they are disproportionately inflating the very stereotypes that we have been NEEDING to get rid of since The White Paper, in this vulnerable atmosphere. Simultaneously they propagate the notions of privilege, elitism and superiority that us as locals seem to be entitled to. How do we fulfill peaceful co-existence in a country we claim to be “harmonious and multi-cultural”, when we cannot see them as equals, evident in these ignorant terms which keep resurfacing? It doesn’t help that their living conditions are undoubtedly inferior: a tangible reason for them to already feel subjugated by the locals. These unnecessary and dense comments, instead of constructive discourse to maybe dissect this incident and understand how it is able to provoke this crowd of foreigners, clearly illustrates the state of mind that we are in. The quality of the public discourse towards our social problems is the yardstick in our progress towards a first-class society – no matter how sophisticated our economy and education system is.

I am actually attempting to shed light on the need for cultural maturity amongst our own members, and culture is bred from dialogue amongst ourselves. Moreover, we, as Singaporeans, often take the top-down approach in understanding situations and issues, and in doing so we’re vulnerable to generalizations and vilifying statements, which do very little to help. I’m not even going into the actions that will be taken by our ruling parties, and the widespread irrational and misplaced anger this incident has provoked towards the government (way to connect the dots, people) – that’s a whole different story. This is our social fabric at stake and we have control over this unitary character of our society. We need to be better than this – we’re informed enough.