” No society or group should be judged by how some of its members behave. That is unfair.”
Hri Kumar Facebook, 29 March 2012:-
She has rightly apologised and withdrawn the remark. This will be a tough learning experience for her, and I hope she emerges the better for it.
But the heat she and others like undergraduate Sun Xu have generated with their thoughtless remarks will not dissipate so easily.
Racism will not go away, however many apologies are uttered. It has been part of society since, well, society began.
Man has a long history of being suspicious, and speaking ill, of people who look, speak, dress or even eat differently from him. The only difference today is that the social media allows a person to vent to thousands what used to be said in smaller, private circles.
I have seen or experienced racism myself, whether it is rude remarks made by school mates, or stories related by relatives and friends that so-and-so did not get a job or promotion because of the colour of his skin.
Several minority residents have approached me as an MP complaining of discrimination at the work place or in job opportunities.
Is Singapore different from other countries? Not in the least.
Almost everyone I have spoken to who has spent time abroad has encountered racism in one form or another.
My nephew studying abroad even had an egg thrown at him from a passing car while he was walking down the street.
No society or group should be judged by how some of its members behave. That is unfair.
The real test is how society reacts in the face of such provocation. Look at our reaction.
Singaporeans were quick to vigorously condemn Ms Li for her remarks, and to remind her that they were out of place in our society.
That is the difference between us and some.
In other societies, such utterances provoke violence and revenge or are defended on the grounds of free speech.
I think we have a better sense of balance and perspective, and appreciate that there must be reasonable limits to individual liberties.
It makes Singapore exceptional, and we must work hard to keep it that way.
We must continue to speak out against racism and discrimination when we encounter them.
We should not simply shrug our shoulders and say that they are part of the landscape, an inevitability in a multi-cultural society. That would be admitting defeat and put us on the road to mediocrity.
And what to do about the likes of Shimun Lai and Sun Xu?
I am reminded of one my favourite scenes in Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi”.
Gandhi lies weak from fasting as a protest against the Hindu-Muslim riots. He is confronted by an angry Hindu man who demands that he eats.
The man said that he killed Muslims in the riots because they killed his child. He was going to hell, but he did not want Gandhi’s death on his soul.
Gandhi offered the man a way out of hell.
He told him to find a Muslim boy orphaned by the killings, take care of him but to raise him as a Muslim.
It was a powerful statement about salvation.
Ms Lai, Mr Sun and others who step over the line should not just apologise or simply accept whatever punishment comes their way.
They should have an obligation to help in the healing process.
And the best way to do that would be for them to get to know and befriend the very people they have condemned.