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The Rise of Racial Insensitivity in Singapore

Of late, acts of racism have been rampant in Singapore and have been published all over social media. From Beow Tan to Tan Boon Lee, there has been no shortage of the supply of racial hate and discrimination being showcased to the world. With a rise in such cases being publicised online, it brings to our attention the question: why do racists do the things that they do?

Royce Lee, a Singaporean influencer has recently received a lot of backlash for his racially insensitive commentary on and response to the video of a Chinese woman harassing an Indian man, Livanesh Ramu for practising his traditional and cultural rituals at his doorstep, which was publicised on Facebook on June 9.

In the video, Nesh was seen conducting his “5-minute, twice a week prayer routine” which included ringing a bell, which is believed by Hindus to welcome divinity and dispel evil. A middle-aged Chinese woman was then seen aggressively banging a gong behind Nesh, seemingly out of spite at the “noise”.

Nesh uploaded the video onto Facebook with the caption: “Like many other Hindus this has been a part of our family’s 5-minute, twice a week prayer routine. Having lived in this home for more than 20-years we never had any issues. I guess with COVID we have a new norm…”

Screengrab of lady banging on the gong from Nesh's video

Nesh provided regular updates on the situation, stating on 10 June that the Singapore Police Force had reached out to him, and that the parties involved had given their relevant statements.

Following the post and his updates, Nesh shared that he had received many questions about the incident from netizens that had seen his post.

Nesh’s post and responses to the questions posed reflect a clear divide between Nesh’s reality, and Royce Lee’s treatment of the situation.

Nesh has shown to the whole nation the reality of being a minority in Singapore. He was harassed for practising his religion, which many Chinese Singaporeans do not have to face any aggression for.

The video Nesh had shared reflected the deep-set racist ideologies which had been rooted within various communities of Singaporeans. The woman’s brazen and spiteful banging on the gong, to presumably “give him a taste of his own medicine”, shows the racial intolerance that Singaporeans have, especially in Chinese groups.

The racial intolerance exhibited by members of the Singaporean Chinese community has been publicly exhibited time and time again, and has in some instances, been validated by a few people on the Internet, the most recent being Royce Lee.

On 11 June, Royce Lee had uploaded a video clip of himself running around what seems to be a nature reserve, banging on a makeshift gong just as the woman had done in Nesh’s video.

He demonstrated himself flagging a taxi down by banging a gong with the in-video caption, “sexy leg”, which invited a lot of criticism, many claiming that he was “trivializing the matter”.

To say that Lee had trivialized the racist harassment incident Nesh had encountered is being lenient, and even tolerant of such behaviours, by simply boiling it down into a silly and humorous video. By making light of a racist encounter, Lee had invalidated and downplayed the severity of Nesh’s encounter, making a spoof of it which sends the message that the gong lady’s actions are less serious than what Nesh had made it out to be.

Many people do not go out of their way to hurt or cause harm to others, but their actions usually end up hurting certain groups of people, which is demonstrated by Lee. To Lee, his spoof of Nesh’s video could have been well-intentioned: whether it be a way to cheer the groups of people affected, or simply a funny video to upload onto the Internet for likes and clicks.

However, there is no denying that groups of people have been offended, and have fuelled social discourse about racial harmony and equality in Singapore.

Following this video, Lee has also uploaded a video that set a similar tone for the discussion on racial equality. He had filmed himself in clown attire and uploaded footage of himself apologizing and calling himself a “Chinese clown”. He has since taken the video down and went on a hiatus.

It is unfortunate that Lee has had to go through two rounds of mocking racial minorities before he decided to properly apologize for his actions. Having not learnt his lesson the first time round, Lee again made light of the situation and did not take it seriously, casting himself as an Internet meme, a “clown” who is foolish and doesn’t know better.

However, Lee most probably did know. He knew that he had posted something racially offensive the first time befitting an apology, yet he chose to spoof the apology and make light of it.

Following his “clown” video, Lee then uploaded an apology and assured everyone that he was going to reflect on himself.

However, his apology and hiatus is simply him taking the easy way out to avoid public backlash after mocking the hurtful experience of another race, which further shows how he lives in an ivory tower, where he is completely ignorant of his racial privilege and is able to use that privilege to invalidate others, and profit off of their pain as he earns money from clicks and views.

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