Understand Little India events without racism
In the aftermath of recent events in Little India, racist and xenophobic comments are steadily surfacing online and offline, conflating the actions of a few with the culture, habits and tendencies of migrant workers from South Asia in general.
These migrant workers are experiencing a prejudiced characterisation of “their” “culture” as violent, unthinking and dangerous, and are being blamed for damaging or deviating from “the Singapore way”. We hear alarming calls to send foreign workers “back where they came from” or ban them from coming out of their dorms. One of AWARE’s staff members was informed by a cab driver that “you Indians” can display such behaviour in “your country”, but not in Singapore.
Not only are such xenophobic comments inaccurate and discriminatory, but they also create a hostile and exclusionary environment in which people (both migrants and citizens) of a certain skin colour might feel unsafe and unwanted. Migrants often have limited recourse against racist attacks and slurs. Far from providing solutions, such comments can increase a sense of division and alienation, sowing the seeds for further conflict. The actions of those who “rioted” in Little India need to be examined and understood without attaching blame to others of the same ethnicity or nationality.
It is heartening to see people take on these xenophobic comments. We need more people stepping up to call out those making ignorant, racist remarks, and to reject alarmist calls for greater segregation between local and migrant communities. Our nation is made of migrants and citizens of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, all of whom must be recognised as having a stake in Singapore’s culture, economy and society.
We hope that any examination of Sunday’s events will be informed by a thorough understanding of the marginalisation and discrimination experienced by migrant workers in Singapore.