by Chloe Kwek (20J18) and May Tan (20J19)
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” This quote by notable American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou attests to the insidious harm that prejudice can cause to society. The dark days of colonialism and slave trading may be long gone, but it is arguable that racism is still as widespread as ever, albeit in less conspicuous forms. And this is embodied by the recent resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American man, was killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. This incident triggered subsequent protests against police brutality and racism around the world.
The BLM black power fist — the ‘hand’s up, don’t shoot’ pose.
OK, but why should I care?
Closer to home, while there has been a lack of related protests in Singapore, discrimination is definitely still a pertinent issue that needs to be addressed. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic clearly illustrates why, as migrant workers constitute the vast majority (95%) of the 57,000 nationally confirmed cases. While the government has responded by testing them for the virus extensively and providing better housing, migrant workers have been highlighted as a vulnerable occupational group that has not been receiving enough attention thus far.
As a multi-racial society that prides itself on its diversity, the pandemic has brought to light the problems with our poor treatment of migrant workers, and the potential implications it may bring. What does it say about us, if we fail to observe even their most basic rights despite being one of the world’s most affluent countries? Are we truly accepting, or merely tolerant of differences? Evidently, more needs to be done in tackling the “Not In My Backyard” mentality many Singaporeans have against such workers, and hopefully the “Us Versus Them” dynamic will be gradually eroded in time.
I see… but how is this relevant to me as an RVian?
For some of us, the issue of Covid-19’s impact on migrant workers may still seem rather distant, and as such, we will proceed to examine discrimination on an even smaller scale. In a largely homogeneous school like RV, there is a lack of interaction with people of other backgrounds. Hence, it is imperative that we learn how to be sensitive and understanding towards them.
JAE student, Vayishnavi Sivaikugan of 20J05 reveals that during conversations, many of her friends help her to translate certain Chinese words, which makes her feel involved. In her previous school, she usually stuck with friends who spoke the same Mother Tongue as her. While she was more comfortable among her group, coming to RV really forced her to interact with the others and step out of her comfort zone. Now, she feels comfortable around everyone.
In a similar vein, GP teacher Mr Nazri reveals that his teaching experience in RV has been an enriching one. While he has had to educate and clear misconceptions in class, he too gets to learn from his students. He adds that cultural exchange is something that happens all the time, and as long as we are open to it, we can all definitely benefit.
Tay Yiting of 19J10 agrees with the previous interviewees. As someone who is passionate about fighting for the rights of marginalised communities, Yiting is glad that there has been a resurgence in the BLM movement, given the black community’s long history of being oppressed. However, they find it a pity that “only a minority of people are actively involved in, or even interested in dismantling the systems of oppression, with many still engaging in performative activism, or simply choos[ing] to remain ignorant”, and believes that the privileged should do more to fight discrimination.
Is there anything I can do to help?
Yes! When asked what actions we as students can take to combat discrimination, Yiting suggests checking our privilege. Given the availability of information online, she feels “it is important that we optimise these resources and make it a point to keep educating ourselves of our privilege and how to use it for good through allyship, [for instance by] donating, fund-raising, and having difficult conversations”.
Furthermore, she recommends making use of the wide array of resources available at our fingertips, including documentaries and podcasts on Netflix and Spotify. Engaging in conversations with people of different backgrounds is another possible step, but she stresses the importance of making sure it is something they are comfortable with and willing to engage in. She also proposes a revision of the CCE curriculum to help schools address such issues more directly.
Last but not least, there are several petitions you can sign, and various black-owned businesses you can help to publicise. Please refer to the links below for more details.
Together, we can make the world a more inclusive place for everyone. After all, we all belong to one race — the human race.
P.S. If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, here is a credible source!