Rude or racist? Well, that depends on your race.

Posted: 23 Feb 2017, 1000 hours (GMT +8)

Celeste Chia

A fight between two people isn't anyone else's problem, right?


With so many people taking things to social media, the rest of society is also affected. Take the ATM saga video that was posted on 3 Feb 17 for example. It has led to a bigger conversation about racism.

Facebook user Wak Isa posted this video, which showed a Chinese man scolding a Malay woman because he felt that she took too long at the ATM. The video caused an uproar, as some felt the same as Wak Isa, that the Chinese man was being racist when he shouted "which country are you from" and "go back".

And there were some who felt it had nothing to do with race as the man was just downright rude.

I felt the same way as Oliver Hbic Liew and Ray Ushoda. In fact, I was angry that Wak Isa made this a thing about race when all I saw was a rude man who assumed that someone who doesn't know how to use the ATM doesn't belong in Singapore. It didn't matter whether the woman was a Malay, Indian or Chinese. This rude man would have said the same thing!

When I brought this up with my group of friends, I was surprised that we were divided in our views – my Malay and Eurasian friends thought that the Chinese man was racist whereas the three of us Chinese didn't think so. It got heated when my friends of minority races felt that we were being race-blind and avoiding the obvious racism while the rest of us were uncomfortable with labelling a fight like this racist.

True to my geeky self, I went home to do more research on why my friends made a big deal out of us being race-blind. That's when I came across this article "7 reasons why colourblindness contributes to racism instead of solves it". It helped me see where my friends were coming from.

By ignoring that Wak Isa and the woman getting scolded were from a minority race, I was disregarding how they felt when asked to go back to their country by someone of a majority race. Add this to the fact that Malays have been here for centuries, and can be considered indigenous people, whereas Chinese are immigrants who came here in more recent history. No wonder my friends were annoyed about us not understanding why they felt that the man was being racist!


Sure, we can argue that the Chinese man didn't intend to be racist, that he was rude and xenophobic. We could even make fun of his accent to smooth over the racial sentiments. But that means we failed to be sensitive to how the Malay woman felt being asked to "go back".

This taught me a good lesson about sensitivity. Not only was the Chinese man insensitive in what he said, we, who invalidated how Wak Isa and the Malay woman felt, were too.

Shouldn't we aim to do better as a society then? Not only should we think in the shoes of those of other races, we should step up to offer help. And I saw many who felt that way in response to the video.

When we see someone being abused, whether or not it is racism, it would be great if it becomes a norm for passers-by to help. And we have seen many everyday heroes stepping up for what's right. Recently, we saw a man stopping an abusive customer in a StarHub shop.

Do you also remember how we applauded this man for being a hero after he stopped another from berating a teenager for the words on his t-shirt?

And this school boy showed us that even if you are young and small-sized, you can still try.

We are unlikely to stop sharing accounts of fights online. But when we do and it becomes an issue for us all, hopefully we can learn from it and do better as a society.