Race has raised its ugly head again in Singapore. In the last week, the assistant director of the only trade union in town decided to make awful remarks about the Malay community on her Facebook page. The remarks she made went viral and within minutes she was sacked from her job and her story continue to fill the newspapers.
This incident has sparked a national debate on the issue of race. The talking heads are asking if race relations in Singapore are as perfect as we’ve always thought it to be. There have also been discussions about the limits of free speech.
What strikes me most about this incident is the fact that they came from her. The woman in question is not an illiterate bumpkin who has been asked to deal with a culture from another part of the world. She is a graduate from a respectable university (University of Western Australia) and a working professional (prior to working for the union, it is believed that she once worked at the Marina Mandarin Hotel). She’s also at the age where being naïve is a defense.
So, the question is, why the hell did she write things that displayed her ignorance about a community that has been in Singapore that’s been there for as long as anyone can remember?
You could say that she had a stupid moment and wrote what she did at the spur of the moment. Well, yes, she could have been stupid. Most of us have done things on the spur of the moment and regretted. However, this wasn’t a case of having a bit too much to drink or going to bed with the wrong person. This was a case of writing something down. Having been a writer, I can tell you that it is impossible for the fingers to type things without instructions from the brain.
So, I ask the question – how does a well-educated person think thoughts that one often associates with uneducated clowns? To be fair to Ms Cheng, the lady in question, she’s realized that she’s in hot soup and has apologized for the offending remarks.
However, that should not detract from the fact that Ms Cheng is not the only highly educated person to reflect a general ignorance about the world. The most famous educated ignoramuses belong to the family Thio, where the mother and daughter, who are professors of law, have made it a lifelong mission to eradicate homosexuality in Singapore.
However, there are plenty of others. Most of the time, this level of ignorance is amusing. It’s a bit of a joke when high school graduates think that Sikh’s come from Bengal (erm, there’s quite a bit of distance between Punjab and Bengal). However, it’s a little worrying when an assistant director of the trade union thinks the Malay community would have a lower divorce rates if they spent more on weddings. It’s downright scary when law professors provide pseudo-intellectual arguments on why consenting adults cannot have sex with who they want to have sex with.
I agree with Ms Cheng’s dismissal. However, I don’t believe that hanging her out to be fed to the wolves is the answer. I don’t think she’s a single case – but part of a worrying group of uneducated-professionals who make it so necessary to import “foreign talent” to get things done.