In a disturbing turn of events, unprovoked racist attacks have been reported here this past week. An Indian Singaporean woman was assaulted after being shouted at for not wearing her mask while brisk walking. This is despite her explaining that she was exercising. Another reported incident involved a man yelling at a family of Indian expatriates and accusing them of spreading the coronavirus. The pandemic has stoked an irrational fear that people of certain races and nationalities are responsible for bringing in and spreading Covid-19. Fears of job losses have exacerbated such anti-foreigner sentiments worldwide.
There had been previous reports of Asians in other countries being targeted in violent hate crimes. According to some studies in the United States, hate crimes there against Asians surged by 169 per cent from the first quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year. The range of abuse included verbal harassment, shunning and physical assault.
A recent Pew survey found that one in three feared that someone might threaten or physically attack them. Singaporeans living overseas have not been spared either: A law student in London was set on and beaten up last year.
Singaporeans horrified by incidents overseas ought to be outraged now by reports of such abhorrent behaviour here. Anxiety over jobs also cannot be a justification for racism and physical abuse under any circumstance. Xenophobia and racism must not be allowed to take root and grow. While there is racism in every society, and Singapore is not spared, the reality is that recent incidents do not reflect the view of the majority of residents here. There are strict laws to inhibit and punish hate speech and racial crimes, for example, the Penal Code. The onus is on citizens, community and other leaders to condemn and call out such acts when these occur. That needs to extend to the digital realm where individuals and groups stoke sentiments and spread misinformation.
Multiracialism is at the heart of Singapore’s founding ethos. The national pledge speaks of citizens as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion. Playing the race card and finger-pointing means going down a slippery slope of normalising unacceptable comments and actions. While today’s targets may be certain expatriates, this can spiral and affect all types of minorities or nationalities here. The pandemic has exacted a heavy toll, but it is more important now for residents of all races, religions and political persuasions to look out for one another, refrain from spreading unverified rumours and report racist and discriminatory behaviour to the authorities.