Racism And Xenophobia In Singapore


I think we all know at least one person. I know of more than one. They can be quiet, even timid, very polite and civil, but their personalities are transformed online. Almost unrecognisably. From tone to topic, they are loud, uninhibited, and they can be rude, using expletives never uttered when they are talking in person, one to one, or in a group. They literally become keyboard warriors. From a nation of people who are apathetic and needing a strong push to speak up, when have we become a nation of online advocates? More importantly, abrasive online advocates. Alarmed by episodes such as the collective condemnation of expatriates including Anton Casey, the strident objections to holding a Philippine Independence Day celebration here and an emerging trend of blaming foreigners for any social ill, several civil society groups issued a joint statement last week against the surge in racism and xenophobia in Singapore.

Andy Warhol famously proclaimed “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”. Today as citizens of a small global city, it seems we can be famous for fifteen minutes everyday. A democratized mass media, social media can hit at the very pillars of democracy. Tolerance for other people’s ideas and the freedom to express our own are inseparable values. Joined, they form a sacred trust that holds the basis of our democratic society. But this trust is now perpetually vulnerable to the tyrannical tendencies of the online majorities. A growing number of Singaporeans now feel compelled to speak up in ways previously unimaginable even to themselves, for those they think cannot fend for themselves or are suffering quietly. Coming from a perspective that nothing is sacred online, suddenly everything about the system and people in public positions are fertile soil to plant seeds of disgrace, disrespect and distrust.


There is an unspoken consensus online, especially among the young, that it is politically incorrect and not hip to agree with the government, or to offer a different point of view to the popular unpopular person or topic of the day or week. For the online advocates, you are either on their side or you are against them. I never thought the day would come when I have to speak up against the people speaking up in Singapore. Now I do. I happen to think that everyone, irrespective of status, is entitled to defend his or her good name. The Prime Minister is not wrong to defend himself against slander. The major overhaul of our public bus industry when the government will own all bus infrastructure is a positive development. When asked, many Singaporeans admit they have not read the finer points of what CPF is really about. It is a scheme not without its merits. Expressing these opinions, I will no doubt be seen as a coward or a pro-government flack.

There is increasing underlying unhappiness and resentment towards overcrowding and job competition ascribed to foreigners. ‘Unbridled immigration’ is now the source of sporadic and excessive bursts of cyber fury. Even with very rational people we know, they can be surprisingly one dimensional in their attacks. And their views can border on the senseless, their rant can express outright ethnic hatred crossing the line to foul abuse. The celebrations plans by the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore have now been cancelled for the first time in 20 years. But I see what the signatories say in their civil society statements as a turning point. They noted that the economic frustrations felt by Singaporeans should be directed at policies and structures which “were not instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases”. I am presently working on a movie, ‘1965’ for our jubilee celebration next year, premised on the fragility of racial harmony. How we can, if we are not careful, be racist ourselves without knowing it. Given the present societal climate, I am more convinced and motivated to tell this story.

Screen shot 2014-06-02 at AM 09.27.44


  1. Thank you.

  2. U Pal

    I read your article “the senselessness of xenophobia in Singapore” in MyPaper.
    just want to clarify:
    1) does PAP pay you to write?
    2) are you one of many propaganda channels of PAP?
    if your answers are no, please view things from a cause and effect to be fair to your fellow Singaporeans.
    Singaporeans are not xenophobic but Singaporeans have been conveniently blamed whenever the government policies failed or backfired.

    1. Typical zombie response. Everything is other people’s fault and other people is on the take.

    2. Soo……failure of govt policies and the convenient placement of blame = it’s okay to treat the people who aren’t actually behind the policies or the placement of blame like shit?

      Cos that’s what he’s calling out. He’s not saying it’s all on the citizens, but what, you hand you mind and civility over to the govt to determine how you as a person behave, is it?

    3. Nicodemus

      This article lacks one important element – Balance. I agree of the questions you posed for the writer.

  3. Very well said. Thank you.

  4. The insanity of new Singapore. This is not the Singapore I knew, I grew up in, that I worked my life for. I denounce this Singapore and wish it a short life, this aberration, this disgusting creature that should have been still born. Unworthy of the honest citizens that had build this fine nation.

  5. thank you for speaking up. enough of the xenophobic attitude. we are connected to the global stage. Such small mindedness is not allowed here!

  6. Howie

    Great points and wonderfully written. Thank you

  7. Hi Daniel. The thoughts in the last paragraph linking frustrations to the need for policy and structural change are sound – but it feels disconnected from the thoughts that precede it. You appear to conflate xenophobia/racism with anti-authority sentiments; yet the latter would seem a logical reaction if the issues are the result of the system put in place by the authorities. The current climate in Singapore does bear analysis and scrutiny, but a more vigorous thought process would have been welcome.

  8. Yubelle

    some Singaporeans I know can be friendly and nice people, but if at the worst, they can become very inconsiderate and hostile. I have few Singaporeans friends for 8 years and we still keep in touch with each other.

    From my personal experiences, when I said Singaporeans can be nice, there was this lady who work at Singapore Custom at Harbour front. She helped to reduce the amount of the tourists queuing up on the “All Passports” line by opening the line for “Singaporeans”. She did it to reduce the waiting time for the tourists. I felt grateful and purposely walking up to her just to say Thank You. She smiled back at me.

    And when I said Singaporeans can be hostile and inconsiderate, I was on my way to Serangoon with my fiancee by taking the trains. We were sitting at the reserve seats, it wasn’t full at that time. Just few stops before we reach our destination, there was a mother with her prams and her baby on it, and another two kids. She looked at us and raised her voice: “Could you let the kids sit?!”.
    We startled by her loud voice and automatically sat up, the kids took over our seats and the mother said nothing. This happens just few days ago.

    Pardon me for my bad English.

  9. Can you make a comparison between Singapore and Hong Kong? How about Australians during the Asian immigration hay days? What are the common themes? Would you still conclude that this is peculiarly Singapore or something more humanly innate?

  10. Singaporeans have been racist from the start. As someone that has gone through primary school secondary school and NS in Singapore, it is obvious that the majority Chinese race are racist. We have tolerated and smiled while they make innocent silly comments on our religion/race/language. Welcome to our world, welcome to the minority.

  11. Hi Daniel,

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