An account I follow on IG recently shared a clip of Miss Singapore strutting down the runway in a remarkable outfit for the National Costume portion, which had a very powerful statement: Stop Asian Hate. It looked amazing, she looked amazing, I loved it. Then I decided to check out Miss Singapore 2021's IG page, whose name is Bernadette Belle Ong, and watched an interview clip of her response to dealing with hate crimes against Asians and I was gravely disappointed. This is a prime example of someone appropriating people's pain for their own gain and the Asian version of white privilege. Let me explain why.
In this interview clip that she shared on her feed a few days ago, Miss Singapore was asked if she has any ideas on how to remedy the problem of the rise in hate crimes against Asians, especially in the U.S. and Europe. First, she claims to come from a country where there is "zero-tolerance for this type of behavior." Right off the bat she makes a false and ignorant statement. Singapore is rampant with racism and colorism. Even with the little time that I have spent in Singapore, this issue was immediately and abundantly obvious to me when I visited a few years ago. So, Bernadette appears to be painfully unaware of her own privilege and either blind to or dismissive of the discrimination darker toned Asians in her country face. I'm not really sure to what "social harmony" she is referring, because it's an illusion. Sure, on its face, Singapore does seem to be a multicultural haven. But go beyond the clean streets, fancy buildings, and nightly light and water shows, and it is no different than any other culture or country when it comes to racism.
She then calls on upper governances to "zero in on perpetrators and give them really intense sentences," but recognizes that this is difficult to do in certain countries. She says, "we need to persecute people when they act on violence and cause harm to others." This is troubling, because she is essentially saying let's fight hate with more hate. To "persecute" someone is to subject that person to hostility and ill-treatment, often times because of their race, political beliefs, or religious beliefs. Persecution is not the answer, because it doesn't actually solve the hate problem. If anything, it would create more hate against Asians. Moreover, what exactly does she consider "really intense sentences?" A long sentence? Physical abuse? Torture? Her solution is oversimplified, uneducated, and does not deal with or concern the root of the problem. If we want to "stop Asian hate," we have to tackle the root of the issues.
The other thing that bothered me about her message was how it was delivered. While I'm not a body language expert, my impression of her entire response--her words, facial expressions, and body language--read disingenuous to me. It felt like a shallow performance full of shallow and out of touch words. What her response indirectly highlights though, is the serious issue of colorism that is prevalent throughout Asian cultures and communities, as well as other cultures and communities. And if we really want to #StopAsianHate, then we need to check the hate in our own communities and reconcile those relationships, too.
Maybe Bernadette had good intentions, but she really needs to check her own privilege and maybe visit some of the neighborhoods in Singapore where it's clear that there is not the "social harmony" she claims there are. It's not too difficult...Singapore is not that big.
To read about my trip to Singapore and how to do Singapore on a budget, read here.