I’ve never felt so conscious about belonging to the majority race, and frankly, it’s a bit unnerving to realise that anything I say now might be taken out of context and misconstrued as racism from a Chinese-privilege point of view.
In the recent flame war unwittingly initiated by the influencer (Ellie) who panned the food at Ramadan bazaar and suggested her followers give it a miss, a Twitter user accused her of assuming that the bazaar was there for her “privileged Chinese ass”.
Aside from my bewilderment at the fact that an opinion on food could take on ethnic connotations, that comment got my (Chinese) hackles up.
I’m peeved that the incident was turned into a racial debate, when clearly, it was simply a matter of ignorance and insensitivity.
On this point, I’m prepared to throw myself to the wolves (i.e. trolls) and align myself with Xiaxue in saying that I feel the influencer should’ve stuck by her guns.
But just to be sure I’m not saying this because I’m a “privileged Chinese ass” too, I asked several Muslim buddies what they thought.
My astute colleague, Maisurah, 25, said it best: “It was not about race until the person who tweeted at the influencer made it so.”
Another colleague, Imran, 28, agreed, adding that the influencer probably just “didn’t realise the significance of the Ramadan bazaar for Muslims, and the manner in which she showed her displeasure – tagging her comments with images of the bazaar and not of the food itself – implied that she had a problem with the whole bazaar”.
I concur. So, tell me: what has tact (which I agree Ellie lacked) got to do with race?
And when did it become the done thing to pull the race card to shame someone into recanting a perfectly legitimate personal opinion?
Yes, as influencers with a lot of, er, influence, they should be mindful of what they say and to which group they address, but an honest recommendation on food is just that.
If I were a follower of Ellie and a foodie who was looking forward to visiting the bazaar for the first time, I’d note her opinion, then decide for myself whether to take my chances with the food. But it would never occur to me that she had any racist agenda.
Actually, I did visit the bazaar last year, and I queued for hours to bag money shots of Instagram-worthy hype food, like the honeydew lava and the cotton candy cloud ice cream – both so 2016 now.
However, I was (and still am) sorely disappointed because the food really did “s**k b**ls”.
And yes, when my friends or followers asked me if I thought it was worth visiting, I had to say no – not if you were going for the food, anyway.
Was I being racist? Nobody seemed to think so.
So, why then do some folks take Ellie’s comments so personally?
“I think it’s because for a lot of us, we visited the Ramadan bazaar yearly growing up. We’ve seen what it used to be – a place for Muslims to come together as a community to break fast, a place where we could find traditional childhood staples lovingly prepared by makcik and pakcik stallholders.
But in recent years, it has evolved to cater to a new crowd – to the point where the essence of Ramadan seems to be diluted, and most have forgotten what the bazaar means to Muslims,” said Azlinda, 40.
Even so, she believes that Ellie’s comments bore no racist reflection whatsoever.
We’ve also seen a neutral camp, including Imran and Maisurah, who have expressed conciliatory sentiments, saying that the tweet Ellie received was “not very nice” and that it “didn’t speak for all of us”.
This show of objectivity is an encouraging sign that not every disagreement has to be race-driven in Singapore.
In our current hypersensitive environment, God forbid you be labelled a racist. I can understand why she caved and did the smart thing of apologising.
Still, I wonder: is it now the norm to make everything race-related, seeing as the term “Chinese privilege” is bandied around so readily?
In that case, my bone of contention is with how easy it is to assume that whenever a Chinese person commits a gaffe, it’s his or her Chinese privilege acting up.
Does being Chinese make us the poster children of privilege? Because being the majority, I was told that we’re lucky to be insulated from being discriminated against.
Someone tell that to Ellie.