The accusations flew fast and furious.

The scene is chaotic, and the video confusing. There are voices raised in anger and fingers pointed at each other. A chair gets dragged loudly on the floor.

A confrontation between two families at the East Coast Park outlet of Burger King on Sunday evening went viral on TikTok yesterday.

The user who posted the video, @kakading, explains in the clip that the incident happened when a kid was playing with a fire extinguisher when it went off in the face of another child.

That allegedly sparked a heated argument between the two families and the police were called to settle the dispute.

But what turned a family dispute into a viral video was perhaps due to how the situation was described.

The TikToker wrote: “(T)he kids from the Indian family played with the fire extinguisher, then happen to spray into the eyes of the kids of the Chinese family on the opposite table.”

@kakading hope they can settle amicably#peaceandlove ♬ original sound – kakading 卡卡叮

That video clip has 1.2m views so far and more than 2,000 comments.

Many of the comments reacted to the families being described as “Indian” and “Chinese”.

One comment by user Wei Bin Wong5, which got more than 3,600 likes, said: “don’t need (to specify) the race, any race can make the same mistake.”

But there were many who jumped on the India bashing bandwagon, making snide comments about not having fire extinguishers “where they come from” or “welcome to the ceca world”, making a derogatory reference to the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, Singapore’s free trade agreement with India.

“Ceca” has been used as a dog whistle, a shorthand for political attacks for those who are upset with the influx of Indian nationals to Singapore as a result of the increased trade between the two countries.

@kakading was taken aback by the vehemence of the comments that followed her post. She explained in a later clip, she used “Indian” and “Chinese” simply as adjectives to better describe the situation.

One user, Aadheeraa, channelled Gen Z exasperation when she commented: “Bruh, she’s (referring to @kakading) using the race to point out what happened. What’s wrong with the people in the comment section.”

The issue is about parenting, not racism

burger king east coast park
Image source: Reddit/r/SingaporeRaw

On Reddit, the comments were just as heated. And quickly devolved into race-baiting memes and strawman arguments.

Nevertheless, it is a good sign that the most upvoted comments were the ones that called out the race baiters.

east coast park burger king
Image source: Tiktok/@kakading

For her part, @kakading clarified her comments after stating that her intention was merely to make it easier for people to identify the two different families.

She said that the main purpose of posting the video was to highlight the importance of parenting regardless of ethnicity or country.

She said: “I’ve come across many (kid-related) incidents or accidents that happen due to minimal parental guidance… yes you may say that the kid is naughty, but why let them become even naughtier when parents can guide them along the way?”

While she is yet to be a parent, she hoped that “in the future, my kids would never become the perpetrator or the victim”. Quoting from the Three Character Classic (or 三字经, sanzijing, a literature text often used to teach young children moral lessons), she said “子不教,父之过” (zibujiao, fuzhiguo) meaning that a wayward child is the fault of the parent.

We reached out to @kakading to find out more about what happened, but did not hear back from her.

@kakading Reply to @joyong3 ♬ original sound – kakading 卡卡叮

Dealing with racial undertones in society

But let’s dig a little deeper. Why do we react to someone using race as a description and immediately conclude that it is, quote unquote, “racist”?

Is it that our racial disharmony lurks barely under the surface of civility, waiting for just another incident to give it a reason to burst through and rear its ugly head?

Racial harmony in Singapore shouldn’t be like the Xenomorph in the Alien movie franchise: Everything seems hunky dory until a monster bursts out of someone’s chest.

We need to take a closer look at ourselves, to wonder why we seem so ready to attribute race to anything we might not like.

“That person is so lazy, must be a …”

“That guy just knows how to gamble, must be a …”

“That man drinks all the time, must be a …”

“That woman just came in from [country X], must be a …”

Dealing with racial undertones in society - east coast park burger king
Image source: Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

We shouldn’t even be making stereotypical comments like these as a general rule, but if you find yourself automatically filling in these blanks without a second thought… perhaps you might want to question your inner assumptions.

And while we’re mulling on that, let’s also ask: Why is it that when we flip the script and talk about positive traits, race almost never comes into the picture?

“That person is so generous, must be a …”

“That woman is so bubbly, must be a …”

“That boy is so friendly, must be a …”

We must learn to be even-handed in this: If we don’t naturally attribute race to positive traits, so should we apply the same kind of reasoning for negative ones.

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Race should be a neutral descriptor, not a value-laden dog whistle.

Imagine, if only we could live in a society where I can refer to a colleague as “my Indian friend”, simply to point him out from the crowd, and not be accused of “eh, why you so racist”, how freeing would that be!

Our founding father Lee Kuan Yew pointed out, in one of the last speeches he made in Parliament (please read it in its entirety, my short summation doesn’t do it any justice), why “regardless of race, language or religion” is encapsulated in our National Pledge. It is to remind ourselves that racial harmony does not come naturally to any nation.

The Pledge that our CMIO – Chinese, Malay, Indian, Other – children recite every day in school is a reminder that equality among races is an aspiration. It is something good that we must work towards, and while we have made great progress, we’re not there yet.

Racial harmony takes effort. Every garden needs tending.

Racial harmony takes effort. Every garden needs tending - burger king east coast park
Image source: Meg Landrito on Unsplash

Look at any country in the world. Where laisse faire policies dominate, systems of hegemonic power dictate the socio-cultural structure of the economy. We need to pay attention, lest we let slip certain assumptions that lead to stereotypes, be it based on race, culture, economic status or educational background.

Which is why we must call out such anti-social behaviour when it happens. And why I am heartened that many did speak up to keep the conversation on the right path and to take to task those who spread distrust, fear and resentment.

Call me optimistic but I believe that there is inherent power in us speaking up online – on TikTok, on Instagram, on Reddit, on our social media – to point out and encourage what is good, and to call out what is bad.

So let’s not be so quick to reduce everything to race.

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Life is seldom so simple.

But in the curious case of the fire extinguisher at the East Coast Park fast-food outlet, it is.

Sometimes, it’s just poor parenting.

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