Culture

Regardless of race: Which side of offence are you on?

Isaac Ong // August 2, 2019, 2:04 am

Regardless of race

This was written in response to NETS’ controversial E-Pay ad and the subsequent video response by local influencer, Preeti Nair (better known as Preetipls), who is also under investigation for offensive content.


I’m not offended. And in a time like today, it might be offensive to not be offended.

Before you allow any post or strong opinion from key opinion leaders to pressure you to feel like you should feel something and jump on this bandwagon of being up in arms – just to take a swing because everyone else is doing it – take time to reflect.

It’s okay to not know, to not have it altogether, to not be ready to share your thoughts. To take your time, space and heart to reflect, internalise and consider. Think before you speak. Consider all sides.

Consider your convictions, even the ones you’re not proud of, nor wish to admit. Consider your pride. Consider the chip on your shoulder. Consider your motivations. Consider your fears. Consider your insecurities. Consider the narratives. Consider the facts. Consider the truth. Consider the actions.

Consider consideringDon’t feel the need to share anything you don’t feel like sharing.

I saw the ad and the video, and I’m not offended. The stories of harmony and friendship in my life to this day triumph over this distasteful madness that I’ve read and all the experiences I’ve had first hand.

A Christian’s take on privilege and class divides

I’m beautifully brown because I’m Chinese Indian. Mum’s Indian and Dad’s Chinese.

I grew up reciting the pledge in the morning, declaring “one united people .. regardless of race, language or religion”, yet, on the very same day, would find myself in countless situations of disunity because of language, race and religion.

From hearing people telling their children that an “ah pu neh neh” is on the way to catch them when my mum and I walked past them, to being told for more than 10 years that my skin colour is not ideal for television .. Or having make-up artists try to make me look more Chinese because I’m Isaac Ong, but my skin colour to them said otherwise.

The wrongs, the charges, the offences are one too many. But I’m not offended.

It’s having the lights turned off and being asked “where’s Isaac?” to being told munjens (Tamil term for Chinese people) are all smelly and stupid, and that Chinese people are stingy and calculative but my generosity is surprising and I must be a “different kind of Chinese”…

From being made fun of because I’m Christian, getting disrespected and teased for being crazy and “holy moly” because of my commitment to my faith, to being made fun of behind my back because people thought I couldn’t speak Mandarin, or not get favoured by production people in the reality show I was in because they preferred the contestants that were of their race ..

The wrongs, the charges, the offences are one too many.

These offences are never-ending. But I’m not offended.

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Because when I get home, what I see is not race against race, but race married to race. And this marriage didn’t happen by protests, videos, “he say” or “she say”, but by forgiveness in offence, understanding in confusion, conversation in conflict, correction in privacy and patience in persecution.

My dad and mum never needed to teach me about respect towards races because they lived that out. I didn’t learn my perspectives from videos, from arguments or from social media influencers – I learnt honour, love and perspective from my community and the people I live with, I love and am loved by.

I learnt it from doing life with my very diverse group of friends in secondary school, poly, army, university and everywhere else. I learnt my respect for religion from my grandma, who was of a different faith for 80 years, and my dad who is Christian, because that didn’t stop them from loving each other unconditionally.

I learnt honour, love and perspective from my community and the people I live with, I love and am loved by.

They respectfully attended one another’s religious practices, and faith was not a point of contention at our reunion dinners. While my grandma was fluent in Hokkien and Mandarin, and I flunked CL (B), it never stopped us from communicating. It didn’t stop her from showing displeasure when she was bedridden due to fourth-stage cancer – she could still reach out to touch my new eyebrow piercing with a frown.

I learnt a respect for faith and religion from my friendships with fellow contestants on the reality programmes I’ve been on, from cheering one another on regardless of race, religion or language. It was a big deal when I joined a Chinese singing competition where there were people more competent in the language who lost and were still rooting for me. I didn’t deserve that.

I’m not oblivious to the inequalities that surround us, and if any of us believes that will be completely obliterated anytime soon, I need to take a page out of your optimism and hope. But I’ve learnt to not be discouraged by it, or become angry or violent in mind, heart or speech about it. I didn’t learn this from some platform leader, social media or very vocal people.

Young people, greatness is not in power or money, but love

I learnt about respect and honour regardless of race, language or religion through the people I lived and walked with. I know many are calling for conversations online, public discussions and drawing lines. The number of likes, reposts and shares are added ammunition for those building divisions.

People are calling on one another to take a stand, draw lines and say “enough is enough”, and for some, it’s a chance to load a bullet finally for the past offences that they’ve had, related or not, with companies, the government, people or other races – and fire.

Don’t feel like you need to. How you live is more important than what you say now. And with all that’s going on, these discussions are getting more divisive than unifying, even when it seems to call for equality or be masked as public awareness or discussions/conversations.

The hype will die, but your neighbour will not.

Here are my thoughts: Disconnect, get offline and engage with real people and your community. Or sit down and reflect on your own. Don’t feel the need to share your thoughts no matter how good they sound. If you get up better than when you first sat down, we’re one person closer to our ideal world.

We don’t need more drumming. The hype will die, but your neighbour will not. We’ve got more stories of unity than disunity. And if you don’t, well, here’s to writing some new chapters for yourself.

I’m brown and not offended. 

Thanks Mum and Dad.

This was originally posted on Isaac’s Facebook page and has been republished with permission.