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Xenophobia is xenophobia November 29, 2011

Posted by laïcité in Life in London, Singapore, Society.
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I don’t even know how to introduce this video. Just take a look.

Now tell me: how is that sentiment different from this? (From facebook)

Xenophobia is xenophobia.  Whether you are complaining about the smell of foreign workers, or blaming them for taking your “rightful” place at Universities, or telling them to go back to where they came from,  you are no better than that horrid woman on the tram in London. Xenophobia is ugly, hateful, and disgusting, regardless of whether it is spouted by a British chav or a Singaporean beng.

Thankfully, in my time in London, I have never personally encountered a xenophobic attack (verbal or otherwise), and neither have most of my black, brown, and yellow friends who were born and raised in Britain. I wonder if the same can be said for the average foreigner living and working in Singapore.

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Confessions of a foreigner March 31, 2011

Posted by laïcité in Life in London, Politics, Society.
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I know many Singaporeans are not afraid to display their hostility towards foreigners. My days in university have taught me that; snarky comments, nasty nicknames and resentment against “china students” were anything but uncommon. Bur recently, after viewing a video posted by Yawningbread talking about the influx of foreigners becoming a chief concern in the coming elections, and after coming across a petition for employers to employ Singaporeans first, I’m beginning to sense that this antagonism is growing, or at least becoming a lot more visible and socially acceptable.

Or maybe it’s just me. You see, I am a foreigner now, so perhaps I have become more sensitive about these things. As a Singaporean student living in the UK, never in my life have I felt more conscious of how a country’s locals treat its foreigners. It’s not because I’m treated any differently here. It’s because I’m not treated any differently here. Unlike how we used to treat the students from China back in NUS, talking about how they screwed up the grading curve making it impossible for us locals to get As, letting them form their own enclaves and never really welcoming them into our own cliques, no one treats me like a foreigner here. No one complains about me stealing places that local students “deserve”, no one makes a big deal about my race or where I come from, and I can bet that no one actually blames me or other international students for congestion on the trains and buses (which I’m sure is actually worse than the situation back home).

That’s not to say that anti-foreigner sentiments are totally absent. But the key difference is that no one here can get away with blaming social and economic problems on immigrants without looking like a total bigot. Sure, you can criticize foreigners all you want here, but in everyone’s minds, that instantly relegates you to the likes of right-wing parties like the BNP, or salacious hate and fear mongering tabloids, or ignorant racist or homophobic countryfolk. You’d have to be pretty delicate and wise with your words here if you want to argue against foreigners and immigration. That’s a far cry from the brazen xenophobia that I sometimes see in Singapore, where foreigner-blaming is common to university students and busybody aunties alike.

Looking back on it, I feel ashamed of how nasty we were to other students simply based on their nationality. These students from India and China want success as much as any one of us, and they are probably more desperate to improve their lives than most of us privileged Singaporeans. Why should nationality make any difference? If they can qualify to get into our universities, then they have every right to be there. It doesn’t seem fair to me that we are more entitled to jobs or to places in primary schools or universities, simply because we had the privilege of being born in Singapore. Simply because by some stroke of luck, our grandparents decided to leave their villages but theirs didn’t.

Is it really fair to blame foreigners who want to work and study in Singapore? If you had the ability, the opportunity and the means to, would you pass up the opportunity to work or study abroad, thus improving your job prospects, increasing your potential earnings and broadening your horizons? Foreign students and workers are simply making that same logical choice for themselves.

I had a lengthy discussion with my British colleagues on this issue. I asked them what they thought of the growing unemployment problem in the UK and the opening of the “floodgates” to workers from all over the EU. My question was met with no anger, no hostility, and not a tinge of resentment. (I dare you to ask a similar question to a young jobseeker in Singapore and attempt to stop the xenophobic rant that would most surely ensue.) Many of the responses I got were startlingly applicable to Singapore. “It’s not like the locals would want many of the jobs that the immigrants take up, anyway.” “Where would our country be without the contribution of immigrants?” “They just want to be able to enjoy the high standard of living here that we take for granted.” My friend put it most aptly. In the most matter-of-fact manner: “We’re competing with the world now. That’s just the way it is.”

With all this talk of “competing with the world”, it’s easy to let a dog-eat-dog society take over. It’s easy to sink into a world where only the fittest survive, and the weaker members of society fall through the cracks. But this is not inevitable. Even as we welcome the talent and competition that immigration brings, there is no excuse not to have a safety net to ensure that all members of society – locals or foreigners – have a minimum standard of living, and this means minimum wage, affordable healthcare and bargaining power in the form of unions.

I’m pretty sure most Singaporeans really aren’t xenophobic; they’re just concerned about their livelihoods. I just hope they see that the solution lies in better welfare, better transport, and better schools, and not in demonizing foreign workers and students who are really just like us.

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