Friday, December 23, 2011

My daughter on Seng Han Thong

My daughter just asked minutes ago what did Seng Han Thong do wrong? I said as far as I can tell since I wasn't following this closely, he wasn't a racist. In fact his strength might have turned out to be a serious liability. He is probably racially blind like everyone in my family is. Unaware of the racial chip on many people shoulders, Seng Han Thong mistake was his carelessness and complacency. When he tried to explain himself in all honesty, he only made it worse. His apology came across as insincere. Those that were offended would accept nothing less than an unvarnished apology that he was wrong and truly sorry. Honesty wins no plaudits here.

My elder daughter best friends in school is a Malay and Indian girl. The younger girl buddy is a Kaur. They both have many friends from other races.

Seng Han Thong's fiasco is a lightning rod telling me that my girls are potentially at risk of making the same mistake. They have to learn to see what the world looks like through the colored lens of race and religion. A good place to start might be the startlingly shocking views of the Jews, Christians and Arabs over Jerusalem.

Once my daughter asked her Indian classmate what is that guy he was wearing on a necklace around her neck. Her ASEAN scholar classmate, a Malaysian Chinese was shocked by that remark. She asked her who she thought Jesus Christ was. My daughter innocently responded that he was a person, just another guy. These are quick thinking and bright kids. They understood right way she was religion blind. No such luck for Seng Han Thong.

This is a divided world with divided peoples. The late Pope John Paul II was very wise to suggest that we are one because we are different.

Let's not be so cruel to Seng Han Thong.

Update: 24/12/2011


  1. Seng Han Thong is himself the victim of the public's non-colour-blindness... he is a man in white!

  2. I came across your site at

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. For a different view of Seng Han Thong's apology, you might like to read this:

    Like you, I hope that our children will grow up to be blind to race, language and religion. However, for that to happen, Singapore leaders and role models must lead by example, in word and in deed. Seng Han Thong's words (both those he originally said in the TV show as well as his apology) do not constitute a good example, particularly as he is an elected MP. Instead of being racially blind, it can be construed to be a case of him filtering the SMRT statement through his own particular bias. At best, even if this is not the case, he has a duty as an elected MP to consider very carefully the effect of his words, which he has failed to do.

  3. The problem with your analogy is that while your daughter is religiously blind, Mr. Seng isn't. This is like the case of:
    - Your daughter asking who Jesus Christ is because she didn't know who he is (why on earth would anyone consider this shocking is weird anyway, particularly if your daughter is very young, and suggests egoism).
    - Mr. Seng knowing who Jesus Christ is, BUT asks who he is.

    Can you see the difference here? People won't get offended by your daughter because she is geniunely ignorant, while Mr. Seng, no. He knows, but asks anyway, which can come off as deliberately sarcastic or purposefully mocking.

    The fact that he sounds like he agrees with what was said about Malays and Indians... why is that not considered racist? Just because it's not conscious effort? I once made a racist remark offhandedly too, so am I less of a racist? No. Fact is I'm still a racist making a racist remark, full stop (and I learnt a great deal of good things from that social faux pax).

  4. "Like you, I hope that our children will grow up to be blind to race, language and religion. However, for that to happen, Singapore leaders and role models must lead by example, in word and in deed."

    I don't understand: who is responsible for bringing your children up? You, or "Singapore leaders and role models"?