Is Western individualism to blame for racial oversensitivity?
Instant gratification mentality, combined with access to social media have created an explosive mix. Victimhood is yielding social benefits for individuals - but may undermine entire societies.
I didn't intend to cover the story of the conflict over the standee that used a private wedding photo of a Malay couple at first - I thought it's just too low-ball, a minor issue somewhere in Singapore.
But how it escalated, the coverage it has received and many comments on social media have convinced me it would be a great follow-up post to my earlier article about racism in SG (and the real problem that the gap in perceptions of racism is).
In fact - that this is considered some grave controversy and, by many, viewed as racially insensitive precisely proves my points about general lack of actual racism in Singapore.
Yes, it was inappropriate - particularly using someone's private photo - but that's not PA's issue but the vendor's. Knowing from practice of working in design, including some small shops early in my career, companies often cut corners and look for content on Google or elsewhere, thinking they can get away with it. It's not right but it's just the reality, so I understand the conditions in which the error was made.
Yes, it's a copyrights' violation - even if the photo was heavily edited and the faces of the couple were removed.
Yes, it would be good if someone noticed that the attire may have been inappropriate for the occasion - but it was just a simple standee, for crying out loud. You can't expect having diversity committees set up to approve every minor thing.
And no, it's not a caricature of Malay people and has nothing to do with ethnicity.
This case is everything BUT racism.
Singapore is 56 years old - how many similar exhibits have been put up around the country in this time? Must be in the thousands by now. How many caused actual controversy? One in hundreds? Is that supposed to be evidence of insensitivity, ignorance and discrimination?
If anything, it's the opposite.
So, why do people react so emotionally?
I went through the comments on the Instagram posts of the lady and they are filled with similar emotions of outrage, demanding greater "sensitivity" or how "painful" the experience must have been (really?).
And what I see in this whole affair is a mountain of entitlement.
All the complaints - including the author's - are about "me, me, me" and have strayed away from the crux of the problem ("the photo should not have been used without approval, please apologize and, perhaps, reimburse me for the unlawful use") morphing into a drama of some ethnic abuse.
Now you see what I meant about the "perception gap" in my last post and how people are so conditioned to think everything is about race, that they see it even when it's not.
Nobody there seems to think - "well, mistakes happen, the PA and the vendor should fix them, and let's move on". Instead there are tantrums about insensitivity, pain and discrimination. Huh?
The reason for this behavior today - in the best time in human history where people of all ethnicities achieve whatever they want in Singapore and other developed countries - is the progressing Westernization of cultural standards, including the embrace of individualism.
Now, don't get me wrong, individualism is very much needed and has driven many great people to explore the world, invent new things, engage in scientific research or business.
The problem is, however, that millions have now started living the lie of their individual importance without individual RESPONSIBILITY.
These days we're being told things that for centuries have not been true - and are not very true even right now. That everybody can be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, that everybody is remarkable, beautiful, smart. That everybody's opinion matters, that everyone should have a voice and that everybody is special and entitled to being treated as such. That everybody's emotions are precious and nobody should ever be upset about anything.
Until about 20 years ago most people were faceless, nameless grey masses while the narrow elites basked in the spotlights of traditional media (TV, press, radio). But since the advent of social media everything has changed. Today anybody can be seen.
Couple that with the growing sense that "everybody can have it all and be anyone" and what you end up with is millions of prima donnas, who think they're the second coming.
An accident, a mistake has put one person in the spotlight and now she's decided to make the most of it by blowing the story out of proportion to rally support of others who feel similarly entitled to special treatment due to some quite imaginary grievances.
All of this over a cutout standee (let that sink in).
Nobody actually thinks about the society and the consequences this framing of the issue may have. Mind you - the upset lady is running a page offering daily affirmations to other women... And yet, for all the positive messaging that they love to circulate, there is no understanding of somebody else's mistakes.
All those feel-good slogans and quotes look good on Instagram but when push comes to shove it turns out that everybody acts like a Hollywood celebrity demanding special treatment.
I see this also bubbling up in other conversations about race, where people inevitably bring up some asinine anecdotes of how someone was not nice to them or had job requirements that surely must have excluded minorities. It's, again, all about "me, me, me" - I deserve this, I deserve that.
Can you think about the other side for once? You demand tolerance but can't get into the other person's shoes? How sure are you whether it was about race in the first place? And aren't you generalizing how others are always abusive but somehow you're not? Is that not prejudice?
How can any diverse society function if people are refusing to consider experiences and observations of others, instead trying to monopolize victimhood for themselves?
Speaking of victimhood - it's just another manifestation of the individualistic mentality. You can't possibly always be the victim, can you?
Let's go back to the survey I mentioned in the recent post - around 95% of respondents claimed they were tolerant to others but close to 50% said racism is still a problem. So, who's responsible for all of it? You see, pretty much everybody sees themselves as the good person - and someone else is always to blame.
They always hear or see somebody else being abusive - but it's never them. Magic!
The reality is that world is messy and people are imperfect - including you. You're most likely not the next Steve Jobs, your contribution to mankind will be negligible - like almost everybody else's around. Most people behave like dicks sometimes - you do too. Acknowledge that.
We're all in the same boat, we all sometimes make mistakes and yes, it does mean that occasionally you will be a victim in an unpleasant situation. It's never right nor nice, and you have every right to seek justice.
But whatever you do, you also have an obligation to do it in a responsible manner, being mindful of the consequences it may have for everybody else.
The world doesn't revolve around you.