story | Muhammed Naeem Shehryar, Contributing Reporter
photo | Reni Chng
From August 19 to 25th 2019, blackboards were set up in Yale-NUS College’s Café Agora with three questions written on them: ‘What do you think of the present racial climate in Singapore?’, ‘What should the future of our multi-racial society look like?’ and ‘What can those in positions of privilege do?’. This was the ‘Diversity Wall’, a week-long project pioneered by the Student Government’s Director for Diversity and Inclusion Reni Chng ’21 and Huang Runchen ’22 aimed at facilitating conversations around racial issues in Singapore.
“It really struck me how little we talk about racism in Singapore,” said Chng, explaining that the lack of popular discourse surrounding Chinese privilege inspired them to start the project. “It’s hard to solve a problem if the people with the most power to do it don’t think there’s anything to solve,” they said.
Answering the question about the present racial climate in Singapore, someone wrote down the word ‘brownface’, a reference to a recent controversy in which a government-initiated advertising campaign featured a Chinese actor whose skin was darkened to portray Indian and Malay characters. In response to the advertisement, rapper Subhas Nair ’17 and his sister, Youtuber Preeti Nair, created a rap video criticizing what they see as consistent mistreatment of minorities in Singapore. The video was taken down by the government, which said that the it violated laws aimed at protecting racial harmony in Singapore.
A comment on the board that read ‘I think [people] are way too sensitive, loosen up!’ sparked a string of responses urging those in positions of privilege to acknowledge the comment and not invalidate the experiences of others. When it came to the second question, which asked what the ‘future of our multi-racial society’ should look like, one response called for people to stop using that term, and just call society ‘society’. The third question built up on the previous two discussions, asking what people in positions of privilege could do, sparking an underlined, all-capitalized call for people not to say the ‘N’ word. The most visible reply was an equally large stencil telling people to do their part in examining their own biases to make the Yale-NUS community safer and more inclusive.
Across all of the boards, there was an outpouring of kind words. Respondents drew hearts, offered words of support, and encouraged people to listen to others. Opposing voices were not erased or written over. Chng called the responses on the wall “heartening”, saying that they hoped the ‘Diversity Wall’ would help to keep the conversations around race going. “I am still looking for suggestions on what else we can do to continue this effort,” they said.
The Intercultural Engagement Office will also be holding ‘Learning Solidarity’ workshops on how to be better allies to marginalized peers, the next two sessions of which will be held in October and November. Additionally, a Women of Color Collective aimed at creating a space for women of minority races had their first meeting on September 10.