This story was printed from TODAYonline
Monday • November 12, 2007
Letter from KUMKUM SETH
Prejudiced mindset must change if we believe in multiculturalism
I refer to media reports on concerns about foreign workers in Singapore.
I find it very disturbing to hear the increasingly prejudiced views expressed in public about foreign workers, especially construction workers.
At a meeting recently with a Member of Parliament and local residents, a well-dressed Singaporean woman raised the "problem" of foreign construction workers.
When pressed, she admitted that they had never done anything to her but seeing them in her area disturbed her.
"They may cause crime," she said. The other residents nodded in agreement.
A senior policeman pointed out that foreign workers in the area rarely commit crimes and that most of the culprits were pub crawlers.
But no one wanted to drop the idea that foreign workers were trouble.
The policeman had no choice but agree to keep a closer eye on them.
Other than the imagined crime we attribute to foreign workers, these are some of the flimsy objections we raise:
•Too many of them live in one apartment.
Here's a thought: Would Singaporeans be able to afford to live any better if they were paid the same wages as some foreign workers are?
• Curry smells.
Doesn't our food (fried fish, belacan and durian) smell, too? Are we so parochial that we only object to smells that are different from our own?
• They hang their clothes outside to dry.
A walk around any housing estate will show the many laundry poles outside our flats, attesting to the fact that Singaporeans hang their laundry out to dry as well.
• They hang out in large groups and that's scary.
I think our prejudices are far more frightening than a group of men finding company in numbers when far away from home.
• They don't speak English.
It's unlikely that they can afford the time or money to take English language classes. If this is really an issue, the Government could make it mandatory for employers to provide all foreign workers with two-hour English language classes every week.
It seems perfectly fine for foreign workers to work long hours with low wages to construct the buildings that drive our economic boom.
But many of us fail to remember how difficult their daily lives must be.
This mindset does not speak well for multiculturalism.
It isn't enough for Singapore to produce tourist brochures showcasing us as a harmonious, multi-ethnic society.
This attitude needs to be part of our daily lives before it becomes true.
Let's start with the way we think about foreign workers.
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