I read that NYT article by Megan Stack three times. Once yesterday morning, when I woke up scrolling through,with eyes half-closed, a long scathing post on LinkedIn accusing her of being ‘ungrateful’, another time last night when I saw lots of people reacting to it on Facebook and Twitter, and one more time today before writing this post. I tried hard to view it and digest it the way some of my fellow Singaporeans did , but I couldn’t. I couldn’t tap into the collective ‘walau eh’ mindset.
I was already quite disturbed last night when I saw an article response to Stack by a certain Ivan Hong, whom I assume to be Singaporean. It was published on Medium.com ( because what is not published on Medium these days) and had the title, ‘ How the New York Times’(sic) puts a racist spin on Singapore’s Covid-19 efforts’. “Racist spin”? That should have been a red flag for me. This article sounded a bit click-baity. But apparently it’s not.
It is actually a reflection of how many many Singaporeans feel about Stack’s piece. Many are up in arms that a Western journalist, working and living in Singapore, publishing in the New York Times, could say bad things about the country she has been calling home for the past two years. So I became curious. Why do I not feel that way? Why didn’t I feel affronted by her describing the ‘Dark Side’ of Singapore that this pandemic brought about?
Maybe because there are some “hard truths” in the article, and very little racism for sure. First things first – it is difficult for Stack’s article to be racist. It may marginally fall under the constellation of articles that downplay the efforts of Asian countries in successfully tackling the epidemic, but in itself, it doesn’t have a racist spin.
It could have been racist if she had made comparisons between Singapore and say, Western countries, and wrote about how Singapore paled in comparison. But she didn’t. The only bit of comparison I caught was when she acknowledged the failing of America to provide their doctors and nurses with PPE. Did she trumpet freedom of speech, or liberal values of the West to put Singapore’s authoritarian style to shame? Not as far as I understood it.
Her piece was mostly an exposition – a critical observation of what’s happening in Singapore as a result of the pandemic. The initial perceived success, the worker’s dormitory situation, the snitching culture. And I think that’s where Singaporeans got all defensive. Why? Because she’s not one of us. So how can she say all these things about us? She’s only here on an E pass, she probably can’t sing Majulah Singapura, so why should she be allowed to make observations about us?
We really have to calm our t*ts. There is little to be outraged about. The article isn’t really off the mark, nor is it some overly-critical characterisation of Singapore’s response to the pandemic. Stack was astutely calling out all the ugly ( and good) things about Singapore’s pandemic response – she’s essentially drying our dirty laundry for us. So yes, while that may be uncomfortable, it is still our dirty laundry.