What Operating System Does Racism Run On?

We kicked off playtests for the Diversity by Default (DBD) expansion pack two Thursdays ago. We had 19 participants with diverse backgrounds divided into 4 groups to playtest questions about race and religion. From the start, the design team agreed that a deck about diversity should be playtested in conditions that reflected diversity. To that end, we invited and grouped participants for maximum diversity across several categories like age, sex, race, religion, ethnicity, and profession.



In my small group, the first question raised was about lessons learnt from inter-racial or inter-religious marriages. One of the participants is in an inter-racial marriage and she shared about the ongoing challenges they faced as a couple in gaining acceptance from family members - as if making a marriage work isn’t difficult enough. As the facilitator, I refrained from sharing my perspectives then although I recognised how atypical my experience of this is in my extended family.


A few of my relatives are married to partners from different races. At different times of the year, we would gather, catch up, and break bread together. The colour of our skin was never a cause for conflict and I grew up naively assuming that all other families were similar to mine. Until I began my tertiary education and friends started coupling up, it didn’t occur to me that inter-racial relationships could be considered taboo.


Which brings me to the recording of a racist encounter between a polytechnic lecturer and an inter-racial couple. I was surprised at the lecturer’s willingness to be recorded while he articulated his disapproval of the young couple’s relationship. He admitted to being racist but accused the couple of also being racist for having a relationship outside of their race.


If you think about it, this implies that everyone is racist either way for wanting to keep or not keep to their own races. Mindblown.

If it isn’t immediately apparent, I stand against racism.


With the conversations from the first DBD playtest still fresh in my mind, I felt more curiosity than disgust. The first question that came to mind was “What motivated the lecturer to confront the couple right there and then?” followed by “How were his students taught by him?”


After that, the scale of the questions expanded by orders of magnitude: “What is his definition of ‘racist’?”, “What is his worldview framed by?”, and “What does his ideal vision of the world look like?”


As a side note: “What do the people in his chat groups talk about?” and “Who else in Singapore thinks like him?”


Ultimately, I wondered how the encounter would have turned out if the lecturer and the couple worked through some of the questions from DBD. How would those conversations have played out?

Questions aside, the lecturer, Mr Tan, has been suspended from teaching and is being investigated by the police. Nevertheless, Tan took the time to remark that it is timely for the papers to write about “the subject of interracial marriage in Singapore, Asia or worldwide”, and suggested they share statistics about this topic from a “different racial view point”.


That throwaway statement needs to be unpacked further. Instead of just charging, fining, and imprisoning him, I hope that Tan and others like him will be subjected to a more extensive public scrutiny that shines a spotlight on his motivations for behaving the way he did - not to rationalise away his racist views but to analyse and address the OS his particular brand of racism operates on.

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