Weeks after the uproar began, McDonald's Singapore decided to reinstate the pig Doraemon in its Chinese New Year collection. In a society where the pig potentially invokes fervent emotion, McDonald's symbolic reversal is big news.
The exclusion of the pig stirred mostly predictable responses and some unpredictable ones too. Most noticeably, many ethnic Chinese were visibly disturbed by a perception they were slighted by the local McDonald's franchise. Some went so far as to demand a public apology from the corporation.
All individuals take pride in their heritage. A little bit of chauvinism is natural. We saw that in the local media and internet forums.
As China's star rises so does the pride of the international Chinese diaspora. The Beijing Olympics marked a high point in prestige for the People's Republic. A point not lost on most Chinese Singaporeans.
What can Singapore learn from a seemingly innocuous incident about stuffed toys?
For starters, Singaporeans are too sensitive about racial issues. Way too sensitive. Sensitive is good. Common sense and common space are better.
McDonald's had the right idea but implemented it clumsily.
It's a fact that we live in a multi-religious society. It's also a fact that Singapore is a reasonably compact little island. Corporate decisions have an impact in all our neighbourhoods.
Hence, McDonald's was rightfully conscious of Muslim sentiment when planning the promotion. Life is rarely a zero-sum game, unless we chose to make it so.
Yet, McDonald's pursued a 'black or white' policy; an exclusive 'either-or' approach. Nothing in life is that simple. All life's excitement happens in the undefined grey zone– not in the predictable black or white.
Spare some sympathy for McDonald's. Had they included the pig in the initial set, in all likelihood some Muslims would have objected. Because the pig was excluded Singaporeans indulged in a rare public debate on religion, identity and collective social values.
In this instance, race and religion were transformed into a uniting factor.
Sensitivities to race and religion should not be allowed to move into the realm of the absurd. Viewing individuals purely from the perspective of race demeans individuality.
Common sense and common space, it's the way of the future.