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Politics and ethnicity: framing racial discrimination in Singapore

James Gomez

Racial discrimination is a global phenomenon that the United Nations seeks to eradicate. In contemporary Singapore, research shows that the basis for racism is anchored in the role of ethnic identity and how it frames the formulation of policies related to education, employment, housing, immigration and politics.

These policies have been formulated and implemented by the People’s Action Party (PAP) government that has been in power for over 50 years. When confronted with its racially based policies, the PAP government insists that it follows a tolerant approach towards different races and that it propagates the idea of multiculturalism and meritocracy as a racial equaliser.

However ethnic minorities in Singapore complain they are being discriminated daily on the basis of their race or religion. They argue their views are often not given airing in the local mainstream media and are further prevented from discussing these issues openly due to legislations restricting freedom of expression and assembly on these matters.

Given this background, the first ever visit of the UN Rapporteur on Racism to Singapore at the invitation of the PAP government in 2010, allowed city-state’s racialist based policies to be put on an international spotlight.

This paper (see link below) examines the visit of UN Rapporteur, his initial findings, government and civil society responses and the significance of this first UN mission. The paper locates its research on racial discrimination in Singapore in the context of the city-state’s political framework and the United Nations efforts to eradicate racism. It argues that ultimately policy changes in Singapore can only take place as a result of politically challenging the PAP government.

Paper: Politics and ethnicity: framing racial discrimination in Singapore.

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Dr. James Gomez is presently Deputy Associate Dean (International) and Head of Public Relations, School of Humanities, Communications and Social Sciences at Monash University, Australia. He is co-editor of a forthcoming book entitled New Media and Human Rights in Southeast Asia which is part of Routledge's Media, Culture and Social Change in Asia series.  He can be contacted at [email protected]