An unhealthy preoccupation with race

Ghui /

Singapore is a multiracial society with a melting pot of cultures. The four main races in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian – work with each other and live amongst each other. As a country we celebrate, amongst others, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali and Christmas. In such a multicultural environment, one could reasonably expect that our common heritage as Singaporeans trump the racial differences.

Sadly, it seems that despite living together side by side for almost 46 years in independent Singapore as fellow countrymen, the issue of race and the politics of skin colour still divide some of us.

By and large, Singapore is a society built on meritocracy. Of course, there are elements of inequality which we should continually seek to eradicate but these are subjects of another discussion.

As compared to our neighbouring countries, Singapore does not have government policies that discriminate against a particular race. The system is not structured such that an individual from a minority racial group would find it impossible to progress. It is therefore safe to say that for the most part, there is no institutional racism.

However, disturbing elements of racial ignorance remain. These stem from the prevalent mindset of stereotype and generalisations which have proven hard to eradicate, such that even after almost 50 years, many Singaporeans still have an unhealthy fixation with race.

For instance, there has been much criticism leveled at President Nathan of late. This in itself is a positive thing as it demonstrates that Singaporeans have been politicised and are more vocal in airing their views to ensure that they are heard. The negatives that have come out of this however, are irrelevant criticisms based along racial lines. Comments such as “prata man” are rampant on popular news forums and defenders of President Nathan have been dismissed as other Tamils, supporting President Nathan because he is Tamil. What has this got to do with his role as President?

Image from The Straits Times

While I am no big fan of President Nathan (I consider him a complete waste of space), my criticism of him is based on the fact that he did nothing for 12 years but yet received a hefty salary! The same criticism would have applied no matter what his ethnicity was. While, he may be of Indian heritage, he is a Singaporean just like the rest of us. As fellow Singaporeans, we probably share more common values with each other than with our Indian, Malay or Chinese counterparts from India, Malaysia, Indonesia, China or elsewhere.

Similarly, while I may be of Chinese descent, I am first and foremost, a Singaporean and would share more common experiences with my Malay neighbour as opposed to a racially Chinese person from China. I have no doubt that President Nathan feels the same way about his nationality.

Another example would be the recent criticisms leveled at Vikram Nair, MP for Sembawang. While his thoughtless comments deserved censure, our criticisms against him should be limited to his actions as an MP. Race should not come into the picture at all. However, there were many comments on popular news forums calling him a “Tamil FT” who should go back to India. Some even went as far as to call him the derogatory terms of “ah nei” and “Bangla”! While I am no fan of Mr Nair’s seemingly high handed comments, he was born and bred in Singapore, and as Singaporean as anyone of us!

Besides, race has absolutely nothing to do with Nair’s remarks and to raise the race issue only serves to highlight the presence of deep-seated prejudice. In a multiracial society such as ours, racial tolerance and indeed racial acceptance is not only important, but absolutely necessary. How can Singapore survive if it is fragmented within itself?

To make things worse, Nair is not even Tamil which make the callous comments ignorant on top of racist.

Why this fixation with race? Is it because we subconsciously feel more affinity to our ethnicity? Or is it because we are a young country? Perhaps, this obsession with race will go away in time? Whatever the reasons may be, we should not focus on our physical differences for these are superficial. What we should instead focus on are our shared experiences (which are many).

Our myriad of cultures blended together is a beautiful and unique feature of Singapore. It’s rich diversity can be seen in the festivals we celebrate, the food we eat and the languages we speak. This amazing mix is a stimulus to creativity that we should cherish, appreciate and be proud of. As Singaporeans, we must collectively make an effort to view ourselves as Singaporeans above all else. We are not just Malay, Indian, Chinese or Eurasian but Singaporeans of various racial heritage. There should be no artificial lines drawn around race. Singapore is for all Singaporeans equally

Racial tensions do not erupt overnight. They are brewed over years of misunderstanding. Lest, we check our attitudes, we may well go back to the racial riots of the 60s which will benefit no one and no Singaporean. To progress as a country, we have to first and foremost view ourselves as equal and cohesive partners participating in the same game. We have the same goals of wanting a better life for all Singaporeans. Beyond the superficial colour of our skin, we have all done the great Singapore workout and sung patriotic songs. We all love good curry, rendang, chicken rice, mee goreng, roti john, the list goes on and we all hate the Fun Pack Song. So, if we look beyond this artificial divide of race, we are not that different.

As fellow Singaporeans who love Singapore, let’s forget this inconsequential issue of race. It is only in recognising our commonality as Singaporeans can we truly progress.

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