Friday, 29 September 2023

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Advantage of growing up a minority in Singapore is that you adapt

~ By Seker Sb ~

The advantage of growing up a minority in Singapore is that you adapt. We adapt to the name calling that begins in nurseries and kindergarten and we continue to adapt when we realize that those names could only have been passed on from adults. We adapt to the sino-centric sports teams at primary school. We adapt to people speaking in the mainstream language in group meetings in secondary school and we take pride in the fact that you actually understand what they are saying. We adapt to the cruel jokes that use only the colour of our skin as a basis. We adapt to the fact that apart from us and others like us, no one else thinks it is anything other than normal to in fact do so.

We adapt to the concept of SAP schools and the countless other instances of an expression of dominance, of the culture, language and worldview of the majority. And we adapt despite knowing that the laws of our land say otherwise. We adapt to the history of Singapore being taught as if its connection to the peninsula was an aberration and therefore deny its natural heritage. We adapt to other distortions of history when they tell us the railways were built by menial "coolies" without also referencing that they were prisoners of war who had, prior to their capture, taken up arms to free their own motherland.
We adapt to the uninhibited entrenchment of stereotypes during National Service and we serve nonetheless. We even adapt when they tell us that we have a greater propensity to become traitors because some madman somewhere detonates a bomb and he happens to share a religion/race with us. We adapt to the quotas on places at universities and we adapt to job advertisements which preclude on the basis of language. We adapt when they tell us it is economics at play, as though language has no bearing on race or ethnicity.
We adapt when the elected representatives speak openly about the shortcomings of particular minority groups as if they were genetic predispositions as opposed to a failure to ensure equality of opportunity. We adapt to the fact that officials fail to realize that social engineering in Singapore has led to widespread social alienation. We adapt to the endless touting of meritocracy regardless. 
But at some point, we stop adapting. When does that happen? When it becomes acceptable to publicly liken a race to dogs, as Ms Shimun Lai did not too long ago. When others jump on the bandwagon to shield the initial commentator from criticism, as Mr Stanley Hart has seen fit to do. When it becomes acceptable to publicly take a photo of young children and affix a label likening them to terrorists and not be either remorseful or repentant.
When minorities begin to feel the shift of publicly acceptable behavior against their interests. When minorities begin to realize that increasingly, individuals are acting on their prejudices publicly, apparently without a fear of consequence. When the minorities do what they can to right this trend by turning to all available state and institutional actors and realize that Singapore's famed method of tip-toeing around instances of racism is just not good enough. When minorities realize, in hindsight, that these are not just instances, but trends they have long become accustomed to.
When minorities realize that those who made these comments either did not have any minority friends/followers within their social network or did not care about the sentiments of what few they did have. Both are horrifying in their own way.
But mostly, we stop adapting when realize that the avenues open to us are few and ineffectual. When we realize that whilst it was our choice to adapt and not make it an issue every single time we were insulted by word, deed, or omission, it certainly is not a choice we want our children to have to consider making.
To the very many wonderful friends, teachers, mentors and random individuals of the majority I have come across, I am sorry I even have to write this.

But I must.

This article first appeared as a facebook note on the author's personal facebook page and was erroneously attributed as anonymous earlier. TOC thanks Seker Sb for allowing us to republish his article on our website.

Headline photo courtesy of


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