by Chow He Shen
A discussion on racism in Singapore is incomplete without a discussion about elitism. Why is racism connected to elitism, class, and caste?
The answer is simple. Racism is the result of anger, frustration, loss of self-esteem, and a feeling that rules and policies perpetuated by the ruling elites are stacked against many core Singaporeans.
It is convenient to politicise racism and distract the population. The hypothesis that minorities will always feel discriminated by a majority population is bollocks. Have you ever heard of a minority white Swiss banker, German CEO, and British scientist being a victim of racism in Singapore?
Why is there no racism amongst the rich, educated and famous people in the world? Americans of all colours, white, black, yellow, and latinos all worship Oprah. Will Smith has no problems booking the best restaurants in short notice. The billionaire club has no racism. The mega-rich are colour-blind.
And I am also willing to bet that our highly paid MPs, mayors, and ministers of all races are colour-blind too.
Societies divided by class and caste have existed long before societies understood racism. Policies can only get you thus far and beyond which the free and ruthless market takes over. There may be an EIP system to prevent racial enclaves in the HDB flat allocation system.
But has any study been done to investigate elite racial enclaves amongst our privileged new citizens (> 500,000 of them in the last 15-20 years), PRs (>500,000 of them today), and EPs (200,000)?
Many core Singaporeans have served National Service and helped built the Singapore of today; and by some estimates, more than 100,000 of us are now displaced by new Singaporeans, PRs, EPs, and SPs. This is the collateral damage caused by the ruling elites’ desire to turbo charge and punch our economy well above our natural weight.
Lee Kuan Yew warned that if we did not vote the People’s Action Party (PAP), our women would become maids in foreign lands. But instead, we now have 40,000 core Singaporean men driving Grab, 30,000 delivering food, 16,000 driving taxis, 40,000 cleaners and landscape personnel, 30,000 security guards, etc. – all of whom are lowly paid compared to the imported high-flyers.
Throw in COVID-19 stresses and the mix can become explosive.
Therefore, racism may not be all about elitism but is more likely to be substantially a part of it. The cure for racism is not so different as the cure for elitism. A more egalitarian and a fairer society is a less racist society.
To a large extent, racism is just an excuse or bogeyman used to mask the real problem of elitism, class, and caste.
And in Singapore, how can one not expect to see an elitist pecking ordered society when a senior minister once said that those earning less than $500k per annum are mediocre; and a certain Member of Parliament (MP) of the ruling party once said that if a senior bureaucrat is not paid a very high salary, how can he conduct a meeting with a CEO of a corporation who is paid much more?
In Singapore, money has been wrongly and conveniently used as the sole yardstick to measure job responsibility.
By this definition, Jacinda Ardern would not be able to do her job effectively because she is paid much less than many corporate high-flyers and does not live in a “good class bungalow” in New Zealand. She earns less than $500k per annum; and by our senior minister’s definition, she is supposed to be mediocre. Yet she was voted this year by Fortune magazine as the world’s greatest leader, beating all our Singapore leaders by a mile.
In Singapore, the ruling elites have created a big elephant in the room known as elitism. Why is there a $2 billion private tuition market if not abundantly explained by a “hunger games syndrome” and a beggar thy neighbour attitude?
The real cancer that is permeating deeply into the Singapore society is elitism, not racism.
A highly questionable and gamed meritocratic system, where the top salaries are uncapped and gamed (with miniscule individual taxes for the million-dollar earners) while the bottom salaries are uplifted in a miserly and calibrated way (all cleaners will eventually earn $2420/-by year 2028!).
Along with CECA and other loose immigration policies, the system has arguably displaced substantially more than 100,000 core-Singaporean PMETs.
So, is the government now deliberately or naively trying to conflate elitism, societal stress due to excessive and unfair competition, COVID-19, loss of self-esteem amongst core Singaporeans, and pretty much everything else, and conveniently blame it on one single issue, which is racism.
Elitism can cause discrimination within the same race too. Examples include the old version of the British House of Lords and House of Commons system (not anymore today). Another present day example is the Indian caste system. It proves that elitism, if left unchecked, can be far more toxic than racism. Or worse, frustrated economic losers in a gamed and unfair economic system vent their anger on other races in the community.
Racism then becomes the mere external manifestation of some far deeper root causes that the ruling elites are failing to address or refusing to acknowledge…
This was first published on Chow He Shen’s Facebook page, and reproduced with permission.