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How do you consider Race?

May 19, 2017

“We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.” But is this really true?

Singapore is often known as a rojak, with people of different races, ethnicities, religions and cultures coming together to live on the little red dot. This is further emphasized with the incoming of foreigners to contribute to employment. With such a variety of differences, intergroup tensions may occur, such as xenophobic feelings being invoked.  


To combat this and ensure the peace of the nation-state, measures such as education and government policies have been put in place. For example, we have the annual celebration of Racial Harmony Day, which serves to remind students of the racial riots of 1964, and students are taught of the consequences of racial tensions through the case study of Maria Hertogh riots in Social Studies back in secondary school. There is also a compulsory minority representation due to the Group Representation Constitutency (GRC) scheme to ensure the voices of the minority are heard, and laws such as the Sedition Act and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act seek to smoothen tensions across differences in religious beliefs and skin color. The bilingual policy with English becoming the lingua franca of the country ensures the common language and ease of communication amongst groups with different mother tongues. These are but some examples that have contribute to the rhetoric of racial harmony in Singapore. 


But are we really living in racial harmony? Are we really one united people? 


Our lives are often peppered with racial micro-aggressions and stereotypes like “Malays are lazy/lepak one corner” and “Indians drink”. Sometimes they go amiss because they have been internalized by us, that we take these constructed stereotypes as reality and we project these beliefs onto others. Other times, racism is institutionalized, such as non-Chinese being denied of employment opportunities because they are expected to speak Chinese.  Furthermore, we are often surrounded by different acts of racism, consciously or unconsciously:



Fig 1. A Malay undergraduate was rejected from being employed as a tuition teacher due to her race. Read more here


Fig 2. Micro-aggressions like how minority races “work less, and go out and party” are internalized and perpetuated. Read more here



Fig 3. Twitter conversation on Chinese New Year. The initial tweet on Chinese New Year reflects how some may be unable to accept the cultural practices of others, and reactions to the tweet are indicative of how the race card can be used in a negative way.  Read more here


So, is Singapore really that racially harmonious and united? To me, it seems that the issues surrounding race are often swept under the carpet due to laws such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. While we know that racism exists, we do not talk much about it for fear of being prosecuted or causing more tension. Such issues become an elephant in the room, swept under the carpet time and again. I feel that more can be done for conversations to occur; it is only when we begin talking and acknowledging that there lies flaws in our system that we can try to amend them, and thereafter move closer to the much desired racial harmony in spite of our differences. 


Other Materials:

Casual Racism in Singapore By Ministry of Funny:
Awkward Situations Only Indians Understand (2017)

Awkward Situations Only Malays Understand


Understand Race via Conflict Theory By Crash Course:

Dubois & Race Conflict: Crash Course Sociology #7



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