I have been thinking about the issue of race in Singapore – again.
I’ve spoken to some people who have come to Singapore and say they find it amazing that we have a “multicultural” society here in Singapore, where people of the different ‘races’ can coexist with one another and where there are no outwardly expression of displeasure with someone of another colour.
Yet, I’ve also spoken to people who have come to Singapore and feel that there are real underlying tensions, based on colour, and that they have been party to some of the discrimination enacted onto them.
So, are racist attitudes real in Singapore? It is. The question is – how much and how bad? Many Chinese people continue not to see racist sentiments in Singapore because:
- First, if you form 70% of the population, it is quite unlikely that you would feel inferior to any judgmental emotions stacked on you – you can brush it off and say, I form the majority of the population, why care?
- And when you are in the majority, it is more likely that you are the ones enacting judgment on another. When you do that, you are not the one being judged – you are not the one who have to feel the hurt and pain of being seen as being lesser simply because your skin is not of a colour of a brighter shade.
You are lucky to be Chinese in Singapore. Try going to another country where being yellow isn’t that fantastic – but that’s only when we have the awareness to understand that when we are judged, we can then extend the feelings of being judged to that of understanding how others that we judge would feel.
Fact is, what the Singapore government has done well is that they’ve been able to create a society that’s relatively peaceful and where people do not express their negative opinions of someone else in an outwardly fashion. But then, are there underlying tensions? Many countries want to emulate Singapore for our ability to develop a ‘multicultural’ society. Why? It masks the tensions that underlie beneath. And a population which is relatively stable is easy to control. This is a function as to why the notion of ‘multiculturalism’ has been created.
But yet, on the flip side, that the government has acted to minimise discussion on issues of race in Singapore has another side effect – you create a population which is unthinking, when it comes to social and emotional issues. We do not know how to critically analyse social issues, such as race.
But yet, people continue to see one another in terms of colour, yet people continue to judge one another in terms of colour. Am I making this up? No, ask our Malay and Indian friends. Ask them if they feel racist attitudes heaped on them simply because their skin colour is of a darker shade – that in itself not real and a function of sunlight, but which we take for real and enact judgment upon others?
Truth is, some of us have learnt to take on a ‘supremist’ attitude, where the lighter shade of the colour your skin is, the better you are. But this is a nonsensical notion, created for social control by the previous colonialists.
The question at this point is this – where does the government go with this? Years of not allowing people to discuss about social issues have necessarily stunted our critical thinking abilities about social issues. And they are right to think that if they allow for a more open discussion on issues of race, floodgates will open and the discussion will degenerate into mudslinging. We will judge one another – because we have lost the thinking abilities to do otherwise.
But does this mean we shouldn’t? The government has to understand that they need to take responsibility for people’s inability to think critically on social issues. And there is an urgent need for the government to remedy this, in the interests of the government as well as Singapore. In the past one year, the government would have noticed that they were many underlying tensions pertaining to people’s perceived low incomes which had boiled over and which the government had somewhat lost control over. And thus the government has to enact some knee-jerk policies to mediate the effects of the backlash, which had laid dormant for at least the past 5 years.
Now, that is only about money. Here, we are talking about something a lot more emotional – people’s attachment to their race and culture (please note that I’m talking about our attachment and not to race and culture – the realness in which it can be deconstructed). At one point, when something flares up over an issue that somehow, people can link to one of skin colour, even the government won’t be able to control it. Sure, the government might want to mitigate the initial effects by throwing some people into jail or fining them. Sure, this has worked for one or two isolated incidents. What if there’s another major incident again and things boil over before the government can do anything? At that point, a population which does not have strong social and emotional critical thinking abilities will only heap judgment and negative reactions onto each other. At that point, the ‘multiculturalism’ that we have so neatly crafted would spill open and underlying tensions will spill over like floodgates.
There are reasons that a government wants an unthinking population. You want a docile population which do not know how to think critically, in terms of social issues, so that they will not question your policies – so that they are easy to control.
But the government has to understand the new social landscape that Singapore is evolving into. If I could use the analogy of America, Singapore used to be a Republican state, if you would – it’s easy to control, people don’t think broadly about social issues but hold onto so-called ‘conservative’ values. So, pretty much, people of a one-track mind who think in a one-track way. And this is what the government has carefully crafted – a population which practices a ‘conservative’ ideology that we want, which is easy to control so that we can push through things we want to do on a much faster basis.
But Singapore is transiting into a country where a group of Democrats are arising, or rather, have found their voice – back – to the time where Lee Kuan Yew first rose on the coattails of free speech. Of course, the government can choose to stick to their discourse – Singapore is a ‘conservative’ country where we need to stay to ‘conservative’ ideals. Is this helpful? Then, we would transit into a situation where America is where the country has become so split down the line where there are bipolar interests which can split the country apart. If the government does not revisit their governing principles and adjust to this new social landscape, we will become the distortion of democracy that America is. We will become split, and quite definitely, any dormant issues that were kept in their lid, will boil over and tear up the Singapore society.
There is a very real need for the Singapore government to relook its governing principles and to relook its policy on social control. Is it still the best way to restrain discussion on issues deemed sensitive or should the government move with the times?
In the past until the near present, the government has tended to want to control the social landscape by repressing diversity, by not allowing diverse social identities to be commonplace or obvious, so that our society looks homogenous – so that it’s easier to maintain and control, and we can create a business landscape which looks stable enough for investments.
But the government has to move along and understand that in the new social landscape, where people’s voices are being heard all over, where they have to transit with this evolution. Instead of controlling how society should be based on a homogenous discourse, the government needs to transit into being a facilitator to this evolving society. This means that for the government, instead of repressing differences and our understanding of these differences, the government has to allow these differences to surface and develop our thinking abilities to critically understand, and then appreciate these differences.
In the longer term, if the government can manage this well, then the government can inculcate in people a sense of responsibility towards what they think and say. Instead of repressing thoughts and awaiting for them to one day possibly boil over, the government can educate and allow for critical thinking abilities to be groomed, where people will play a role in protecting the social fabric by understanding how to speak in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
The government has to transit from wanting to control to facilitating, when it comes to social issues.
Of course, the question would mean – is the government willing to change their fundamental governing principle? You want to control people so that you can create a homogenous docile work population to attract investments and grow the economy – and make money. This is the crux for most governments in countries tied with capitalistic fortunes.
But the government has to ask itself this – can stability only be achieved by control and the repression of diversity? Or can control be achieved by a population which also takes on the responsibility to manage their own individual responses to things and issues, to play a role that is carefully thought-through, which they have a real belief to act upon, and not one that is imposed on them?