There is a post on Living in Singapore where I made a comment, saying that ‘racial harmony’ in Singapore is not all it’s cracked up to be. The author, based on her personal experiences, begged to differ, stating (and I paraphrase) that
- there are hardly any incidents where racial slurs are directed toward an ethnic minority
- race is not used as a political tool, and
- there is a lot of racial tolerance in Singapore.
I also respectfully begged to differ, and stated my reasons in the comments. It got me thinking about race issues, though.
For full disclosure purposes: I’m born and bred Singaporean, of Chinese ethnicity. I went to a Chinese (Catholic) school. I must say that my social and school life did not tend toward a mixing of the races (but! My best mate in junior college was mixed Chinese/Indian/Malay! Therefore I must be okay!).
My instinct is that Singapore society is not, on its own, particularly enlightened when it comes to race relations. We take orders from our leaders, and they say, “You will all get along, regardless of race (language or religion).” Luckily most people are nice, so we all, generally speaking, get along anyway.
But (there’s always a but), how many Singaporeans have heard or told stupid racist jokes? My father’s a die-hard hater of anyone who’s non-Chinese (and ‘hate’ is not too strong a word to be used), so I’ve heard far too many. When he learned how to use e-mail, I learned how to reflexively use the ‘delete’ key. Others I know profess to not be racist at all, but then turn around and say, “Well, you know Indians / Malays are all lazy (or any other fairly similar comment).”
I don’t think any person is insulated from forming discriminatory opinions based on ethnicity, it just depends on how we deal with them when they come up. We grow up listening to our parents, relatives, and their friends. There are more than likely to be a few bigots among them. I am lucky that I am part of the ethnic majority in Singapore, and I think it makes many Singaporean Chinese blind to the casual racism Malay, Indian, and Eurasian (and all our other racially-mixed) people face.
The fact that Singapore’s racial harmony requires government–mandated programmes indicates, to me, that all is not well, all has not been well, and all will not be well for a while.