28 July 2006

Racial Harmony Day

A newspaper reported that our teenagers could not read race and religion the Singapore way. For example, 1 in 3 weren't sure of the distinction between 'Malay' and 'Malaysian'. Is this inimical to racial harmony? Full essay.


aliene said...

This post reminds me of another website that I came across several years ago. www.alllooksame.com explores the issue of recognising a person's race based on their features...

Anyway, back on topic:

I agree with what you're saying and it certainly isn't a simple issue. To start off, there's the question of whether there's a need for us to make the kinds of distinctions as the TNP article suggest that we should. Seriously though, I would have thought the government would like Singapore citizens to think of ourselves as Singaporeans, without the need for all these classifications.

The terms used in the so-called experiment are also problematic as you pointed out. Goes to show the level of thought that has gone into the preparation of that "news" article. Then again, TNP is a tabloid that regularly runs sensational stories so the more astonishing the article sounds, the better it suits them...

The urge to group and attibute characteristics to each group is probably strong because doing so makes people SEEM easier to understand and predict. As convenient as it is, doing so could breed even more discord when individuals feel that they have been typecasted as something they aren't. Who knows, instead of building harmony, this works quietly in the shadows to create prejudice and conflict.

Sailesh said...

Hey Alex,

Even when kids of different ethnicities come together, the Chinese-speaking ones continue to speak Chinese among themselves as if the others do not exist.

I am currently a polytechnic student and I get that ALOT among my classmates. I am non-Chinese by the way.
Anyway I would like to bring your attention to this rather unfortunate incident that happened to a friend of mine. He tried to pursue an inter-racial relationship but it turned sour due to them being of a different race, I wrote an entry about it on my blog. Maybe you would like to take a look and give me your opinion on this matter?


teck soon said...

I saw an advertisement for a job as a sales clerk in a store on Orchard road. One of the requirements was "fluent English and Mandarin required". This effectively shuts out all races except one, and what was the motivation behind this? Must a clothing seller speak Mandarin? Along these lines, how many job advertisements appear only in the Chinese-language newspaper? So much for racial harmony.

I do distinctly remember that the job advertisement requiring "fluent English and Mandarin" had several grammatical mistakes in the job description. This makes me think that minimal, rather than "fluent", English will do. I'm not sure about the standards for Mandarin. Linguistic isolation in Singapore leads to racial isolation. One problem will not go away without addressing the other.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the government seems to send out contradictory messages about race. Examples include:

1. Discrimination against Malays in the military
2. SAP schools and flashing of mathematics scores of Malays in the PM National Day Rally in the 1980s.
3. Remember the Slogan: "If you are Chinese , make a speech in Mandarin
4. Countless examples of the Lazy Native in the Singapore Story
5. The persistence of the Chinese, Indian, Malay, Others classifications.

It is sad to note that in spite of the small size of Singapore, different ethnic groups can actually be invisible to one another.

thor666 said...

Perhaps why TNP focused on such an issue was simply because they wanted to avoid writing anything seditious. I think many are conditioned to skirt the issue and defer the topic of race to the government and its propaganda.

Piper said...

The comment from Teck Soon made me think of something which has bothered me on and off.

Is a child's mother tongue decided sole on the race stated on the child's birth certificate? Can someone who is Chinese take Malay?

Can anyone enlighten me?

Anonymous said...

One word: cultural arrogance. I've noticed a sad shift in the Singapore model from one where everyone speaks a neutral language (English) to one where Singapore looks more and more like Taiwan, with more minorities.

As mentioned in the posts above, quite a few chinese people don't or don't bother to speak English when someone who obviously can't understand Chinese is in their midst. Why? I can't read minds so I can't say for sure, but I think it's just blithe unawareness.

Fluent Mandarin? Hah, more like Chinglish you mean. As is the case for English, most Singaporeans can't speak fluent Mandarin, but Chinglish instead ("Den ah, wo de lao shi tell us bu yao jiang zi loh.").

trisha said...

A child's mother tongue, according to MOE, depends on the race of his father. (note the irony)

So if he has a Chinese father and Malay mother, he will have to study Chinese in school.

Should he wish to study a different mother tongue, he will need to apply for an Exemption (note the choice of word) from MOE. (One needs to be EXEMPTED from studying a MT that the state mandates for you).

When he sits for his O level MT exam, he will need to furnish the Exemption letter before he can register for the exam.

Anonymous said...

Does it surprise anyone that one of the KPI's in one school I know is that every student should make at least one non-chinese friend? Must everything be measurable?

Anonymous said...

Another propaganda to show the MIW are doing a good job. Making people more aware of racial harmony? Or is it sowing seeds of disharmony between MIW and The Rest?

I'd love to see a "Inter-Constituency Harmony Day". How about "Moving Ahead and Staying Together with Potong Pasir and Hougang".

That'll be cool!


Philip said...

Whenever i told someone that iam a Syrian Christian, they assumed that i belonged to Syria. They had no idea that such a christian offshoot existed in Kerala, India. Not that i have any great expectations from people out here when it comes to geography, history, politics etc. ;)

Btw, your blog is a great read. Appreciate your sharing of views with the world. Thanks.

StealthEagle said...

I really love your article on racial harmony day.

Really surprised me when I was trying to crack the race 'code', gave up and realized something weird was going on after reading the whole story.

Don't forget about the "speak Mandarin is cool" campaign. I always make a joke that which language should we use since there are two posters each promoting "Speak good English" and "Speak Mandarin".

What a waste of money though.

What about other languages of other races? Why these are not promoted?