Saturday, 23 January 2016

Protect common space, not do away with race classification

I do not agree with Dr V. Subramaniam's views ("Race classification must give way to new social realities"; yesterday).

I am a Singaporean Tamil. My race is Ceylonese, but I am classified under "Others".

It changes to "Asian" when I visit Britain and it becomes "Some other race" when I visit America.

At the street level, I am perceived as a dark Indian. And, due to unintended blurred perception that an Indian, a Hindu and a Tamil are one and the same, I am occasionally asked if I am a Tamil or Christian.

The status quo of seeing others the way we want to see them is not an embarrassment but a reality.

While race has no place in science, because of interracial marriages, the number of races keeps on increasing, and there exists a divide between the majority race and minority races.

Hence, racism is rampant in many parts of the world.

Singapore is one of the most religiously, racially, linguistically and culturally diverse countries where different communities have coexisted peacefully for decades.

The responsibility for keeping racism at bay lay squarely with the Government's determined effort.

Harmonious living would not have been possible if not for the coexistence of the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) classification, the national pledge, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, the Group Representation Constituency system, and the assurance of common spaces.

As a result, every Singaporean is included and has equal opportunity for education, health, progress and prosperity.

New citizens and new races are coming on board, ensuring that Singapore remains a truly racially diverse society for at least another 50 years or so - this is one of the social realities of the future.

The CMIO classification has little or no effect on my being a true Singaporean yet upholding Tamilness within me.

To me, the CMIO model, together with the pledge, is an assurance that, while all races are counted, the majority race cannot dominate and the minority races are not left behind.

Doing away with the CMIO classification would be a shame.

As Singaporeans, we should feel proud of our ethnicity - Chineseness, Malayness, Indianness, Eurasianness, and so on - and do our part to meaningfully integrate with others.

As long as the common space is well and truly protected, we can continue to coexist peacefully for decades (if not centuries) to come.

Singapore's multiculturalism is the way forward.

The quicker we learn to respect our differences and integrate, the sooner a common identity will evolve.

S. Ratnakumar
ST Forum, 22 Jan 2016

Race classification must give way to new social realities

The call for more inclusive policies towards fostering greater racial and social harmony among our diverse communities is most timely ("Debate on whether race classification model is still relevant"; Tuesday).

At a time when divisive race politics is driving communities apart elsewhere, it is imperative that we safeguard the only thread that holds us together - racial harmony.

I sometimes get uneasy when I see the word "race" being bandied about innocently, because it could unwittingly create adverse reactions and reinforce negative perceptions and stereotypes among our various ethnic groups.

Rightly or wrongly, people accept the biological features of other people as a reality, and so, act in accordance with their belief.

The Government, too, uses the word "race" freely, and our communities see it as normal to regard themselves and other groups as "races".

Stratifying the main ethnic groups into the simplistic and rigid "racial" categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others was strategically the most practical way for the Government to construct a Singaporean identity and promote integration, racial harmony and economic survival.

Pragmatically, it has also guided the nation's policies since independence.

Unfortunately, it has also resulted in the unintended presumption of fixed and rigid boundaries. For example, each "race" is identified with a language, a culture and a religion.

Consequently, a nationalism based on such manifestations appears to highlight the differences among the various communities, adding to the distance between them and accentuating racial stereotyping.

I do not agree that discarding the existing race classification model would impinge on minority rights or have an adverse effect on national identity.

While this tenet of multiracialism has served the nation well in the past, demographic changes and social mixing of the various community groups through inter-marriages and immigration have diluted their homogeneity.

As Singaporeans, we should feel proud to belong to a particular ethnic group, but we should also do our part to de-emphasise our Chineseness, Malayness, Indianness and Eurasianness, appreciate diverse viewpoints, respect cultural differences,work together to stress commonalities and forge an identity that is more integrative and cohesive.

The sooner we move away from classifying communities, the better for our nation's future.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)
ST Forum, 21 Jan 2016

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