Wednesday, 28 October 2015

No Race in Singapore Race Relations Future

No Race in the Future of Singapore Race Relations
Multiculturalism - Is there enough trust? “LIVE Video”
Trust in Singapore Multi-Culturalism


Are Singaporeans ready to put aside historical CIMO (Chinese, Indian, Malay, Others) racial categories for a better united, truly cohesive and harmonious Singapore?  What would it take to create a truly multi-cultural, cosmopolitan Singapore society which demonstrates genuine respect for cultural diversity?

These were some of the questions discussed “live” by Inconvenient Questions (IQ), Singapore’s emergent public conversation square on 28 October 2015.  I was on the Panel with Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and Dr Nazry Bahrawi, Lecturer, SUTD. The Moderator was Viswa Sadasivan, IQ Editor-in-Chief in their University Town studio, National University of Singapore

First, my take on the issues:

Trust is the Force Multiplier in the War Against Racism and Racialism. 
It is the policy weapon of choice with a specific Goal in Singapore politics as well as socio-economic policies – the creation of a just and equal society regardless of race, language or religion.

The social reality of Multi-Culturalism is Cultural Diversity. 
We need to address the Overlapping Webs of Cultural Diversity; which is made up of Layers of Cultural Fabrics (“norms”, religions, diet, food, dressings, and various social practices, and than some). The Fabrics weaved together form the Multicultural Canvas of Singapore.

Trust measures the density or emotive strength of cohesion and resilience at specific and various parts of the Multicultural Canvas.

On the Top Surface, the Multicultural Canvas operates at the National Level where a strong demonstration of racial co-existence and harmony have existed for most of the past 50 years; surviving national economic and social crisis eg economic recessions, CPF cuts, SARS and JI.   

At the Middle of the Multicultural Canvas are the various socializing domains of Education, Defense, Housing, Employment, Business Contracting, Cultural Expression Opportunities, Family and Community Life, Medical and other Social Benefits … and where the distributions of benefits and privileges are regulated by the rules of meritocracy and equal opportunities access.  The Trust density varies in respective Domains.  Perceptions of equal opportunities differ across ethnic groups, and Meritocracy has its own peculiar path to favour those who can afford to prepare better to qualify for its award criteria.  There is as yet no final absolute consensus that the rules of meritocracy and equal opportunity access actually resulted in a more just and more equal society; especially given the widening income disparity across Singaporean society.

At the Bottom-most, the Multi-Cultural Canvas is made up of the day-to-day interaction of ordinary Singaporeans whose perceptions of relative social mobility vis-à-vis other ethnic members affects the Trust Value.  Perceptions of discrimination in employment, in job promotion opportunities, in exclusion from selecting choice HDB apartment, or from enrolment into elitist exclusively Mandarin-speaking schools only serve to undermine the Trust density, thereby weakening the Multicultural Canvas.      

The New Singapore Multicultural Canvas now includes MORE ethnic groups beyond the traditional CIMO.  New Chinese, New Indians and New Others have created “patchworks” on the Multicultural Canvas, rather than reinforcing the C, I or O.  Fault lines at the patchwork boundaries will crisscross the traditional fault lines of the CIMO, and make enhanced Trust even more challenging and daunting.

The Conversation was further distracted by referencing some who imported the concept of “Chinese Majority” privilege which I have argued in my MIKOspace Blog to be wholly inapplicable to the Singapore’s race relations.  

The immediate imperative is to create a Stronger Sense of Common Citizenship, instead of a Greater Sense of Multi-Racialism.  We need to imbue in our emergent generations a greater acceptance of Cultural Diversity instead of encouraging a deeper sense of their respective racial or ethnic identity.  We need to build a “united” Society by trusting the things that strengthen us as Singaporeans, and not on the things which potentially separate us. Remember, our cherished values of Family and Community reached “beyond race, language or religion” to overcome the national crisis of SARS, JI Terrorism and Recessions. 

Singapore Exceptionalism is in our National Resilience, our National Servicemen, our Community and our Family.  This is Our Very Own Small Red Dot, the Home of the Daring and Land of Opportunities for all.     

WATCH the Video: “Multiculturalism - Is there enough trust?”

Video brief:
Singapore has won the respect and admiration of many for effectively maintaining harmony in a multiracial and multi-religious society. Something that few multicultural societies have achieved; particularly as we promoted ethnic identity and pride at the same time.  This was achieved through a combination of measures - recognition of the official and inalienable rights of the major ethnic communities (CMIO policy and other legislative measures), rules and conventions that prohibit blatant and insensitive discourse, a mother tongue policy, and the active promotion of racial and religious harmony at various levels, including the mass media.

After 50 years of independence, is it time to review how we approach this important issue of multiculturalism?

While some of the initiatives promote multicultural harmony, going forward, do we now need to encourage more open discourse - albeit in managed forums - to allow for some of the more deeply felt emotions and stereotypes to be addressed?  Are we ready for this? If we don’t do this, are we at risk of having harmony but not true cohesiveness that is based on deep trust. While, as a society we are clear about our stance against racism and discrimination, should we also ask if we should to be less racialised?

These are important but thorny issues which do not have a simple, straightforward answer.

IQ believes that the time is right to start a serious and more open – yet calibrated - discussions on this important issue.  Watch the Conversation.


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