Monday, March 19, 2007

More on Singapore

The Farce City

by Ana Jumari

G21 ASIA Staff Writer

"Racism seems to just be coffee talk, you know? It's a taboo that only a minority ... talk of openly. People know it exists but people just turn a blind eye ..." --- Kir

Back in mid-July, 1964, a huge celebration commemorating prophet Mohammed's birthday involved 25,000 Moslems who were supposed to march approximately 7 kilometers from the Padang (our national parade square in the center of our island) east to Geylang (the poster area for the Malay community).

The celebrations were cut short when someone threw a bottle and ticked off more than a few.

By 6 PM that day, Geylang was licked in flames and cars had been overturned. Half an hour later, the first of the clashes was reported at Chinatown. The violence spread throughout the small island like fingers of hate. By the end of the first day, 4 people had been sacrificed and 178 more injured.

At the end of the two-week nightmare, the racial riots of 1964 had claimed 23 lives and amassed nearly 500 casualties.

Almost 30 years later, New York Times writer Steven Erlanger (NY Times, May 13, 1990) points out that "Singaporean officials now like to speak of the city-state as a mosaic of cultures --- a successful amalgam of immigrant peoples who have made an implausible nation succeed through hard work, tough government, anti-Communism and free enterprise."

Looks great on the brochure doesn't it?

And for the longest of time, I've had to grapple with the fused idea that my country is both "multi-racial" and "Chinese". Which is it? Define "multi-racial." Four ethnic groups crammed on this little island. This island renowned for "political stability."

One interesting question: Isn't this all a masquerade?

Ku Klux Klansman, Black Nationalist, Serb, Bosnian, Yugoslav, Palestinean, Israeli --- ethnic discrimination amasses libraries of books in the histories of this planet. And people wonder what it is about Singapore that keeps its people so harmonious. Think it's the water? *shrug*

"Singaporeans are not blind to the racism that exists but [choose] to be blind --- for a simple reason -- harmony and peace." -- Vin

Every single day, four different races ride in the same buses, the same trains. And every single day, each is gossiping about the other.

I have come to realize a sad fact growing up in this country -- native Malays and Indians will always be second-rate citizens wherever we go. And if I know it, most of my comrades here know it, too.

Four years ago, the web became the platform for yet another interesting discussion. [].

An nteresting observant calling himself"Sheik" pointedly notes that "...under the [Singapore] Constitution, the government may not discriminate solely on the grounds of race, religion, language or decent in the passing of or implementation of any law. But there is nothing preventing private individuals and corporations from [practicing] such discrimination.

"In UK there is a Race Relations Act which prohibits any such practice. Isn't it a little strange that people can legally be racists in Singapore, free from rules that even the government must obey?"

That is not strange my friend, that is pure irony. You don't have to be a lawyer to know that the law has become a toy of manipulation -- a puppet on strings. "Multi-racial" in and of itself, can already be seen as a division of the races. It almost looks to me like the government is refusing to recognize its existence.

The media constantly downplay how strong ethnic favoritism has grown, how boldly it is implemented. And ironically, it is easiest in the print media to find blatant racial discrimination. Grab a paper, whip open the classifieds and scan the ads - "Bilingual in English and Chinese preferred". Send a resume, go for an interview. "Oh, you not Chinese hah? Don't call us, we'll call you."

"We may have degrees --- diplomas, or masters but in the end [somehow] we ... must be Chinese speaking. " -- D

" ... forget [the] qualifications cos all they [want] is a CHINESE ..." -- Vin

I have not come to understand the mindset of these employers. At the end of the day, all that results from blue/white collar labor are human relationships. Humans have built, from skin alone, massive walls that divide. Do they really enjoy strengthening this wall between two people of different color?

I apologize.

I forget once again. It is always so much easier to strengthen the wall, than it is to break it.

"The result for its minority populations: an enhanced feeling of distance, divisiveness, and alienation" - Fuller.

"For many years, no one said nothing and it'll continue. The repression that the [minorities] feel will always be there and it'll take many years to eradicate this feeling that is instilled in them." -- Vin

Personally, I've grown skeptical of "national pride" (I challenge you to blame me). I don't need official figures to slap me awake. The one country I proudly sang about when I was young and it has done so much in as far as casting aside the needs of my people, constantly bearing down on my people. And if I'm sitting here writing this, you can bet thousands more minority youths sitting around broaching exactly the same issue.

"It is so 'in your face' but people pretend not to look. You just can't [place] your finger on the right button." -- Farhan

My friends constantly remind me that everything comes with a price. I suppose that makes racism and racial discrimination the price-tag for all I can be thankful for -- the food on my table, the excellent public transport, excellent infrastructure, excellent technology, stable income ...

Price tag or otherwise, when is racism ever justifiable?

Singapore's population has reached its fourth million. Recent figures show that one in every four of us is foreign-born. That adds up to one million people. Ever wonder how the figures rose to that?

Associate Professor in Communications, Worcester College, Linda K. Fuller wrote an academic paper on the Singapore Chinese rule, posted 6/30/98 []. She cites Mutalib, who points out ""the intensification of the annual "Speak Mandarin Campaign'", the repeated call for Chinese to have more babies, the big budget for Chinese drama serials on television... and notes these trends:

" ... the insistence that the Chinese proportion of the population must stay and may reach a maximum of 76%, a liberal immigration policy designed to bring in some 100,000 Hongkong Chinese to Singapore, the official patronage for Confucian studies, and the building of Chinese theme parks and entertainment centers by Hongkong tycoons."

With racial figures constantly tipping the scales, how will the minorities carry on groping ahead amidst the seeming sandstorm?

It's always been a long, hard season for the minority in worlds where majorities govern, but the crops waiting for harvest have emerged stronger. With them, a newfound determination has evolved -- iron-will. As a minority member, I work harder, push harder hoping to catapult my people ahead.

"If a design firm won't hire me because of my race, I will use this anger [as a] catalyst to start up my own company and give that design firm a run for it's money. Get what I mean?" -- Kir

I am but a number in the constant run of statistics. So is he, he, she and he. We all are, but we can't be the only weights exerting our people ahead. As a minority, we need to wake up to the constant calls for the edge over the rat race. I cannot hope to catapult my people ahead by sitting down and thinking this is the best I've got because "I can't get any farther than this --- this isn't the country of my people."

"But hopefully, one day things do change and the younger generation will have the courage and strength to do what they deem is right and tell the world how things are really here." -- Vin

As a youth still gingerly stepping out, I am proud to be able to say that my people have surged farther ahead in the last ten years than we ever have since this country's independence. More of us recognize the need for continuing education. More of us recognize the influx of technology and the need for constant self-improvement.

But there is still that number who get carried away with wiles of youth. They drop out, look upon learning institutions with disdain, and then whine about life's bitchiness and the disadvantages of minority.

Narrow horizons have always been my people's most bitter enemy. If he opens himself to the vast universe of his mind and she does the same with hers, all our figures will add up. And that would be more than a catapult as figures for our community.

Then no one can bullshit us about what we can or cannot do with our skin.

" ... the thing about racism is not to let it get to you, but to keep going in spite of it and prove the attitudes wrong. If you let it get to you, then --- these chauvinists have succeeded in their hate campaign. Little solace, but all I can say is, welcome to the unfortunate real world of Singapore, my friend."
Thank you, Sheik.

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