Q&A: Race issue SG


The following are responses to some most insightful questions by 'Vaderzzz' posted in the comments section in the a2ed article, 'on Malay Cultural and Racial Introversion'.


1) What do you suggest the Malay/Indian/ Eurasian communities here in Singapore do to promote their culture? Or is this a lost cause here?

I don't see much that can be done to promote their cultures - especially since they’ve ‘gotten along’ to the point that many have practiced their culturally unique personalities out of existence. What is required is that it is developed first. But that is quite the lost cause given that there is no room for Malay-Indian expressions. That is why, for instance, non-Chinese parents whom are already aware of chinese aversion to difference would not have focused on rearing their children to be too ‘non-Chinese’. The media also does its part in Confucianising everyone - via discrimination, shallow content, etc.

All of this is exacerbated by the Indians of today not really being that 'Indian' in their persona. They, unlike the Indians I knew back in the 70s and 80s - many of whom migrated once singapore began to turn too ‘Confucian’ - tend to respond and react like the Chinese. They tend to have the same focus now - on trivialities - respond to novel information with silence, do not ask questions upon challenge or contradiction, and speak about both significant and insignificant things non-analytically.

What is required is true egalitarian multiculturalism. If singapore had that, the above problem might be resolved over time naturally. But that is provided that the Indian persona doesn't become extinct before that. The Malays have maintained their cultural persona, but it has not been allowed to develop further given its difference from the overarching 'Chinese' culture. Hence, people might think it, and them, backward, where i, for one, think it fraught with great potential. The Chinese tend to ignore all difference, laugh at it, and generally view it as undesirable if it is something they are unaccustomed to. In the work arena, it translates to ‘Chinese preferred’ (in the past), and ‘Mandarin-speakers preferred’(in the present). In the social arena, it leads to Indians and Malays keeping aside their cultural persona to ‘get along’ with the Chinese. This is further exacerbated by their being fragmented across the nation via the HDB ‘quota’ system. That gives them even less interaction with ‘their own kind’, and hence, they become more ‘Chinese’ over time.

If all of this was reversed today, would it make a difference. I don’t think so, given that many aren’t really ‘Indian’ anymore. They themselves need lessons on what it means to 'be Indian'. There is some hope when it comes to the Malays though.


2) Do you believe that the Chinese can be open-minded to criticism and change, more inclusive in their thinking and hold on to their Confucian principles at the same time? If so, what is the place of their culture in today's world?

Legalism-Confucianism is in direct conflict with 'open-mindedness to criticism and change', and 'inclusivity via integration' as opposed to assimilation. We have to understand that a culture borne of culturally bigoted and oppressive circumstances will tend to replicate it wherever it is practiced.
No sir. Legalism-Confucianism is in direct conflict with 'open-mindedness to criticism and change', and 'inclusivity via integration' as opposed to assimilation. One thing that kind of shocked me years ago when I looked at Chinese philosophy over 2000 years (along with Indian and western philosophy) was how stagnant it was and is. It didn’t change. The central Legalist-Confucian idea was installed, and all ‘thinkers’ rallied around it for the past 2 thousand years. ‘Change’ is not in the socialised Confucian persona - unless it is for personal and immediate, or verifiable, gain. One of its core principles is traditionalism, conformism and subservience in the face of authority/popular/prominent. You could see that on public ads placed in MRT stations and underpasses espousing Confucian principles some years ago.

It will naturally produce, in the worse instance, xenophobia, racism, economic opportunism, and in the best case, a simple tolerance, without appreciation, of difference. We have to understand that a culture borne of culturally bigoted and oppressive circumstances will tend to replicate it wherever it is practiced. That is why the government stated the need to maintain a racial ‘balance’ in favour of the Chinese as they knew that they wouldn’t be able to teach it to the non-Chinese as easily as it wasn’t their culture. Well, it wasn’t Chinese culture either, until 221 b.c. And the Chinese I knew in the 70s were more vibrant, through fusion with others, than they are today. You could liken the Singapore of the 70s to the more vibrant Chou period in Chinese history, and the period thereafter with the Qin period onward.

However, the Chinese 'filial piety' value, when fused with western/Indian style political activism might be able to strengthen the latter. I view this Chinese tendency, along with Malay communalism, and Indian perspectival vibrancy, as a great combination for the production of a truly strong, compassionate, vibrant, intelligent and creative persona. Singapore has lost that greatest of resource. The Chinese, reared within monocultural auspices for more than 2000 years couldn’t imagine its value.


3) In Singapore one of the hot topics about these elections were bread and butter issues (the rising cost of living, the widening of the income gap). The opposition took this as a rallying point for their supporters. I think for myself and the majority of Singaporeans, these issues were on their minds when we went down to the polls. I believe these are more pressing issues at the moment. Do you agree with this?

Bread and butter issues are pressing, but if we focus on this without focusing on how these issues compromise those of the non-Chinese, then all we are doing is focusing on keeping the Chinese bowl full. If 'B&B issues were the 'hot topic', it's because Chinese interests have been the 'only topic'.
Bread and butter issues are pressing, but if we focus on this without focusing on how these issues compromise those of the non-Chinese, then all we are doing is focusing on keeping the Chinese bowl full. If 'B&B issues were the 'hot topic', it's because Chinese interests have been the 'only topic'. Let's not forget that this was as issue way before 'bread and butter issues' were an issue. It was ignored than, as it is now. When the Indians and Malays go to the polls, s/he is not hoping for a better life, but rather, is hoping to maintain her/is 2nd class status relative to the Chinese. Right now, with the influx of new foreigners, they have been thrust into the 3rd class - new foreigners 1st, local chinese 2nd, Indians and Malays 3rd. That is what they are subconsciously unhappy about. They do not have to agree with this analysis. It is verifiable enough in the economic, cultural, and social milieu. As for the local Chinese, they just want to get back their 1st class status. They aren’t happy about being in the same position as the Indians and Malays were before the influx of the new foreigners.

It’s the same thing with peasants fighting for their lords against other lords so that they can maintain their 2nd class status which they might lose if they were to lose the war with another kingdom whose 2nd class citizens will turn them into 3rd class citizens. Check out all those ‘historical’ ‘blockbuster’ movies - ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, ‘Troy’, ‘Braveheart’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘300’, etc. That’s what it is all about, in essence.

When the Indians and Malays go to the polls, s/he is not hoping for a better life, but rather, is hoping to maintain her/is 2nd class status relative to the Chinese.
And if you think about it further, if the Chinese were empathetic enough to bother about how non-Chinese interests have been compromised for a long time, they would have had enough empathetic intelligence to foster a truly empathetic spirit amongst themselves to ensure that these ‘bread and butter issues’ would never become an issue in the first place. When we just care about ourselves, we will necessarily become blind enough to not notice the evils of tomorrow incubating in the self-absorbed racially-biased apathy of today.

As i had stated, if the Chinese didn’t selfishly keep silent when the government raised their racial/cultural status above all others because they were Chinese, they wouldn’t have the ‘foreign talent’ ‘problem’ that they have today - largely amplified by the importation of China Chinese to maintain the racial balance that had once favoured the local Chinese. Additionally, they would have become smart enough, through inter-cultural fusion, to, say, become another Japan, and empathetic enough to appreciate all singaporeans as a class or workers and hence mobilise accordingly. Lee KY, unfortunately, besides myself, has been the only one to appreciate how a simple tweak in the cultural arena could bring about a host of other ailments and propensities. He, and the PAP, gained much from that, at the expense of the people.


4) How do we deal with foreigners in Singapore, without appearing xenophobic or racist?

Work toward a minimum wage for all. Then, the capitalists will naturally bring in as much workers as needed, and not as much as can be exploited more profitably than locals, and by locals.
We don't 'deal' with foreigners. We accept them as our sisters and brothers. They aren't staying here for free. They are working and being exploited. Work toward a minimum wage for all. Then, the capitalists will naturally bring in as much workers as needed, and not as much as can be exploited more profitably than locals, and by locals. As I witnessed some groups shouting, 'British Workers, Migrant Workers, One Class, One Fight' in the recent May Day rally in London (see video on front page), I wondered why singaporeans never took the same approach. But given their entrenched Confucianism-induced self-absorption, racial/cultural bias, it is not surprising that this does not automatically occur to them as it did to myself.


5) How do we reassess the issue of race in Singapore?

What we need to do is to start the dialogue. We should study how this has been effectuated to great degrees in, for instance, the UK. It was more difficult to achieve it here than it could have been in singapore given that the west is in a culturally, economically, and militarily more advantageous position. So studying the situation here in the UK would be a good start. But again, the Confucian persona tends to only look toward other climes for ideas if it does not require critical introspection as that conflicts with the values upheld by their traditional stance.

efforts must be made to tackle this issue on a sociological level through discourse, sections in the ‘new media’, discouraging xenophobia and racism, encouraging active consideration and appreciation of others culturally-induced perspectives as opposed to simply ‘tolerating’ them...There has to be a generic war on the generic tendency to be blinkered in perspectival vision.The opposition could start their own sections to look into this matter. I suggested it to TOC, but they ignored it. But all efforts must be made to tackle this issue on a sociological level through discourse, sections in the ‘new media’, discouraging xenophobia and racism, encouraging active consideration and appreciation of others culturally-induced perspectives as opposed to simply ‘tolerating’ them, and so on. There has to be a generic war on the generic tendency to be blinkered in perspectival vision. If the opposition had done even a tenth of this, they would have certainly gotten my vote, along with my compadres. Till then, it would be plausible to say that those whom voted for the opposition only did so to maintain their racially defined 1st and 2nd class status.


Thank you for your inquisitive and thoughtful questions ‘Vaderzzz’. You’ll make an excellent journalist.


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