Having lived my entire life in Singapore, it has no doubt been a blessing to stay in a country where being out at 3am is still relatively safe as compared to some other countries. The food, the safety, the fines, the people – these make Singapore unique. And as much as some things infuriate – we are known to complain about everything after all – this is the land that I can proudly call home. It always has, and always will be.
Another thing that is unique to Singapore is its multi-ethnic society. This racial harmony and cohesion is what Singapore prides itself in. We surely do a lot to ensure that we maintain this peace, if you may. From propaganda-like subjects *cue social studies* in schools to having minority representation in cabinet, we seem to have covered all bases.
Yet, what may be institutionalised is very different from what has been internalised.
Behind the growing veneer of racial harmony lies something caged, cracked and inevitably, concealed. What is troubling is not its existence but rather, our failure to recognise it. The fabric of our society is tainted with the very colours we deem to celebrate.
The entire situation is fairly ironic, really. Our ethos as a country is built on this harmony that we seem to preach, day in and day out. If there is one concept we got wrong as a society, it is this - tolerance is not acceptance. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can work to address the problem.
As someone from a minority race myself, it should come as a surprise to no one that I have been marginalised. Of course, why wouldn’t I be? I was clearly very different from those around me. Yet, as I mention this to the ethnic majority, they seem taken aback and some even try to discredit my experience.
“It’s not that bad in Singapore.”
“No, employers don’t only look for people who speak Mandarin. They value bilingualism.”
Oh, naivety. Bilingualism in Singapore is simply a euphemism for being able to speak Mandarin. What is even worse is that it does not stop there. I’ve had overly-qualified friends who knew how to speak Mandarin get turned down from jobs because they were of a minority race. True, knowing how to communicate with the ever-growing Chinese clientele – from China – is indeed an asset. No one can deny that China is a growing force. But for this to happen in a country that prides itself in giving equal opportunities to all is rather hypocritical. Should our dogma be more transparent, claiming equality would not come off as that sanctimonious.
You know when you’re at a coffee shop, and you get to order what you want with no problems communicating? Yeah, I don’t. Or how about when you go to Sephora (sorry boys), and you can find the shade of your foundation in many brands? Yeah, I don’t either. Feeling like a foreigner in your own country is proof.
Racism is real.
Of course, this is no fault of those born into privilege. It would be myopic of anyone to think so. It does, however, become a problem when people do not recognise such issues and even try to deny their privilege. Not having to think about if people are going to think you are a stereotype of your race, is privilege. Not having to worry about the judgement you’d face when you are with a bunch of people from your own race, is privilege.
Not being ashamed of the colour of your skin, is privilege.
Let’s face it. We are all privileged in some form or the other. To be born in Singapore in itself, is a privilege. All we have to do is to accept this prerogative and use it to our advantage to get ahead in life. Quite frankly, I would if I could. It would be ludicrous not to, especially in this cut-throat world. The systems are such and the only thing we can do right now, is to confront them head on, and not be afraid to talk about this issue.