Singapore has come a long way since its independence. The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew famously said that that Singapore is not a Chinese country nor a Malay country nor an Indian country. While Malaysia chose bumiputra dominance and communal politics, Singapore would be the model multicultural nation, unique in the region. “Everybody will have his place equal: Language, culture, religion,”
Fifty years on, at a meeting with ASEAN leaders, Barak Obama said ‘One of the reasons why Singapore has been so successful is because “it has been able to bring together people who may look different, but they all think of themselves as part of Singapore” (source)
Singapore tick because Singaporeans view that the country belongs to all of them and not to any single community.
But are Singaporeans really as assimilated as we make ourselves to be?
Remember Amy Cheong and her comment about $50 Malay weddings under void deck? How about the Ms Zarifah Edwards, who was told to leave Isetan premises as she was wearing the headscarf and should not be working there?
While it seems that we have achieved multi-racial harmony, we must never take racial and religious integration in Singapore for granted. It must be something that is always proactively worked upon.
The government have engineered this best they could – to achieve the intermingling of races
Ethnic representation in Parliament to give the diverse communities a chance to speak up for their community and participate in nation building
Ethnic quota in housing estates to ensure a good mix of families.
Multi-racial schools and classes to start them young
National service to teach them a lesson they will never forget
Work spaces to continue fostering more inter racial colleagues
English as first language
And the list goes on.
As a result, Singaporeans indeed are intermingling more than ever as compared to half a decade ago.
A more intermingled society however means nothing if the different races cannot achieve the same amount of success in a meritocratic society. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn and the inferior complex will slowly seep in.
That is why the Singapore government, despite their best efforts to treat all races equally cannot be ‘racially blind’. They have to recognize that some races need more help than others and must quickly assist them so that Singaporeans (regardless of race) can ‘taste’ success together.
When communities lag behind, the government must allocate resources to help them close the gap. The Malay community is one example. They used to do poorly in school a. Through MENDAKI and Skills Future, the number of fist class graduates has increased tremendously.
For this reason alone (i.e ensuring that every race share the same level of success), race will always be a sensitive issue in Singapore and it will be many years before we can truly be a ‘racially blind’ society.
Regardless, it is important for all of us to keep working on it and safeguard our unique multi racial harmony. “so that SG50 is fine, and that SG100 will be allright” – PM Lee