I am Singaporean. I have no other nationality. My home, my family, my life is here.
Every Singaporean should have the same rights and privileges. I certainly have the same responsibilities.
If I don’t file my tax returns, I get fined by the same IRAS as anyone else. If I fall foul of the law, there is only one prison in the country etc.
This should be blindingly obvious, but it must be said. I am a Singaporean, and this plays a large role in terms of my life, opportunities and expectations.
I am also an individual with my own experiences, tastes and preferences and this is a (if not the) crucial factor in my life. Am I a minority? It depends. I am right-handed and have black straight hair — so in this I’m very much in the majority.
Yet in Singapore I am a “racial/ethnic minority”, and this plays an over-sized role in my life.
This means I (and people in the ethnic/racial minority category) can have more difficulty finding jobs. It means facing outright discrimination from landlords when renting properties and in business settings, constantly needing to include majority faces in order to increase our chances of winning new business.
It means facing an endless number of stereotypes regarding what I’m meant to eat, how I’m meant to dress and how I must generally behave.
It means I can’t be prime minister (according to various statements from political leaders over the years — Singapore isn’t ready for a non-Chinese prime minister).
Worst of all it means people telling me I should be happy because ethnic racial minorities in other countries have it much worse.
This is annoying because it’s completely beside the point. I am not interested in being compared with minorities elsewhere.
I am a Singaporean, my peers are Singaporean — and my opportunities, horizons and possibilities should be equal to those of any other Singaporean.
To me this is the heart of the movement to address racism; the idea that race is an arbitrary construct and that a difference in eye shape or skin colour has no impact on my character, competence or capability.
Given it’s a superficial and arbitrary construct it should not play a particularly major role in my life, but the reality is that it does.
So, when minorities face the pernicious intrusion of race and racism into our daily lives we should be able to talk about it, rage against it, satirize, parody it; deal with it however we want to so long as we aren’t being violent or promoting hatred and violence.
Any approach based on supressing legitimate experiences or voices is unacceptable. People need to be able to talk about race and racism — its contradictions and absurdity — in order to banish the spectre of racism.