In recent reports, we have seen references by various dignitaries about how the Singapore press has to be controlled because the local context is one that is characterised by multiracial complexity. Of course many other reasons are hinted at, but this seems to be the one that is most often cited when specific examples are called for. I’d like to respectfully and humbly disagree with this stance.
For one thing, I have great admiration for the efforts our government and our people have put into making Singapore a harmonious society through, respectively, various sensible policies and the everyday accommodations we make for each other’s quirks and traits. Controlling the press because of the fear of racial riots shows a lack of trust in the policies as well as the people. Have we made no progress towards a Singaporean identity at all? I think we have. And I am not just referring to that 95% figure that was applied out of context – from a survey done to gauge the effectiveness of National Education to an evaluation of general feelings of ‘belonging’ to the country.
I am referring to the report in today’s Straits Times about the gang activity in Bukit Panjang, in which social workers who work closely with these youths are quoted as saying that they do not think the gang fights were racially motivated despite the members being of different races. They flock together on the basis of race merely because this is human nature, but race does not feature as a point of conflict.
I find this very encouraging. If we may consider that at-risk youths are among our weakest segments of society, and if they do not use racial divisions as the focus of their violent activites, then perhaps race is not so divisive, nor so incendiary an issue as we might be led to believe. Is it possible that official discourse based on race, however well-intentioned, has created a veneer of difference that does not reflect the true Singaporean identity?
I think of it as a cloak thrown over a shivering person weak from cold. The person has become warm now, strong, and whole. Keeping the cloak on will suffocate him and prevent him from stretching to his full height. He has outgrown the cloak. Yes there is some fear that taking it off may expose him again to the very elements that created his original weakened state. But it is a calculated risk.
There is already evidence that the Singaporean identity may have transcended race – not in a way that erases the traditions that makes each race unique, but in a way that underscores these interesting differences with a common national sentiment. That which makes us all Singaporean also makes us resilient.