Racial Fault Lines? Who's Responsible?

Some friends have asked me about Amy Cheong and her Facebook comments about Malay weddings at void decks. Her comments and conduct are shameful and completely unacceptable. This confirms what I had long suspected and said : there are deep fault lines in our society, based on race/religion.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law, Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam

As a competent lawyer, I have no doubt Mr Shanmugam has a sharp sense of suspicion that puts a wily old fox to shame. The Amy Cheong saga has proven him right yet again, though deep down we know that the MIWs are seldom, rarely never wrong. The higher MIWs being almost god-like perfect each time, it left a puny mortal here wondering why the government did not lift a finger to correct a long suspected deep fault in the society, based on race/religion.

From birth

Almost too efficiently upon the birth of each Singaporean, we have our race stamped on our birth certification, clearly psychologically dividing us since day zero. Similarly, pick up your pink identity card and take a close look. The first field right under your name would be one that identify your race. Most of us have probably never stop to ponder why there is a need for this. What I'm curious about is that when a Brazilian Singapore PR decided to take us Singapore citizenship, what would be his race on his pink IC? "Others?" I wondered if anyone else find this practice anti-nationalistic. We are segregating our people right there. Aren't we all supposed to be Singaporean? How can we ever be a race-blind society this way?

In school

Hopefully this has changed since. In my schooling days, it is compulsory to take up a 2nd language termed the "Mother tongue". We wasn't given a choice which language to take up because it was primarily tied to our race. A Chinese will take up Mandarin as 2nd language and an Indian will take up Tamil. Again, nobody seems to see the stupidity of this. Is there a reason not to allow a pupil to take up any 2nd language available in school without restriction of his or her race? Very few Chinese these days can converse in Malay unlike 1-2 generations before. We needn't to be rocket scientist to figure out that sharing a common language promotes racial integration. Just look at the way our grand parents interact with people of different races to see how we have regressed in this area due to some illogical educational policies.

I speak from my own experience, a born and bred Singaporean who went through the system. Consider this, a few times a week, sometime in the day, the manner the class was divided was swift and seamless, almost regimental. Soon, the remaining of the students in class would be of the same race, the lesson would start. Tell me if this routine isn't an indoctrination, intentionally or not, to subconsciously divide the nation racially. 

In the army

One of our popular patriotic song, "One People, One Nation, One Singapore," goes this way,

Every creed and every race, has its role and has its place

Heartwarming, no doubt. For the innocent minds that is and we really believed in it. When we grew up and went into the army, you couldn't help but look at this lovely piece of lyric in different light. Every race does has its role and its place. What we didn't realise was that each race has a different role and a different place. We confirm what we had long suspected and saw another root of the deep fault lines in our society, based on race/religion.

National service was a bastion of racism. We made no effort to hide racial discrimination. There wasn't a single Malay soul in my army camp. Not even a driver, store man or clerk. I'm not talking about my company only but the entire army camp that includes at least 2 schools and a few formations. Coincidental? I don't think so. The discrimination against Malays has been discussed in parliament and the media, and is justified by the assertion that the loyalty of Malays cannot be assumed, both because they are Muslim and because they have a racial and ethnic affinity with the Malays in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Let me share with you a conversation I had with First Sergeant Yasir during my first month in SISPEC. 1SG Yasir was my platoon sergeant. He was very young for someone of this rank, some even called him a 'high flyer' in terms of Spec advancement. We could see why. He was fit, on-the-ball, responsible and no-nonsense. A proper soldier by any standards. 

One night, 1SG Yasir came inspect our section, bunk and bunk and took time to chat with every one of us. There were only 2 soldiers in each bunk. After a few minutes of chat, 1SG Yasir asked us to 'shoot questions'. Any question.
"Sergeant, if we go into war with Malaysia, will you fight them?"
1SG Yasir was taken aback for a few seconds. He must have trained hundreds of soldiers by then but it was clear it was the first time he was thrown as a question so insolently. I didn't realised I was questioning his loyalty to Singapore. It simply came out without going through my mind. Instead of taking me to punishment, 1SG Yasir collected himself, looked straight into my eyes, non-threatening but dead serious and replied,

"I will fight to death to defend my family and friends, it doesn't matter who my enemies are,"
"Thank you Sergeant." 
It wasn't the words that convinced but the assurance of trust. It was coded in the brotherhood in which The Others would never understand. 
Should we maintain a policy that express distrust to all Malays as a community even after so many generations? Mistrust breeds mistrust, can we expect otherwise if we continue to pursue a policy that discriminate a certain race implicitly? We are working against a ideals of true national unity. 

Working life

Straight after ORD, some of us furthered our studies and some went to work. In every single job application form, you would be asked to fill up the race field yet again. W.T.F. Can the authorities explain the absolute need to fill in our race in a job application? I think it is fair for companies to state any special requirements in their job advertisements. For instance, a Halal food handler or a religious teacher. Besides special cases, I don't think there are excuses for any establishment to have any business in asking for the race or religion of an applicant.


Isn't it ironic that our government practices 'racial equality' in the form of a GRC electorial system but ignoring everything else? The government is politicising race by insisting the need of a minority representative in parliament. The idea itself sounds dodgy, if anything. Is the government implying that Chinese politicians would not serve Singaporeans of different races? Isn't this going against the meritocracy beliefs that the same people are promoting? The best man should get the job, regardless of race.


I understand that every country has their racial subdivisions, Taiwan has their Ah Mei Tribe, New Zealand has their Māori. But when it comes to nationalism, we are so lacking and far behind many countries. Find me a Pinoy Indian or Japanese Malay. I want to be known as a Singaporean, not a Singaporean Chinese. A Singaporean is a Singaporean. We have failed badly in building a cohesive race-blind nation. based on the flawed assumption that Racial Harmony Day works better than removing the race barrier entirely. Tell me, who are responsible of our racial fault lines?


  1. nice one..
    i was in the army..as a logistician.
    the only time i could enter a navy or air force camp, is to send repaired military vehicle such as rover or a tonner. as a kid, i love to see naval ships and fighter planes. no wonder my elder cousins was giving me that queer look&smile when i said i wanted to be in the navy or air force. i was 8 then..nothing has changed.

  2. 2 per bunk? I'm guessing Echo, Foxtrot or Golf coy

  3. Actually it is a global issue.

  4. Awesome piece! ;) M

  5. To be frank, our neighbour across the causeway is not doing any better. The current government is still playing on racial-based politics. 70% of the university placement is reserved for certain ethnic and they got to enjoy 15% discount on housing, interest free loan for investment and higher chance of success during IPO shares application. These perks were there to help the lagging ethnic to catch up with the wealthy minority but too much protection has made the group less competitve in real life. In an ideal world, every citizen in a country should progess equally regardless of ethnicity.

    1. We're discussing discrimination in Singapore, not Malaysia. Who cares about Malaysia.

    2. I do, but in a much wider sense. How about extending this conversation by standing up to all forms of discrimination against 'human beings'? This would lead to 'human being' being the fundamental basis of this discusion, not 'Singaporean'. Replacing a race-based discourse with a nation-based discourse does widen the terms of reference but does in no way move any society or community nearer towards justice and fairness. Recognizing basic human dignity, on the other hand, may be the beter path.

  6. Dear UFO and Anonymous13 October 2012 02:36,

    Thank you for the comments. Yes I am aware that it is a global issue and our Malaysian neighbours aren't having it better as well. Let's not be distracted and focus on Singapore itself. That was the way Singapore lost track when we spoke about public transport issues, then some guy in the govt began to bring out London and Japan trains ...

    1. It is quite simplistic to say we lose track when we adopt a wider (and potentially helpful comparative) perspective. Let all intelocutors bring their perspectives and case studies. We should reject any of these only because it is clearly irrelavant to the specifics of Singapore. But on the race issue, Malaysia and Singapore have much similarities and much may be learned by studying the similarities and also the differences.

  7. fyi taiwan has 14 aborigines tribes n taiwan govt abit racist there

    1. Who TF cares about Taiwan? Is Singapore part of Taiwan?

    2. Once again, I do. Have we not had enough navel gazing already? Time to aspire a little higher, don't you think.

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