Ideas, Journal

What Racial Harmony means to me

At Toastmasters today, I received a duit raya for attempting to make an impromptu speech about a Malay proverb. The Topics Master told me that although the amount (in the duit raya) may be small, it is filled with lots of Hari Raya blessings. Although I’ve received Ang Pows before, I still feel really excited when I received this very first duit raya today. And it is a blessing! It is a blessing to live in a multi racial society.

Hari Raya Green Packet
Hari Raya Green Packet and the Proverb I was given

Once or twice, when I read through news articles about some racial riots that happened in other parts of the world, they also quoted us, Singapore, as an example where we really live up to our name as a multi racial society.

Well, Singapore has being through a dark age in history too (see these articles: 1, 2, 3). The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the Government did a lot to prevent these dark past from happening again. One of the most startling measures was controlling the racial ratio of people living in HDB flats (Singapore public housing) which is still in place today. There’s also the Sedition Acts – part of which, promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore is criminalised. On the lighter side, public schools in Singapore celebrate Racial Harmony Day on 21st July yearly.

Rules are harsh and sometimes I couldn’t help but wonder if Singaporeans are indeed living in racial harmony or are we just law abiding citizens?

*****

This is how I would like to describe racial harmony:

Racial harmony is about acknowledging and deep appreciation of our differences. With this appreciation, we can sincerely feel happy for the people who are celebrating their important festivals and culture, or even, join in their celebrations.

It CANNOT be the case that when I, a Chinese descendant, meet a fellow Malay friend, I tell him that I do not see him as a Malay, but as a Singaporean. He is of Malay origin and this must be acknowledged and celebrated. Yes, we can celebrate our similarities as Singaporeans but we also celebrate our differences.

Racial tolerance, on the other hand, could be the first step towards racial harmony. However, it is not the end point. It is not racial harmony if we are only practising racial tolerance because we still do not empathise with other cultures.

*****

With that being said, I remembered that there were some recommendations to Singapore that we should remove the “Race” profile that is found on our IC (National Registration Identification Card). I can’t remember what the full exact reasoning was but somewhere down the line, it was about removing the psychological barrier that we are categorised by race or something like that.

I can see where they are coming from and yes, perhaps removing the profile can help to ease people’s mind. It is about how we want to shape the thinking of the people to overcome the issue of racism after all so by making everyone think that they are homogenous, that could be one way to go.

Its just,… I’m not sure I’m as ready to subscribe to that. I’m just wondering, if we remove our race profile, will that spell the end of acknowledging and celebrating our differences? We could remove our identity on our IC but I’m also not sure if we could remove what’s in our heart and our blood.

So I say, keep the race profile in-tact. The way to go is to help people understand that if we want to find our way back to each other, we got to understand each other. After all, just like what the Malay proverb that I was given says:

Bagai aur dengan tebing
Bagai kuku dengan isi

Like the bamboo and the river bank, and like the fingernail and the flesh beneath it, each is dependent on the other for their mutual survival.

Just look at the Clownfish and Sea Anemone. Didn’t nature already show us what its like to live in racial harmony too?

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