Race and Religion


I remember being 8 years old, an innocent carefree primary school student, happy with my friends, my teachers and having a whale of a time in school, till one fine day, when I encountered a fellow student, a Chinese girl, who told me,

“You are so smelly. My mother already said all black people are smelly. She is correct.”

I was confused, and remember sniffing myself the whole day, trying to see if there was any discernible smell. I kept staring at my hands, and putting my hair against them, trying to figure out what colour my hair could be, if my skin was considered black.”

Finally, towards the end of the school, it finally sank in that someone had said something really awful to me, and I cried, and cried and cried.

Another classmate of mine, another Chinese girl, spotted me crying, and came over to ask me what happened. Over heaving sobs, I told her what happened, and even at that age, her anger was palpable. Though she didn’t storm over to confront the other girl, the outrage she felt on my behalf was more consoling than any words of reassurance she could have uttered.

Till today, I am very grateful for that, because that one incident demonstrated to me that perhaps, acts of discrimination and prejudice are not about the racial or religious group, but about the values and character of the individuals concerned. The heartening actions of one Chinese girl brought an Indian girl, who was upset by the actions of another Chinese girl, so much of solace. Same race, drastically different behaviours. Should I then attribute it to their race, a perceived notion of a minority syndrome or their upbringing/character/values?

I talk about this because today, I encountered a Singaporean website, started for the purpose of allowing for racial minorities to share all the discrimination they face, for there to be solidary amongst ethnic minorities. While I would never disregard or trivialise the experiences of the individuals who contribute to this website, and while I am sure I might possibly identify with some of the incidents mentioned, I wonder if this would further reinforce the misconception that it is one’s race or religion that causes them to exhibit certain characteristics.

I don’t deny that prejudice and to a certain extent, outright discrimination exists in Singapore. I would think there are many people with deep-rooted prejudices with respect to a certain racial or religious group. For instance, I could have a deep-rooted hatred for a particular racial group. However, this hatred would say a lot more about me as a person, than it does about all Indians. My lack of tolerance and bigotry would be a result of my own experiences and values, as opposed to being representative of my entire race. It would also spell of my inability to see the [people of that particular racial group] who led to my discriminatory attitude as individuals rather than as a race in general.

This notion of Chinese privilege then, which this website focuses on, seems rather inaccurate, because I know of plenty of Chinese, who, despite belonging to the majority in the country, are sensitive to the minorities.

I read so many posts on the site that talk about the various instances in which the Chinese privilege is evident, but perhaps, wouldn’t one way to address this be to personalise the behaviour, i.e. attribute it to the individual rather than to the race they belong to?

Though I don’t disagree that it is inevitable that this Chinese privilege exists, for most part, I would say it is an unintentional side effect of being part of a 70% majority in the country, rather than a conscious act of discrimination. I know many friends who would be appalled when they do realise the many instances in which they have inadvertently reaped the benefits of being a majority.

A website aimed at creating solidarity amongst the minority races creates further divisiveness and a US versus THEM mentality. Races do not make racist comments, people do. I do not want nor do I need solidarity with Indians and Malays alone.

I want solidarity with my fellow Singaporeans.

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2 thoughts on “Race and Religion

  1. Singapore is the only country in the world that mandates that every citizen carry around an “identity card” that lists your race as one of four and only four choices. It is also the only country in which a block with 20 percent Indians and x0 percent Chinese people can be considered an Indian enclave! It is so Orwellian it is mind boggling

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