Saturday, August 29, 2009

No racial inequality in Utopian Singapore?

One of the easiest ways to make his hackles rise is to heckle the benign Minister Mentor about racial inequality in Singapore. He is either myopic or a dreamer who believes in a utopian Singapore where racial inequality exists only in one's imagination. Sooner or later he is going to be roused forcefully from his idealistic dreams by the stark realities of the problem.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong narrated in his National Day Rally on 16 August a classic example of a near Sino-Malay incident which was timely prevented from happening through the alertness and quick action of community centre officers. A Malay family had successfully obtained an HDB void deck for a wedding and was appalled to find it occupied by a Chinese family for a funeral rite. As it turned out, the Malay family showed exemplary communal spirit and understanding by agreeing to move the wedding to another site, thus preventing an ugly racial incident. Knowing the Chinese idiosyncracy where funeral rites are concerned, the Chinese family could not have given way. On the other hand the Malay family could have insisted on racial equality and held their ground.

Perhaps MM Lee would have been more enlightened about his utopian dream by the following snippet by a Chinese reporter of the Lianhe Zaobao published on 29 August. Apparently, this woman reporter specialised in collecting conversational titbits in her rounds of community centres. Here is an interesting account of her scoop: "As a majority race we Chinese do not always comprehend how our speeches and behaviours or national policy will influence our other racial compatriots. Because of this we should diligently listen. For example, my recent attendance at a dialogue has allowed me to hear for the first time that in actual fact our Malay compatriots when renting HDB void decks for wedding are rquired to state clearly in the signed form their agreement to withdraw if there are people (meaning Chinese) wanting the place for funeral rites". Can the enlightened Minister Mentor really believe that this is racial equality? If this is true, there is an urgent necessity for the government to rectify this racial inequality before it deteriorates into an untenable situation.

Another area of racial inequality perceived is the apparent unrestricted influx of foreign workers from China, especially in the service sector. Can one imagine Indian clients being served by Chinese waiters in Indian restaurants? This is because Indian restaurateurs find it impossible to overcome official red tapes when they apply for service workers from India. Apparently no such red tapes exist for the entry of service workers from China. So, as an expediency, some Indian rstaurateurs resort to the engagement of Chinese service workers to fill their waiter vacancies. Conversely, can one imagine Chinese clients being served by Indian waiters in a Chinese restaurant? Is this not ridiculous? So are the Indian restaurateurs receiving fair treatment and is this MM Lee's definition of racial equality? It is not surprising that rumblings of racism can sometimes be heard.

So the great Minister Mentor should exercise more circumspection before he ventures to declaim that there is no racial inequality in Singapore.


Matthew said...

Hello Singapore Recalcitrant,

I am part of a group that is doing a school project on racial equality in Singapore, and I found your post to be very interesting as it provides an insight into one of the many facets of this pertinent social issue in Singapore.

My reason for posting is that the line between the mutual respect of different cultural practices and "racial inequality" seems to be quite blurred from my point of view. For instance, is there any specific cultural reason why a Chinese funeral must take precedence over a Malay wedding? It seems to me that your (Lee's) aforementioned wedding issue was a mere logistical mix-up, so I will not go too far into that. What worries me is your third paragraph, about the agreement which forces the Malay wedding in question to give way to Chinese funerals. If there is no rational explanation for this that we know of, I am indeed worried that this may be an instance of "racial inequality".

I am also not clear on the issues that foreign workers face in entering Singapore, as you have mentioned. Personally, I feel that your "restaurant" example is not too relevant, since I don't mind so much the preparer of the food as I do the food itself. But I have searched and cannot find anything on "red tapes" that employers face in employing Indian workers. Could you please enlighten me?

Thank you for your time and have a nice day.

Matthew Seah

Unknown said...

Race is a community identifier. Individual experiences need to have enough repetitions before we can say that we live in Singapore where racial inequality exists. Statistical studies need to be done by socioeconomic organisations so human resource is effectively utilised. Imagine a non-chinese speaking person working in a business environment where majority clients speak chinese. You cant play your supporting role as effectively if at all.