Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Racial harmony: The fear of your own shadows

What exactly is racism? A quick check with wikipedia yields these various definitions by different dictionaries

"According to the Oxford English Dictionary, racism is a belief or ideology that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially to distinguish it as being either superior or inferior to another race or races. The Merriam-Webster's Webster's Dictionary defines racism as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race, and that it is also the prejudice based on such a belief. The Macquarie Dictionary defines racism thus: the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others."

Common among these definitions is that racism involves some form of belief or ideology that one races is superior over another. It is one thing to make hasty generalisations on different races of people out of ignorance and another to practice racism. For example, if one were to state the following: "All chinese love to gamble", that would not be considered racism. That's just a hasty generalisation, unless you can show that the love to gamble makes someone inferior. Racism would be something like refusing to hire a chinese cashier for fear that he/she would steal money from the cash box because "all chinese love money" for it implies that the chinese are inferior in terms of honesty.

On the blogosphere, I found a couple of examples of what people construe as racism. For example, this blogger thought that an Irish woman who voiced out her fears that immigrants were abusing the migration policy of her country was considered racism. I wonder how such a simple fear translates to a belief or ideology that her race is superior over another.

Another example would be this blogger who thought that a joke, on how the different races in Singapore choose a spouse, made by his teacher in secondary school was racist. This was the joke, taken from his blog

“Well boys, listen carefully. A Chinese lady, will not care if her man is handsome or does not have a good character. As long as he has money.An Indian lady, will not care if her man is handsome or has no money. As long as he has good character.A Malay lady, will not care if her man has no money or character. As long as he is handsome.”

At most, this joke was only about stereotyping. Hardly racist in my opinion, unless of course you consider that the love for money, the love for good character and the love for good looks fulfills the criteria of racism as mentioned above.

It seems to me that Singaporeans are a tad too sensitive when it comes to anything that has got to do with race. So much so that whenever one mentions anything related to race, he risks being seen as a racist. For example, I would be surprised if most people did not find this joke offensive

Question: How do you blindfold a chinese?

Answer: With dental floss!

Have we become so sensitive to the point that even a harmless joke on the ocular size of the chinese is considered offensive? Offensive enough to generate anger and hatred?

This begs the question: Why are we so sensitive when it comes to matters with regards to race?

I have my suspicions that the government's attitude to racial matters plays no small part in this anomalous sensitivity. The constant fear mongering that we should not take racial harmony for granted serves only to heighten our fears of racial problems, very much in the same way how an allergen sensitises the immune system of a person so that the next time that person comes into contact with that allergen, he might suffer a huge allergic reaction. This is akin to the story of how a man who wanted to hide his 300 tales of gold. He dug a hole and buried his gold, then put up a sign that says "No 300 tales of gold buried here". Needless to say, his gold was stolen.

Perhaps it's time to remove the requirement to have "race" printed on our identify card. If the government wants to reduce divisiveness in our society it seems to me that this is a very obvious step to take. After all, what exactly is a race? I bet different breed of dogs have more genetic differences than any 2 human races. All race is, is really the different amounts of pigmentation produced by certain cells in our skin. A classification based on skin colour is only as logical as to classify people based on the amount of body hair they have or their differences in height. Perhaps a course in biology would very much dispel these misconceptions people have with regards to race. After all, the root of racism is ignorance.

PAP's idea of achieving racial harmony is really more like casting shadows to scare yourself.

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