A few months ago I wrote about my bewilderment on Brunei’s immigration asking about my race upon entering the country. That text has since become my most viewed blog posting, raising interest on the question of race, and on its relevance.
I discussed the question with an Indian friend, to whom “race” is a much clearer topic and present in her everyday life. She’s used to replying to it as she has that question posed to her in plenty of occasions. Living in Singapore however, it’s not perceived a discriminating question but a matter of fact. Same as asking for one’s gender or age.
My friend is right about Singapore attempting to positively be a mixed-race nation. All different, all equal, all mixed up. Singapore asks for the race of people moving in to the country, to ensure they have a nice balance and mixture of races within. They developed an Ethnic Integration Policy in 1989, “to promote racial integration and harmony in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates”
Yet, there’s a clear difference between race and ethnicity. One can only have one race, and is born to it. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is associated with culture and one can have multiple ethnic identities.
Singapore has achieved a population where people identify themselves as ethnic Singaporeans, with multiple races such as Malays, Indians and Chinese. At its best the achievement is appreciation and conservation of different cultural heritages, while being open and accepting of others.
Although asking for one’s race can be meant for good purposes, I’m still torn with it’s negative connotations. In an ideal world everyone would be color-blind what comes to races but the reality is that race just isn’t a neutral topic. When race matters, racism will arise.
I’m supportive of any attempts to preserve cultures and respect and appreciate different ethnic backgrounds for their historical, cultural and identity values. But I can not support categorizing people, and especially not where there might be the slightest connotation for different values for different people. We were not born equal in terms of opportunities and capacities, but all human beings were born with equal value as a human being. No matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.
I dream of a world where race doesn’t matter. If again asked of mine, I’ll thankfully borrow one from the commentator newmanTheHuman, and write down “Human”.