Welcome to our beloved sunny island, where regardless of language, race or religion, we manage to maintain our unity in diversity. We work really hard to keep this unity preserved and at times, the actions may seem out of hand and completely unjustified but – hey, nothing more important than our meritocracy, right? What better way to address the bugging problem of racial inequality than introducing Racial Reservations to the Elected Presidency?
Oh, Singapore. You tried. You really did.
If you haven’t heard the both soft and loud murmurs of Chinese privilege and xenophobia flitting around the social media fabric – or perhaps blatantly brought up during your own conversations! – then you must have been living on the wrong island. Or you might not own a Facebook account at all. Or, more likely, you are part of the overarching problem of privilege.
Race privilege refers to the societal benefits that an entire race enjoys, either due to historical hierarchy or due to race majority. When left unchecked, it has possibilities to escalate to become a pressing social issue that could have political, social and economic impact. You don’t have to look very far to see the long-term impact of what happens when privilege becomes enshrined into the establishment and is passed down. Simply look at the state of the United States and their political turmoil. It’s an obvious outcome when a presidential candidate representing the suppressed hopes of a previously privileged race is able to successfully incite the fears enough to entrench the divides between the different factions.
There are a few issues with this. The first is the blatant tokenism in the mere action of reserving something as national as Presidency for one particular race. Tokenism has never worked and it will not for several reasons. First, tokenism reeks of it. It’s obvious to anyone who looks through the issue enough that it’s a stop-gap measure and one meant to obviously placate the irate masses. Not to mention, tokenism of such huge scale only manages to placate one part of the population. It’s a short-term measure in the truest sense, largely because it only serves to fuel these problems in the long term. Those bristled by the fact that one entire segment of our population is receiving more attention that the rest would naturally speak up against the race. The outraged comments on Facebook would serve as enough evidence for me to justify my point.
The second issue is that we are a nation in blatant denial. At times the denial rises up to become efficient practice in sweeping our problems under the carpet. Apart from EP being the fastest way to eliminate the rising chatter around the topic, it also does nothing to address the root problem of the issue. It’s a tried-and-tested routine: race-based issue gains traction, escalates to become a hot topic, a short-term solution is implemented to get around the problem, problem becomes forgotten and illusion is preserved. But we also forget that beneath these rose-tinted glasses, the problem persists still.
I would be the last person to say that there is a dogged problem in the race relations in the country. However, I would also be the first to press that this is definitely not the way to solve the problem. In fact, it is a step backwards for the Malay community and our own perception of it. It perpetuates the image of an entire community needed to be given benefits to be allowed to lead. It hardly talks about reasons why an entire community has always been a step back and not been able to rise up the ranks. We still remain, blissfully by force, in denial.
This measure introduces an added benefit for the government as well, of course. It now has a convenient anecdote in their arsenal to whip out whenever someone next mentions the issue of racial imbalance. Easy to justify, isn’t it? How can you say we have been unfair when we’ve given special chances to you? Once again, problem is swept clean, never to be brought up.
The third, and lastly a theory that is complete and utter speculation, is that our usually rational government would not have announced such a drastic measure if they had thought through the entire process. And by that I mean that they would have already chosen a suitable candidate, vetted him/her of qualifications, experience and suitability before announcing that they were taking this measure. At the end of the day, this measure will simply be another move in the entire intricate chess game – and the only ones to suffer a loss will be the citizens.
We live in a time and age where our race and gender divide us more than ever. Our skin colour has become the basis on which we judge people and the illusion of meritocracy is marred by prejudice and stereotypes further pushed on, sometimes by our own ministers. It’s not an easy topic to discuss, I would be the first one to agree. Race is a maze filled with complications and potholes and it’s only understandable that sometimes, it’s much easier to not discuss the issue, to pretend that everything is fine and dandy. If we’re ready to address our own shortcomings and be ready to tackle them, only then we will be able to progress as a truly racially inclusive society. Until then, these stop-gap solutions will neither help any particular race progress nor allow these preconceived notions and stereotypes to change. If the government and its people are truly concerned about affecting lasting change, then it’s high time we talked about race.