Singapore has often boasted about its multiracial society, trumpeting nation-wide efforts to integrate and live side-by-side. Citizens are warned time and again of the importance of maintaing harmony, although whether racism has truly been eradicated in Singapore remains to be seen. A recent youth forum organised by the Workers’ Party has taken it one step further, calling for an end to the government’s race-based policies.
The YouthQuake forum, which had litigation lawyer Terence Tan and civil activist Nizam Ismail on its panel, brought up policies such as the ethnic quota in public housing, the listing of race on identity cards and the Group Representative Constituency (GRC) system in elections.
Nizam pointed out that the government’s traditional ‘CMIO’ model – representing Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others – was fast breaking down and becoming meaningless in the face of increasing globalisation, migration and intermarriage.
“If we see 6.9 million people by 2030 or more, it will be a very different Singapore,” Yahoo!SG reported him as saying. “There will be a very cosmopolitan society, there’ll be people from all over the world, and your CMIO model, which is already so problematic at this stage, will become utterly meaningless in 2030, because there’s no way you can put people in CMIO. So what happens to the rest of your race-based government policies that you have? It makes it even more meaningless.”
With the breakdown of the CMIO model, Singapore’s ethnic quota for public housing is on its way towards irrelevance. As the number of interracial families increases, things become more and more arbitrary and pointless. As Nizam highlighted: ““If you call yourself Chinese-Indian, you are treated as Chinese for the purposes of the EIP, but if you call yourself Indian-Chinese, then you are treated as an Indian.”
Beyond these policies, both panellists also found ethnic community self-help groups problematic, worrying that they re-enforced a “cultural deficiency fallacy”, which suggests that particular ethnic groups are inherently weaker and in need of more help than others.
“Could we have a slightly more homogenous construct where potentially any Singaporean is deserving of financial or educational assistance?” Tan asked.
These suggestions are a long time coming. Like numerous countries around the world, Singapore’s population is quickly moving beyond old-fashioned racial classifications. With more mobility and interaction, such labels are losing their relevance. The government would do well to respond to these changes.