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The Multiracialism Model In Singapore

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Benjamin’s article is written on the basis that Singapore functions on solely multi-racialism. He then looks into how multiracialism intertwined with Singapore and concludes that there should be a balance when adopting the multiracialism model. As Benjamin states, race is a significant section in the identity card and “every permanent resident must by law have the ‘race’ to which the owner declares to share affinity with.” And till date, it is compulsory that we have to fill the section “Race” in particular forms. Race holds an important place in our identity.

In addition, language is tied to race. As Benjamin notes that the definition of ‘mother tongue’ is not as it is, but mother tongue is a “language that belongs criterially to the ‘race’ one declares memberships of, regardless of whether one speaks it.” This is most relevant to Singapore to date. ‘Bilingualism’ refers to acquiring any two languages generally. However, Singapore has a narrow definiton where it specifically refers to English and one’s mother tongue, in accordance to one’s race. The freedom to choose the language is not given. With the multiracial system in place, Benjamin mentions that to display the distinctiveness of each culture, differences have to be highlighted, similarities have to be toned down. Demonstrative forms have to showcase “their separate-but-equal status”.

For instance, there are conscious efforts to make sure there is at least one representative from each race represented and appear in GRCs banners for festivals such as Chinese New Year, and Christmas, that will show “equal” status. Benjamin also explains “Projected fantasies can be presented on stage and recorded in books.” In schools, children are taught the differences such as dance, food and costume through citizenship education and racial harmony day. This is even so in National Day Parades, where cultural differences are always performed and highlighted, instead of portraying a uniquely Singapore, where commonalities are shared are regardless of race and culture. These projected fantasies are at a superficial level and does not truly reflect the everyday lives of Singaporeans. The difference in our culture are highlighted frequently on a surface value.

In contradiction with what Benjamin has defined culture to be, it need not be distinctive, but it seems that Singapore will continue to project these fantasies of different races and culture. When we adopt multiracialism as part of Singapore’s culture, Benjamin states it “puts Chinese people under pressure to become more Chinese” and so forth. This suggests that Singaporeans are compelled to act out in accordance to what is expected of their race. For instance, a Chinese must be able to speak Chinese, otherwise, they would be condemned and labelled as “potato”, term used when referring to Chinese who are unable to speak or know Chinese well, causing one to feel a sense of shame. Malays who do not wear “tudung” are not “Malay” enough. Each individual is subjected to some form of monitoring by others to sustain their “Chinese-ness” “Malay-ness” and others. Individuals who do not adhere closely to how each respective race should behave, may face disapproval from the social group, leaving them in disgrace.

Again, the freedom to choose as an individual is jeopardized because of the emphasis of “multiracialism”. In conclusion, the multiracialism model has contributed to Singapore’s racial harmony, but Benjamin explains, mere exposure to the multiracial model without emotional attachment may result in the opposite effect. However, if we were to stick to the multiracial model too tightly, it confines us in our silos, limits us. Multiracialism must be handled carefully as it has the power to bind us as one, or divide us.

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