Throughout the month of August the children beamed down on us from their perch on lamp-posts. “Happy 49th Birthday, Singapore!” the banner said against a backdrop of red and white. A sweet message from the children. The happy, friendly, politically-correct-and-racially-representative children.
Hey, this is Singapore, and we all live in racial harmony, right?
If only it were that simple. Racial harmony – a true harmony that goes deeper than just the lack of fights and riots – is more than billboards and posters of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) children. It is more than swapping national costumes one day of every year. It is more than a Chinese Singaporean eating roti prata and knowing how to sing Chan Mali Chan. And it is way, way beyond holding the same red passport.
Yet we’re taught that it is that simple. “Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-religious country,” I remember reading in my primary school Social Studies textbooks. “We live in racial harmony.” Cue photos of a Christian church (Eurasian), Buddhist temple (Chinese), Hindu temple (Indian) and mosque (Malay).
Through such a simplistic narrative we have spent years weaving a lie for ourselves. A lie that fills us with a mixed sense of relief, pride and accomplishment every time we see a news story about sectarian violence or racial riots happening somewhere in the world. “Thank goodness Singapore doesn’t have that problem!” we say.
We may not have that problem – the problem that keeps parents awake at night worrying about the safety of their children simply because of the colour of their skin – but we’ve definitely got problems. Problems that desperately need to be discussed, if only we’d stop and open our eyes to them.