How structural racism penalises minorities: is your HDB flat worth less?

Over the past week Singaporeans have been debating the definition of racism. Many within the establishment appear eager to define it narrowly: only crude, interpersonal racism qualifies. 

So, if somebody professes the inherent superiority of one race over another, or uses a racial slur—“Kiling Kia”, “Cina Babi”, etc.—that’s racist. Anything less obvious, so it goes, does not deserve the racist label.

The desire not to call something racist has sparked a cottage industry of euphemisms: “racial preferences”, “cultural insensitivity”, “racially problematic” and so on. Racism is Singapore’s Voldemort.

In particular, there is an unwillingness among conservatives to address structural and institutional racism in Singapore. Part of the reason is that their negative effects have not been adequately studied. 

Another is anti-Western bias. Structural and institutional racism are often examined in the West using Critical Race Theory (CRT), a relatively new and still evolving field. CRT has, both in the West and in Asia, been lampooned as leftism—or “woke-ism”—gone mad. 

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Don’t date other races: the ghost of Lee Kuan Yew appears

Lee Kuan Yew once said that he would rise from his grave if he ever felt that “something is going wrong”. 

Few Singaporeans would have expected to see him reincarnated as Tan Boon Lee, a senior lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Engineering.

On June 6th, Tan is seen on a Facebook video publicly admonishing Dave Parkash, who is of mixed Indian-Filipino ancestry, for dating a Thai-Chinese girl (behind the camera).

“I have nothing against Indians, but I think it is racist for an Indian to marry a Chinese girl,” said Tan, in a statement so puzzling and prejudiced yet also so familiar to minorities in Singapore, in its inversion of racism. You are the racist, not me.

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Is the doctors’ letter fair opinion? Or a dangerous view that should be kept out of the public square?

(Disclosure: both my parents are medical specialists; my wife has a graduate diploma in family medicine though she no longer practices.)

Over the past week an interesting informational contest has emerged in Singapore over the publication of an open letter by twelve doctors to parents in which they cast doubt on the value of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine—and broadly any vaccine that relies on messenger RNA technology—to children.

Their letter has been meet with ridicule by the establishment, including calls by Calvin Cheng, a former nominated member of parliament and conservative commentator, for their medical licenses to be revoked (as part of his broader critique of the knowledge and expertise of family physicians).

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Should the opposition be speaking out more against racism in Singapore?

This is what K Shanmugam, Singapore’s home affairs and law minister, called for this week in response to some quite awful anti-Indian incidents around town.

Yes, I agree with him. The opposition should. We all should. It is a daily battle.

However, we should also recognise the efforts made by the opposition over the years to distance themselves from racist and xenophobic strands. Here are two examples.

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The elites have run The Straits Times into the ground. What’s next?

Today we heard the news that Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is spinning off its media unit, including The Straits Times and many other publications, into a non-profit entity. This follows years of consistently poor performance amid digital disruption and other changes to the media industry.

Wiser minds will engage in more thorough post-mortems—has anybody seen Ho Ching’s feed today?—but I wanted to spark a small conversation on the culture of elite governance in Singapore. 

“If not for the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), the loss would have been a deeper S$39.5 million,” Lee Boon Yang, SPH’s chairman, said in reference to the media business’s first-ever lost of S$11.4m, for the financial year which ended Aug 31 2020. 

(Which includes management salaries. In case you missed it, since the JSS began in February 2020, the Singaporean taxpayer has helped pay even more for the upkeep of numerous millionaire elites.)

All this got me thinking. Why exactly is Lee Boon Yang the chairman of SPH?

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Why is there a paucity of political leadership in SG?

Over the past few days many in Singapore and overseas have expressed surprise at the seeming paucity of political leadership talent in the ruling People’s Action Party.

I actually think this has been a long time coming, and in many ways is just reflective of our city-state’s economic and democratic maturation, about which there is plenty to cheer.

I explain why in a commentary, “Concerns about ‘seeming paucity’ of PAP leadership talent”, published in The Home Ground Asia, a new Singapore-based media outfit.

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a live video interview this Sunday afternoon

Join me on Sunday March 28th, 1.25pm Singapore time. Click here to view. Dear friends, please join Kenny Leck and me for a Facebook live video conversation this Sunday, as part of the #SGLitFTW event organised by BooksActually, an independent book store in Singapore run by Kenny. It’s been about a year since the pandemic changed our lives here, and the main topic of convo … Continue reading a live video interview this Sunday afternoon

Pasir Ris Passion

Every day I see Pulau Ubin.

I don’t mean from within, but from without, two-and-a-half kilometres away, from the public balcony of our condo in Pasir Ris, which offers a grand view of Ubin in all its greeny, islandy, stuck-in-the-nineteen-fifties glory.

Between the Pasir Ris beach on the mainland and Pulau Ubin is a narrow bit of the Johor Strait, which separates Singapore from Malaysia. If I look to the right, eastwards, I can see it opening into the South China Sea. If I look to the left, I see it leading to Pasir Gudang, Johor, an industrialised port and petrochemicals hub, from where palm oil and other biofuels are shipped around the world, and whose containers and cranes and chimneys with nighttime flares offer a stark, Mordor-like contrast to the serenity around.

From the Pasir Ris beach, in other words, with a little turn of the head one is presented with two visions of planet earth. Pulau Ubin is the pre-industrial, bucolic paradise that our hearts pine for; Pasir Gudang the post-industrial ugliness that our lifestyles demand. The world that we miss, and the world that is.

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: Lawrence and Pritam

This is the last of five in a series on Singapore’s prospective next prime minister. If you have enjoyed this series, please consider making a donation here to support my future work.

The pandemic has been tragic. Yet the assorted losses and disruptions to ordinary life have also prodded many Singaporeans to think about better ways of doing things, of living the good life. 

Some are enjoying more time with old friends and family; others have opened their hearts (and wallets) to migrant workers they hitherto ignored.

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: Shan, the phenom

This is the fourth of five in a series on Singapore’s prospective next prime minister. See here for the third, on Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, 61, minister for law & minister for home affairs

It may seem odd to include Shanmugam, never touted as a potential leader of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in this series. Yet he is clearly a, if not the, power behind the throne. And observers do wonder if he harbours even greater ambitions.

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