Dear friends, click below to watch my ten-minute talk on identity and multiculturalism in Asia at The Economist’s Open Future Festival in Hong Kong on October 5th. I cite the different approaches to ethnic/cultural identity that we find in China, India and Singapore, and give my reasons why we all need to think a bit harder about our identity choices, given current larger forces at … Continue reading The Economist’s Open Future Festival: Video of my talk on identity
This is part 3 of 4. To read part 2, click here.
It saddens me that racism and xenophobia have been on the rise over the past few years.
But we need some perspective. Xenophobia is on the rise across the world. Consider the UK. From 2001 to 2010, the UK’s net annual migration rate averaged 0.3% of the population.
What happened there? Nationalism, xenophobia, the rise of Nigel Farage. Right now, there is a refugee crisis in Europe, and the UK is the most obstinate of all.
How about Singapore? Well, from 2001 to 2010, our migration rate was more than six times the UK’s.1 Six times!
This is not an apology for racism and xenophobia. We must always fight it. But we need to understand why these feelings emerge.
“Do you think that the hatred Singaporeans feel towards foreigners is because of an identity crisis, as you suggested, or because the government has failed to provide sufficient basic services, like housing and transportation?” a young Filipino journalist asked at last week’s book launch (see here).
The crowd released a collective gasp when they heard the word “hatred”. I was shocked. I mentioned in my reply that it was too strong a word to use. Regardless, the fact that she said it bothers me, and has prompted me to share some thoughts.
These are casual observations and musings that build on the one serious analytical piece I’ve written on race, Chapter 8: Colour Matters, in Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore.
As such, please treat each of my main statements below as postulations, to which I invite discussion and debate. Any thoughts and responses are much appreciated.
Note: Though racism and xenophobia are somewhat distinct, they often get conflated in contemporary Singaporean discourse. I will therefore sometimes discuss them collectively.
1) In Singapore, the moderate voices far outweigh the racists and xenophobes
In the immediate wake of the Little India Riots, there were some anti-South Asian racist and xenophobe rants. However, there was an instant backlash from voices of moderation. Same thing with the furore over the mooted celebration of the Philippines Independence Day in June this year. In both instances, I was heartened by Singapore society’s collective rejection of racist and xenophobic strands.