ST getting muddled on race, culture, ethnicity and nationality


I’m married to a Finn. When my wife became a PR, she had to fill in a form that asked her what race she was. To her surprise, “Finn” was a race, apparently only recognised by the Singapore government. She gamely signed off on it, although “Finns” are not a race, and include the Nordic, Sami, Urgic, Aryan, and more. Her ethnicity, though, is indeed Finnish, whatever that counts for.

I’m mostly Chinese (part Straits Chinese), and often mistaken for a Malay when tanned, and Japanese when fair. Singaporean born and bred.

Our kids are NOT Eurasian, whatever some ST Forum hack might callously presume. They are something else, part Singaporean, part Finn, Chinese in some ways, Nordic in others, Peranakan sometimes, but mostly just whatever our family is coming to terms with about their identity as they grow up. Yes, the G and the world will brand them one way or another, for one purpose or another, but their identities are their own, whatever a few letters on a pink plastic card might say someday.

Even Wikipedia’s entry on what “Race” is shows our local system up for the gobbledegook that it is. Yes, I understand that in order to do such things as prevent HDB enclaves along ethnic/racial lines, one will need to bag and tag each individual, and assign an ill-fitting pigeonhole so that you can tell some people that “their” people have maxxed out the quota. Or so that the “self help” groups can help to cover people, but not all. It’s one less fault line to worry about, although religious, economic and educational ones still threaten our society.

ST isn’t helping us much, with their poor definitions of xenophobia, nationalism, race, ethnicity and nationality. If they want to really tackle the question, I suggest that they get their terms ironed out before trying to pose as experts on race, ethnicity and our national identity.



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  2. The govt has a one track mind about almost everything. Almost everything can and will be termed ‘political’ where it suits the govt.


  3. Its about time the word “race” be omitted from all forms. Even in our birth certificates and identity cards. Everyone is the same regardless of their ethnic background. If we are Singaporeans, we just need to declare we are Singaporean.

    Racism is predominant in Singapore. The fact is obvious as the government is still not addressing this obsolete and undesirable issue. In this day and age, inter-national marriage/union are very common.

    For example, why are we having state we are Chinese if we are Singaporean or we are Malay if we are Singaporean. Is it not politically correct Chinese is a person from China? And Malay is from Malaysia but also indigenous of Singapore? And Vietnamese is from Vietnam regardless of their ancestral background and the list goes on and on……..

    Apart from this and other issues, I am just wondering when the government will realize the country is on the pause button and begin to switch to the play/forward button, so that we can progress to a better nation.


  4. There is so much xenophobia in Singapore that people have no idea what is xenophobic and what is not… It is just “normal” here.


    1. Actually, much of what is happening is that when people get angry/dislike with another person, and that other person just happens to be a foreigner, they get branded as xenophobes. Real xenophobia is when the prime cause of the hatred is the very fact that they are foreigners. In most cases, the prime cause is overcrowding, rudeness, losing one’s job to another person, etc. It doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make it xenophobia.


  5. As long as a person is tagged by “Race” Singapore will never be a true nation. Singapore is a country with multiple nationalities. I know this will not come down smoothly to some so-called “true blue Singaporeans” but the Filipinos do not have a concept of race. Instead they accept that Filipinos are one nation of various origins and combinations. They may be brown, white, black, Chinese, Indian or anything in between. The important thing is they are one nation and this they say is one reason why they are the one of the most patriotic people in the world. however bad their economic situation has been for the last 30 years.


    1. That’s exactly what we haven’t been able to achieve in our years of independence. The means by which we “integrate” – by classifying each person as a specific “race”, then micromanaging race relations – has prevented us from being homogeneously Singaporean “regardless of race, language or religion”.


  6. I think race is closely tied to language. A person identifies most with the ‘race’ which speaks the language his parents have chosen for him as his ‘mother tongue’. Unfortunately ours is a polyglot society and this defines racial boundaries more than anything else. Unlike in the Phillipines or Indonesia or any other SEA country for that matter where there is a common national language which is used extensively by everyone no matter what their heritage, Singapore only has a working language(English) and official language(Malay). Clearly we are not English by a long shot. And Malay is just tied up with alot of childish historical baggage. Race exists first in the mind and though we may want to pretend its not significant, we cannot prevent people from seeing themselves of being a certain race.


    1. Yaz, thanks for writing. We can’t prevent people from seeing themselves as being a certain race, but yet there are those who can’t see themselves as a certain race.

      The real question is what we are trying to achieve with this whole race classification system. Are we hoping to become more “integrated”? Then we should allow some people, especially those of mixed ancestry, to not have a race, since they are in no/very little danger of being racially partisan.


  7. Damn right. Singaporean married to a Peruvian who just so happens to be of Japanese descent. You should see all those confused faces when I try to explain that . (And to add to your point, some even think ‘Peruvian’ is a language!) . Just as well I don’t have kids. Don’t fancy arguing with the guys at ICA over how to classify them !


    1. I really wonder what happens if we refuse to comply with race classification for our children. The thought flashed through my mind, but I didn’t have the strength to try to resist giving my kids a “race”. Overnight in hospital is very tiring, like a CPIB interrogation. 🙂

      “Race unknown”. Hmm, that’s an idea.


  8. There is only one instance (maybe 2 or more) when you have to classify and brand so many living beings so specifically. And that is a farm breeding livestock for sale or a scientific research lab doing very elaborate experiments… Ha.


    1. Ooh, conspiracy theory. LOL

      But it is true that it does feel to so many of us that our nation treats us as statistics, not people. Certainly not “one people”.


  9. Agree! Married to a French Dutch Indonesian Chinese Arab Malay mix. (Guess which race her IC pins her down as?) I myself am of Sri Lankan Chinese (Peranakan) mix. I remember learning in Sec history that technically there are only 3 races IN THE WORLD. Cacasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid…


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