Race and Religion

Cherian George. “How to talk about race in Singapore: a conversation with Mohd Imran Taib,” Academia.sg, June 14, 2020.

  • The scale and intensity of the Black Lives Matter unrest in the United States has caused ripples throughout the world. In Singapore, it marks another occasion to reflect on the republic’s own progress in racial equality. Discussing race in Singapore, though, is fraught with assorted risks. One of the country’s most experienced and respected advocates of such conversations is Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, who not only writes on these issues but also facilitates workshops to encourage dialogue and understanding among different communities. Academia.SG editor Cherian George interviewed him about how to talk about the perennial issue of race in modern Singapore.

Chua Beng Huat. “Multiculturalism in Singapore: An Instrument of Social Control,” Race & Class, vol. 44, no. 3, 2003, pp. 58-77.

  • For reasons of colonial history, Singapore uses the term ‘multiracialism’ instead of ‘multiculturalism to signify its multicultural policies and administrative practices. My interest in this essay is to show how the Singapore government turned the concept into part of the arsenal of the government, while sidestepping and rationalising, within the local context, some in principle issues in multiculturalism.

Humairah Zainal and Walid Jumblatt Abdullah. “Chinese privilege in politics: a case study of Singapore’s ruling elites,” Asian Ethnicity, 2019.

  • This article contributes to a more nuanced understanding of privilege as a conceptual category through the case study of Chinese privilege in Singapore politics. It does so through two main ways. First, at the theoretical level, we emphasise the importance of foregrounding the salience of political hegemony in the analysis of privilege. Second, at the empirical level, we interrogate the concept in an Asian context, with specific reference to Singapore. We argue that the existing focus on class privilege within the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) should go hand-in-hand with the study of Chinese privilege since PAP hegemony has significant implications on how race is constructed, understood and implicated in Singapore politics and society. Furthermore, PAP’s race-based approach to politics inadvertently perpetuates Chinese privilege, as exemplified by contradictions in minority representation in parliament and the clash between Chinese privilege and the government’s system of meritocracy.

Hussin Mutalib. Singapore Malays: Being Ethnic Minority and Muslim in a Global City-State. Routledge, 2012.

  • The Malay population makes up Singapore’s three largest ethnic groups. This book presents holistic and extensive analysis of the ‘Malay Muslim story’ in Singapore. Comprehensively and convincingly argued, the author examines their challenging circumstances in the fields of politics, education, social mobility, economy, leadership, and freedom of religious expression. The book makes a significant contribution to the understanding of Muslims in Singapore, and the politics of a Malay-Muslim minority in a global city-state. It is of interest to researchers and students in the field of Singaporean studies, Southeast Asian Studies and Islam in Asia.

Michael Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš. Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project. NIAS Press, 2008.

Singapore has few natural resources but, in a relatively short history, its economic and social development and transformation are nothing short of remarkable. Today Singapore is by far the most successful exemplar of material development in Southeast Asia and it often finds itself the envy of developed countries. Furthermore over the last three or four decades the ruling party has presided over the formation of a thriving community of Singaporeans who love and are proud of their country. Nothing about these processes has been ‘natural’ in any sense of the word. Much of the country’s investment in nation-building has in fact gone into the selection, training and formation of a ruling and administrative elite that reflects and will perpetuate its vision of the nation. The government ownership of the nation-building project, its micromanagement of everyday life and the role played by the elite are three fundamental elements in this complex and continuing process of construction of a nation. The intense triangulation of these elements and the pace of change they produce make Singapore one of the most intriguing specimens of nation-building in the region. In this critical study of the politics of ethnicity and elitism in Singapore, Barr and Skrbiš look inside the supposedly ‘meritocratic’ system, from nursery school to university and beyond, that produces Singapore’s political and administrative elite. Focusing on two processes – elite formation and elite selection – they give primary attention to the role that ethno-racial ascription plays in these processes but also consider the input of personal connections, personal power, class and gender. The result is a study revealing much about how Singapore’s elite-led nation-building project has reached its current state whereby a Singaporean version of Chinese ethno-nationalism has overwhelmed the discourse on national and Singaporean identity.

Selvaraj Velayutham, “Races without Racism?: everyday race relations in Singapore”, Identities, vol. 24, no. 4, 2017, pp. 455-473.

  • In Singapore, race has a prominent place in the city state’s national policies. Its political ideology of multiracialism proclaims racial equality and protection for minority groups from racial discrimination. However, despite official rhetoric and policies aimed at managing and integrating the different ethnic groups, some scholars have argued that institutional racism does exist in Singapore. While it is public knowledge, with few exceptions, racist provocations and experiences of racism are not publicly discussed. In recent years, the advent of social media has made it possible for Singaporeans oftentimes unwittingly to express racially derogatory remarks. This has highlighted that racism is much more deep rooted. Yet, it still remains the white elephant in the room. This paper examines the sociopolitical context that has contributed to everyday racial discrimination and calls for a public acknowledgement of racism so as to combat racist practices.

Sylvia Ang, “I am More Chinese than You: Online Narratives of Locals and Migrants in Singapore,” Cultural Studies Review, vol. 23, no. 1, 2017, pp. 102-117.

  • Migrants from mainland China now make up nearly a million of Singapore’s total population of 5.4 million, an influx unprecedented since the nineteenth century. This has compelled both locals and migrants to (re)think their Chinese-ness. Simultaneously, the state produces its hegemonic version of Chinese-ness with Mandarin as an important signifier. This discourse has been increasingly challenged by residents with the advent of the internet as a platform for alternative views. This article suggests that by endorsing Singaporean state discourse that defines Chinese authenticity as Mandarin proficiency, Chinese migrants deride Chinese-Singaporeans as less Chinese, and therein less Singaporean. In defence, Chinese-Singaporeans appear to present a united front by deriding Chinese migrants’ deficiency in the English language. I argue that, to the contrary, Chinese-Singaporeans’ online narratives show fragmentation within the group.

Syed Hussein AlatasThe Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and Its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism. Routledge, 1977.

  • The Myth of the Lazy Native is Syed Hussein Alatas’ widely acknowledged critique of the colonial construction of Malay, Filipino and Javanese natives from the 16th to the 20th century. Drawing on the work of Karl Mannheim and the sociology of knowledge, Alatas analyses the origins and functions of such myths in the creation and reinforcement of colonial ideology and capitalism. The book constitutes in his own words: ‘an effort to correct a one-sided colonial view of the Asian native and his society’ and will be of interest to students and scholars of colonialism, post-colonialism, sociology and South East Asian Studies.

Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied. “British Discourses and Malay Identity in Colonial Singapore,” Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 37, no. 107, 2009, pp. 1-21.