Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Racial Harmony & My Colourless Cave

Note: First featured on Facebook and The Singapore Daily.

There's been an article circulating the web called You Can't Arrest The Racist Out of Someone.

It's well-written and the writer makes several good points. But reading articles like this, and the sentiment has been expressed quite a bit, makes me sad. Because where I went to school, where I live and where I work, racial harmony was never an issue.

In secondary school, my tight group of friends in Katong Convent were a mixture of all sorts of different races. We had Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Others (me) and hell, we even had Nepalese. No one made an effort to subscribe to the idea of Racial Harmony that has been continuously drilled into the minds of young ones. We were just friends who happened to be of different races, occasionally separated during Mother Tongue classes and sometimes curious about each others' cultures. But being teenage girls, we of course had better things to talk about than culture and race. Racial Harmony Day as I remember it was just a day we got to dress up. There was no need for further integration because we were already as integrated as you get.

There were groups of girls who stuck to their own ethnic clique, and there were incidents of racism here and there as there will be in any place. But these were few and far between.

Later on in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, my final year group of closest friends were made up of an equally diverse mix of races and religions. We declared ourselves Presidents of the World! because we believed, and I still believe this to be true, the world would be better off with us in charge, given that in our group we had Indian, Chinese, Malay and more, we had Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahai' and then some. And none of it was ever an issue; most of the time, we didn't even notice.

Even within my extended family, we've pretty much got everything covered.

Perhaps because of all this, the idea of racial "tolerance" is disheartening. To tolerate could mean to recognise and respect. It could also means to endure, or to put up with. Tolerance, to me, suggests that you're putting up with something you'd rather not have to deal with, but suck it up and smile for a greater good.

The idea of "striving for racial harmony" also confuses me. Sure, there are people whose groups of friends are made up of just one ethnic group. But when I look at my various groups of friends I've accumulated over the years, to my extended family, to the people I work with, to the people I encounter in my other activities like Muay Thai and Roller Derby, there's a great mix of every race, religion and nationality in every group.

The highest amount of racial segregation I might have to deal with for the most part would be a Singaporean Chinese acquaintance who might feel the need to explain a Singlish term to me because I'm "the ang moh kind" and therefore wouldn't understand. It's annoying, for sure, but nothing that will keep me up at night. And this doesn't happen often, either.

So now I'm left wondering, did I just luck out with my groups of friends, is it just because of the schools I went to, the industry I'm in, the activities I choose? Or have I been living in a multiracial/religious cave that's hidden from most of the island, a place where most have missed?

Because as far as I can see, every group of people I come into contact with or interact with in any way have no need to strive for racial harmony; it just happens without us noticing.

If it is a naive cave I'm living in, it's a great place to be, so bring your friends. Everyone's welcome. In this dark, hidden, magical cave, you can't see any colours.