Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Race and ethnicity in Singapore - the confusion continues

The confusion between race and ethnicity continues today in the Straits Times, through 2 opinion pieces today. One is written by Shankar Vedantam, who is a Washington Post reporter, and the other by Andy Ho, Senior Writer at the Straits Times.

I don't have any difficulties with Mr Vedantam's views, as he was merely dealing with the reality of 'colorism' in life. Yes, flawed though we may be, we often do look at the colour of one's skin, and often it makes a difference. Accepting that reality helps us to deal with it, and perhaps reduce the discriminatory consequences.

Mr Ho's views (reproduced in the Malaysian Insider) however is somewhat offensive, for he appears to be advocating racial classifications according to skin colour and other physical attributes. Now I can understand if a politician makes the mistake of confusing race and ethnicity. Just put that down to being misinformed or ill-advised. But for a science correspondent to advocate classifying people into races according to skin colour, is actually quite offensive.

I wish to ask Mr Ho..... just how do you think we can divide people by skin colour? What tonality or hue can we use? What shade of brown, or darkness would be appropriate? How does one make a distinction between a dark Malay and a light Indian? Or a dark Chinese and a light Malay?

Quite clearly classification by race is nonsense. There is no biological or genetic basis to classify people into races. And certainly no anatomical bases for this. Not only that, the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) categories that we use are not racial classifications. They are ethnic classifications based on personal identification with various communal groups.

For once and for all, let's stop this idiocy which advocates racial classifications, and restrict ourselves to dealing with ethnicity classifications.


sushikin said...

i so love mr ho's last paragraph. *applaudes* ah yes, we have laws against racism. and those laws are sooooo effective.

Seelan Palay said...

The late JBJ wrote that he's always unpleasantly surprised by the number of times administrative forms in Singapore ask for 'race'.

He said that he always filled in the column with "Human".

gigamole said...

Perhaps my imagination....or just wishful thinking... but recent ST coverage of this issue, and official word seem to avoid references to racial classification, in favour of ethnic labels.