Sunday, January 17, 2010

We should stop using racial definitions...

DPM Wong Kan Seng made some very pertinent remarks about racial harmony yesterday. While I fully agree with the points he raised, I wished that he would stop making references to race when I think he meant ethnicity. It is unfortunate because racial definitions imply we can differentiate communities based on biology and genetics. This is obviously false, so I must assume this is not what he meant.

So this is my plea to all who read this blog.....please stop referring to race when what you mean is ethnicity. Our references in Singapore to Chinese, Malay, Indians and Others (affectionately known as CMIO) are ethnicity definitions based on self perception, and not racial definitions.

Is this just semantics? I believe not.


Anonymous said...

Quite right! We may be ethnically Chinese, Malay or Indian, but we're Singaporeans first and foremost. You don't hear about Mauritians being called Indians or Chinese when in fact ethnically they are Indians and Chinese in origin.

gigamole said...

I think it is quite reasonable within our nation, to describe people as being of a particular ethnic group, e.g. Chinese, Malay, Indians, etc..... but when we present our selves globally it should be Singaporean Chinese, Singaporean Malay, Singapore Indian etc....

Identifying ourselves nationally as being of a particular 'race' implies, there is some universal biological/genetic identity. This is of course, false.

auntielucia said...

Afraid I think u r or Wiki is splitting hairs when defining the difference between race and ethnicity. Mayb a new definition cld be coined to combine both?

I certainly don't think religion cld define one's ethnicity (my family of several members practice different religions) but we are all bound by blood and genes and inherited idiosyncracies ;)

Americans may not be a race but Chinese not a race? Come on!

gigamole said...

'Fraid it is not a matter of splitting hairs, AuntieL. Words do have meanings, even if we are sometimes unaware and use them wrongly.

Race often has connotations of biology and genetics. There is really no universally agreed upon way to define races because there are no clear boundaries between any two groups you choose to define. The commonest understood terms are Caucasoid (Caucasian), Mongoloid, Capoid (African) etc, which is a system that was proposed by Coon. Some of these classifications have unfortunate connotations of superiority-inferiority.

Chinese-ness is definitely not a race, although many people use it (wrongly) in that context. The closest approximation would be a mongoloid race. But this would encompass pretty much all between Tibet and Melanesia/Polynesia.

Chinese-ness would be a ethnic descriptor. Biology and genetics still count but are only small part of the paradigm. Depending on how much splitting you want to engage in, you might want to define your ethnic group as Singapore-Christian-English educated-Chinese, for example, as compared to atheistic-PRC-pudonghua-speaking-Chinese. In Singapore CMIO seem to suffice.