(Commentary) SDP Member Damanhuri Abas Talks About Race

Now seems the best time to talk about race in light of recent events. First and foremost, I see blessings in our racial diversity. Mother earth intends us to be as diverse as she is. What we are as Chinese, Indian, Malay, Eurasian or others are inherited at birth and acquired in life through our own culture and tradition as well as the influence of wider society. Each community will celebrate its unique identity. Collectively, we are the real richness that makes up the true soul of our country. As a nation we are half a century old and undergo the normal formative stages in our identity shaping process. We should have passed the storming phase and be on our way into the norming phase.

That storming phase is marked by a very top down highly politicised identity project for our nation. It has served its intended purpose in shaping a common narrative as a starting base. And yes, we do have that part of our history that ‘artificially’ placed us here courtesy of the Brits. We had to start somewhere and so it was politically set to be the British venture into this historically well-known economically strategic island. In that very British narrative, we all came from other lands, so be it that the indigenous people too originated from somewhere else, albeit just across the straits.

So now as we move into the norming phase, we must strengthen that narrative into a more lucid unifying storyline bringing together the rich cultural tapestry of our diverse communities. One that is more historically sensitive and less politically serving. Progressive and building on lessons of history and not stagnating on past memories. A different set of people are needed to do so. It calls for less of the authoritative rational minds but more of the imaginative and creative hearts. Less engineering and more persuading. The artist in preference to the legalist. A truly ground up people’s project to draw from our own and collective past. A transparent exercise of heart, soul and mind to have an honest look into our history, all the bits of it.

The dire uninspiring almost constant fear-mongering headlines of the day continues to dictate our society’s agenda. The intellectual landscape dedicated to rediscover who we are as a people is artificially absent. Instead, the focus is very much on reactionary think tanks serving externally driven agendas. Issues that divide are in focus, many others that unites are sadly sidelined. We must be ahead of this reactionary curve, that must be the mark that distinguishes us, a testimony of what education of our people surely should have brought us to, today.

This is even more vital now, as we address the deeper issue of race and not from a myopic political view that has dictated our nation’s storming phase. We need to abandon the colonial mindset that looks at race as divisive and unhelpful, to be controlled, managed and politically exploited. Instead we must look at race through the lens of real living communities and their cherished heritage; recognized, celebrated and accorded equal importance by all. Surely the rich multi-racial Singapore story must be more than about a single person or a family. We can do it Singapore. After 52 years of nation building, we really do have the wealth of minds and the talents of hearts in abundance, waiting to be harnessed towards this beautiful noble national unifying people’s awakening project. So let us begin this worthy dignified conversation on race.


Source: Damanhuri Abas

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