International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

21 March was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme for this year’s event is: “Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today.”

It is most apt, in light of our ongoing discourse about race. Most of us have heard of the race riots which occurred in the 1960s, and now used as cautionary tales against racial prejudice and chauvinism.

More recently, after an incident during Thaipusam, Indians and non-Indians signed a petition calling for the urumi mellam to be allowed during Thaipusam processions. A 2nd petition calling for Thaipusam to be gazetted as a public holiday gained traction, highlighting dormant ethnic grievances that have yet to be resolved.

Another aspect of our social history is the reductive Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) racial classification policy.

In our modern era, categories like “Chinese,” “Malay,” Indian” and “Others” might not serve us as well as a multicultural model of nation-building. CMIO racialism is as much a concern as racism, since the former can very well inform the latter during crises.

The influx of foreigners has stirred xenophobic sentiments in different quarters of our society. Workers from China and India for instance, are seen to be different from local Chinese and Indians. While this is understandable, and even a testament to a common Singaporean identity, there is the danger of race and class overlapping to segregate Singapore into different ethnic enclaves.

While we might not be able to instill multiculturalism overnight, we can take steps to ensure that racial and ethnic discrimination is never tolerated on any grounds.

We urge our government, in partnership with our citizens, to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) — towards an inclusive and multi-ethnic Singapore.

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