Friday, August 12, 2005

*On National Education Part Duex*

Six years ago, I sat down in a Lecture Room at ACS(I) to do a National Education survey. Six years later, today, I sat down in a Lecture Room in NUS to do an IDENTICAL National Education survey.

The questions and the formatting was still the same and the only thing that has changed was me. To wit, the last six years of experience which had me 'witness' and 'experience' the Asian Economic Crisis, The Chinese Indonesian Crisis, six racial harmony days, a War on Terror, the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, an end to Saddam Hussein, the French in ardent defence of their version of Secular Humanism, the London Bombings and the European Response.

So while I think on balance, my answers ought to have been consistent with the viewpoints I held a scant six years ago, nevertheless the thing that struck me was the number of Don't Knows that I shaded. For I had found myself spending too much time analysing what the meaning of harmony meant and what connoctations respect had. In the end, when I couldn't figure out the exact shade of nuance I was looking for and having no ability to explain what might seem to be racist views, I took the easier way out by shading option 5 - Don't Know.

For harmony can be achieve in many fashions e.g. by pretending the problem does not exist and getting everyone (or the majority of the populace) to believe in that illusion, thereby making it the social reality. Or by clamping down severely on all forms of speech such that no conceivably speech involving race can come to the fore. And without fire, oil can never combust, hence 'harmony'. Or by allowing criticisms, sometimes even hateful ones BUT by inculcating the values of tolerance and liberalism in others and strongly rebutting such speech, harmony can also be attained.

Similarly, respect is a very loaded word and I cannot accertain what the drafter's intention was to be. As my friend succintly put it, I may tolerate your view but it does not necessarily mean I respect it. In fact I might adamently disrespect your view but I will still grit my teeth and bear it, this sums up my feelings against fundamentalists and such groups and opinions as they might advocate.

But while we're still on the issue of race, allow this poor author to share a little real life annecdote from his life. He takes a class called Comparative Legal Tradition and a questions that was put forth by the lecturer today was this, "Why does the author (of the book we had been allocated to read) think that race is a bad form of categorisation?" Quoting from the book, I replied that it was because of the intermixing of races which made it a bad form of categorisation. This led to an interesting discussion of the nature of race in Singapore and the ackwardness that this sometimes generated, for example in the entire learning of mother tongue bit or the sometimes really odd classifications that result.

It was then that I decided to make a comment since I felt very strongly on this topic. I said that I felt the government erronously equated ancestary with race, that just because I was born of 'chinese' parents, therefore I was 'chinese'. And the lecturer to my delight talked about the paranakan (Straits Born Chinese) to which I belonged particularly on my father's side. And as we know, we called ourselves the Queen's Chinese, were terribly anglophile in outlook and had more in connection with the malays (our native tongue was a mixture of english, malay and dialect) than with the Chinese per se.

Unfortunately, it seemed that I was not as clear as I had hoped myself to be for a fellow colleague made an entirely valid question when he queried that in the absence of ancestory, what the heck was 'race' then. The following was my clarification, that it really ought to be about ethnicity and the culture that one was brought up in rather than to whom one was born to. The example I gave is the one currently on TV called Full Circle which is about a pair of twins separated at birth and brought up in different cultures. I personally felt this made them 'chinese' and 'malay' to use crude racial terms. Because at the end of the day, the time by which we could use race as a convenient shorthand for culture is long gone and we really ought to relook this aspect.

So the next time someone asks you for your race, just tell them "Human".



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