Is Singapore truly multicultural?
The passing of cultural theorist Stuart Hall on Monday may not have garnered as much media attention as that of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it is an event that should prod Singaporeans to take stock.
Hall has been hailed as the “godfather of multiculturalism”, and Singapore has often prided itself on being a good example of multiculturalism at work. Would Hall have agreed?
If Singapore epitomises multiculturalism, it is one with limited inclusivity. Our multiculturalism is premised on respecting differences that conform to neat categories of race and religion.
Yet human “cultures” are much more complex. First, not everyone professes race or religion as his or her primary identity marker. Second, members of a certain racial or religious group will have varied wants and behaviours, making it hard for anyone to speak on behalf of a community.
Given these, Singapore’s multiculturalism should not be seen as a national strength. In fact, it is a trait unbecoming of a self-professed global city. If we wish to stay sustainable, then we need to rethink our monolithic multiculturalism.
To be clear, multiculturalism here does not refer to an airy-fairy concept to be debated by academics, or a government buzzword to shape policies. Rather, I am talking about multiculturalism as it is lived out as an everyday reality in Singapore.
Consider the recent row over the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) online brochure on sexuality.
The brochure, which recognises multiple sexual orientations, has come under fire because some believe it “dangerously promotes homosexuality”. Indeed, Singapore’s lived multiculturalism denotes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks cannot be considered a viable minority in the same manner as Malay-Muslims, a category that checks both the race and religion boxes.
This is not to say that our version of multiculturalism is the sole cause of the HPB row. There are other motivations behind it, probably the most cited being that the teachings of Christianity and Islam forbid it. But even here, Singapore’s lived multiculturalism falls short.
According to a recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey, more than three-quarters of Singaporeans are iffy about sexual relations between adults of the same sex and gay marriages.