The Singapore government requires that a child's race be registered at birth. Not to worry, the race is 'changeable' until the first national identity card (NRIC) is issued!
It's true, one can go from being Malay to a Chinese overnight; just like I went from being a Pakistani to a Singaporean overnight.
Is a legalistic and explicit definition of race a positive or negative contributor to social integration?
To what extent does a legalistic notion of race define an individual? It can be a great tool for organizing society.
But so is orthodox Hinduism's caste system, another way of 'boxing' people into categories. A sweeper is always a sweeper and a warrior always a warrior. Everyone knows their place and function in society. Society functions smoothly.
The dangers associated with stereotyping are real. The Chinese can't speak English well, hence the large number of Indian lawyers. The Malays are not economically ambitious. And so on.
These same stereotypes play a part in individual self-perceptions, negative and positive. A Malay child may grow up thinking a career in Singapore's armed forces is not a wise choice as advancement is limited for religious reasons.
Repeat a mantra often enough and people will believe it.
To be fair, 'racial profiling' helps Singapore's housing policy. Racial quotas are implemented by the authorities in assigning public housing. The quotas ensure that there is an adequate racial mix in public housing estates. In turn, mixed housing estates encourage, nay force, integration.
Racial enclaves are avoided.
In 2008, mixed marriages between persons of different races were almost 17% of all registered marriages. Put another way, almost one in five marriages last year was a 'mixed' marriage.
In 1990, the same number was approximately 8%. The doubling corroborates a slow but steady breakdown of thinking in terms of race.
To date, Singapore has adopted a conscious top down strategy in addressing racial sensitivities. As a result, people are super aware of racial (and religious) sensitivities.
However, as Singapore becomes a more cohesive nation with its own national identity an easing of the policy is in order. For starters, race should not be mentioned on one's NRIC. I fail to understand how printing the information on an NRIC helps to achieve any public policy goals.
Race on a national identity document is a relic of yesteryear.
A diversified gene pool is a healthy gene pool
Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority records have almost 100 distinct race categories registered in Singapore. I did not know so many races exist – perhaps some of them are fakes?
On the flip side, at least we can look forward to a becoming a nation of decent mutts!