The Real Singapore Conversations

I posted this on Facebook the night of the incident. Re-posting this here for posterity.

Projects like Culture Kitchen — and a few more up my sleeve — began with the uneasy realisation that something was amiss in Singapore as I knew it. Was it that it was crowded? Bursting at the seams? Was it that amongst that crowd we now no longer knew each other’s names? That our old ways — of easy categorisation, institutionalized racial profiling swept under a veneer of “open, meritocratic Singapore where anybody and everybody can succeed” — no longer held true? That our old social contracts: shut up, take the money, no longer applied when the money ran out?

The truth was we were blind to our shortcomings. We are the nerd that made it to the top of the class and is somewhat cool now but won’t ever discuss the things we’re not good at, like, brooking dissent. Or criticism. Or opinion.

When the immigration floodgates were cast wide open for nearly a decade, we were told: “We got it.”

When our planners believed demography to be a function of race and ethnicity instead — when we believed for a second there that as long as we brought in the *correct* type of people, social cohesion would follow — we did not have a voice.

When our infrastructure creaked under the weight of all of the people we did not expect, we realised that train lines not only do not build themselves quite quickly enough: people also do not build ties with each other quite enough.

When popular and political opinion turned, the same people who told us they got this told us they still got this, and now chased the people who came to build a home away.

And we the people failed to reach out to each other to learn that despite what we felt about our government, that should not really matter: oppose the policy, not the people who came here.

The last time in our history there were overturned vehicles and fires was at the very start of our journey as a Republic.

Tonight the vehicles burn for different reasons: the episodes are incomparable.

Yet it will, mark my words, point to yet another turning point — the start of a real national soul-searching, this time as a Republic in a mid-life crisis.

Earlier today the ruling party attempted to search its soul. I personally believe it is struggling to define its continued leadership role in a Singapore that is evolving faster than it is.

When shit hit the fan and (anecdotally) my friends of minority races and nationalities faced open hostility in my country, both physical and verbal, we were told: “we got this.”

But tonight I urge all of you — Singaporeans, Singapore residents, foreign workers, anybody who cares about Singapore in any shape or form no matter where you live or what colour your passport and identity card is — to help us rise above racism and blame and xenophobia because as we have seen tonight, the first riot in decades is taking hours to wind down even in the most controlled city in the world. But when it is all over, I think we need to have an honest conversation with ourselves — the real Singapore Conversation. Not the sanitised version.

Don’t let them say they got this. Whether or not they’ve got this is of no great import. It’s that we can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while someone else puts out the flames, in every sense, that is.