Let's talk 'mother tongue', 'majority what', & 'whose SDP?'

In conversation....

ed: Just take a look at the SDP website. What do you see when you look in the sidebar on the right? You see 3 langugage options. What is the order. “Mandarin, Malay, Tamil”. Isn’t that biased?

other: But the Chinese are the majority what?

ed: Really? I thought Singaporeans are the majority?”

What’s the point here.

I’ve been saying for a while now that the opposition in singapore is representative of Chinese interests, not singaporeans of all ethnicities. (ref. previous observations) If my perspectives were just reared within the singaporean locale, I suppose that I too would think the opposition to be egalitarian. But not because they are, but for want of a better alternative. In the course of my maturation, I would also be trained to not notice slights against difference due to its pervasiveness, and due to my ‘friends’ of other or 'cool' ethnic groups being oblivious to it. I would, in a nutshell, only be appalled by obvious consequences of such oversights and view their address by the opposition or proposition as evidence of their egalitarian spirit.

There are a whole host of ways by which people can be accustomed to 2nd class citizenry. The combination of being able to do one’s best within whatever the conditions to make ends meet or become a ‘success’; the compensatory means by which pent-up frustrations are relieved; the cross-cutting friendships with people of other or preferred races; self-blame for failures or lack of motivation or aspirations; blaming ethnic communities for now doing enough for their own; the existence of a middle class comprising all ethnicities; and so on and so forth.

Being able to sit down and sip a cup of tea at the local coffeeshop with friends of all ethnic groups comes across as the existence of harmony. Yes it is. But egalitarian respect is another matter altogether. To what degree am i personally forced to accommodate those at the table by leaving my culturally-induced persona at home? To what degree have the young been socialised out of this culturally-induced persona so that they would fit in very well with everyone at the table? To what degree do we accommodate the dominant tendencies till we accommodate our distinctive personalities out of existence? These are questions left unpondered by the best minds in the ‘opposition’.

That is why I’ve put forth the above observation to my ‘friends’ of all ethnic groups. And they all returned the selfsame response - ‘But the Chinese are the majority what?’ And they always look dazed-but-not-confused with my retort abrupt - “Really? I thought Singaporeans are the majority?”

My reasoning follows thereafter with,

ed: “You know that the government has stated that the singapore must always have a racial balance in favour of the Chinese right?”

other: Right.

ed: And that because of this the Chinese are today the overwhelming majority right?

other: Right.

ed: Then don’t you think that the SDP presenting Mandarin first validates the consequence of the government’s stance?


ed: Since language has been linked to ‘race’ in singapore via the ‘mother tongue policy’, isn’t this a validation of race via language even if that isn’t the intention?

other: Then what order would you put the languages in?

ed: Tamil first, Malay second, Mandarin third.

other: why?

ed: Simple. The potential reasons for supremacy is generally ‘originality’(malays) and ‘numerousness’ (chinese). So long as we validate either, we are going to elevate ethnicity above the ‘race of singaporeans’. In order to show that neither ‘originality’ or ‘numerousness’ are inconsequential, we put the least first. And through putting the least first, we are also saying that it is not superior numbers or originality that counts, but the littlest part that comprises the whole. Think about it. The firing pin is one of the smallest removable parts of an M16, but without it, the gun is useless. By placing the order in such a way, we are saying that even the least can contribute that 1% of the GNP that can fuel the production of the rest of sum.

other: what if the Malays say that you are playing favourites?

ed: Then i’d elect for a Malay to be the next PM.

other: how about the mother tongue policy?

ed: I’ll press the ‘delete’ button. The mother tongue of the singaporean race, or ‘ethnic group’ if you prefer, will be English, and that will be because it has the potential of mothering a fusion of perspectives of all ethnic groups without casting the language-cum-ethnic group of any sector as superior within the homeground. if you think about it, we wouldn’t have a ‘Malay’, ‘Tamil’ or ‘Mandarin’ mother tongue if the governments of those lands wherein these mother tongues came about had ‘mother tongue’ policies like the government in singapore. A mother tongue, in essence, is that which brings everyone together. The dialectical fusion that results is the child of such a language. Hence, in the Singaporean scenario, English is it. Malay is the ‘mother tongue’ of the Malays before Stamford landed. Tamil is the mother tongue of the south Indians in India, and Mandarin is the mother tongue of the Chinese in China. In Singapore, the mother tongue ought to be determined not by the language our ancestors were comfortable with when hurriedly asking for directions to a public toilet 2 hours after asking for directions to the best fried rice stall, but in respect of the variety of perspectives that it can bring together as a whole.





  1. Yes,'numerousness' mustn't be the deciding factor for implementing policies which would affect all especially in a multicultural society. Showing significance base on 'numerousness' would send out the message that number counts; then what about value according to merit which this nation constantly striving to advocate.

    Considering the social and historical background, it is difficult to comprehend and obtain a logical argument against using English as the common language and thus as suggested 'mother tongue'. It is after all an international language which most countries use and using a common language can help promote even greater bond among the different ethnic groups within the society.

  2. Hi ed,

    Re: "Just take a look at the SDP website. What do you see when you look in the sidebar on the right? You see 3 langugage options. What is the order. “Mandarin, Malay, Tamil”. Isn’t that biased?"

    I had previously read this very grouse of yours in Seelan's blog.

    Despite being an SDP supporter, I do agree that they could in fact make the change in their website that you propose using this as a rule of thumb:

    The less numerous a group, the less visible they are. While visibility is one concern, Indian Singaporeans also experience the more overt and vicious racism by the Chinese compared to Malays, and this overt and vicious racism is at it's worst for the Tamil-speaking Hindu than for other Indians. Thus it seems very logical, if achieving parity is any goal, that Tamil should come first.

    However, I also experienced a personal dilemma of sorts after reading that same comment you made in Seelan's blog.

    Despite what I have said above, Malays continue to fare worse in many fields than Indians do, which begs the question: Which of the two communities needs more of that visibility?

    Additionally, the SDP website is also a political party website, and more than Indians, it is Malays who are marginalized in politics and the political process.

    Thus, which should come first: Tamil or Malay?

    I don't know my own answer yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    BTW, have you ever raised this issue with the SDP? I have personally found them to very responsive on many issues.

  3. Good point Robox,

    I agree. Perhaps Malay ought to be placed first given their relatively disadvantaged status - provided that much is done to ensure that its meaning is not attributed to 'originality'. We have to watch for that given that that is the card played by Malaysia as a defence against confucian belligerance. If we don't, there might be an association between both perspectives.

    However, at the same time, instead of blaming the victim as do the government in this racialist nonsense about the Malay community not doing enough for its own, I would like to look at how discrimination against the ethnic minorities have played a role in contributing to the relatively disadvantaged condition of the Malays.

    I raised other matters with the SDP about 8 years ago when i personally had a meeting with Chee for a few hours. I thereafter joined the SDP youth led by Kelvin and Brian upon Chee's invitation pending inclusion in the party-proper later.

    However, given the gross arrogance of the SDP youth's leadership, refusal to consider progressive ideas, amongst others, and Chee responding to my taking up the issue with him by a simple, 'you're new, you should just follow', I left in disgust as he did not consider my ideas or points of contention at all. I wasn't born with a tether round my neck like most socialised within the Confucian milieu. What the opposition here lacks is the ability to critically introspect. They do not question their own vantages nor their leaders. That is why we tend to have 'doctors' taking the helm of political party's here, or sons of bygone oppositional leaders. The ranks seem to know no better. Something is really wrong here and the oppositional perspective needs a major overhaul and exorcising of its obviously confucian spirit.

    Chee is, personally, a very nice person and i liked him the moment we met. However, as a political leader, he is too confucian for my taste. I subscribe by British standards of activism which focuses much on mutual empathy and rank and file critique. It is too obvious a fact that that which the opposition here does not notice or speak about causes much public furore in Britain. I know that when an African in the UK is slighted, a thousand 'whites' will stand by him. That is not the case here. I do get involved in British anti-fascist causes and activism there to some degree. Upon my return to the UK, I will be increasing my involvement and activism against the fascist BNP. It is quite the education. Not like what activists get with the opposition here.

    I'm on the side of the opposition, but they aren't. Not according to British standards - when it comes to their appreciation of the delineation between fascists and democrats which is far more accurate. I do hope that the opposition here would change for the better, and they would most certainly have my support if they ever show signs of it. But for now, and the way things stand, I can only afford the ballot box a spoiled vote - along with all my associates.

    That said, if the SDP engaged with me and others as you do, you'll find me signing up with them at the drop of a hat. Till then.


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