Protect common space, not do away with race classification

I do not agree with Dr V. Subramaniam's views ("Race classification must give way to new social realities"; yesterday).

I am a Singaporean Tamil. My race is Ceylonese, but I am classified under "Others".

It changes to "Asian" when I visit Britain and it becomes "Some other race" when I visit America.

At the street level, I am perceived as a dark Indian. And, due to unintended blurred perception that an Indian, a Hindu and a Tamil are one and the same, I am occasionally asked if I am a Tamil or Christian.

The status quo of seeing others the way we want to see them is not an embarrassment but a reality.

While race has no place in science, because of interracial marriages, the number of races keeps on increasing, and there exists a divide between the majority race and minority races.

Hence, racism is rampant in many parts of the world.

Singapore is one of the most religiously, racially, linguistically and culturally diverse countries where different communities have coexisted peacefully for decades.

The responsibility for keeping racism at bay lay squarely with the Government's determined effort.

Harmonious living would not have been possible if not for the coexistence of the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) classification, the national pledge, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, the Group Representation Constituency system, and the assurance of common spaces.

As a result, every Singaporean is included and has equal opportunity for education, health, progress and prosperity.

New citizens and new races are coming on board, ensuring that Singapore remains a truly racially diverse society for at least another 50 years or so - this is one of the social realities of the future.

The CMIO classification has little or no effect on my being a true Singaporean yet upholding Tamilness within me.

To me, the CMIO model, together with the pledge, is an assurance that, while all races are counted, the majority race cannot dominate and the minority races are not left behind.

Doing away with the CMIO classification would be a shame.

As Singaporeans, we should feel proud of our ethnicity - Chineseness, Malayness, Indianness, Eurasianness, and so on - and do our part to meaningfully integrate with others.

As long as the common space is well and truly protected, we can continue to coexist peacefully for decades (if not centuries) to come.

Singapore's multiculturalism is the way forward.

The quicker we learn to respect our differences and integrate, the sooner a common identity will evolve.

S. Ratnakumar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Protect common space, not do away with race classification'. Print Edition | Subscribe