Culture, Self and Identity

Published: 2021-09-10 01:20:04
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Category: Culture

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Debate over how new immigrants, particularly those from China, might dilute the Singaporean culture and identity perennially reiterates itself in the mass media and/or social media platforms such as Facebook. A newspaper write-up, “Singapore’s unique identity sets it apart from China”, by a Singaporean academic, for example, emphasized that Singaporean identity, constituting of a composite culture and common language of communication, English, “are what crucially distinguish Singapore from China”.
Such views reflected the continuing importance and creation of a ‘Singaporean’ identity based on a sense of nationalism. This burgeoning sense of ‘national’ identity was also demonstrated in a recent incident which highlighted the furore and unity forged among the various races in Singapore against a mainland Chinese, Zhou Hou, who assaulted and criticised a Malay Singaporean on Facebook. This formation of national identity hinges upon the various races unifying themselves as “Singaporeans” to display their intolerance and exclusivity towards the foreigners.
Evidently, a ‘Singaporean’ identity at the national level is realized in overt unity in the form of rejecting association with and discriminating against the foreigners by highlighting cultural differences to create a dichotomization between Singaporeans (host population) and ‘foreigners’ (‘others’) (Barth, 1998). The examples also reflected important markers used to define a unique “multi-racial” identity amongst the different racial groups in terms of assumed commonalities based on the use of common language, English, and the affirmation of Singapore’s uniqueness as a nation of different races, culture and religions.
This identity is largely founded upon the very foundations of the policy, “Multiculturalism” which Singapore’s social system and various social processes is built upon. Multiculturalism, stressed in a series of government’s organized attempts in policy initiatives and discourses, has led to many medi(ated) representations of Singapore as a multi-cultural and multi-racial society, to raise Singaporeans’ consciousness on the importance of racial harmony and ethnic peace in a pluralistic society, thereby organizing interaction between people (Singh, 2011).
With Singaporeans assimilating fundamental orientations via such media(ted) representations, the values and supporting beliefs of multiculturalism have been internalized and became the lens through which people form their perceptions of reality and develop shared, learned ways of dealing with everyday life; like ‘a set of prescriptions’ governing social interactions amongst people of various backgrounds (Barth, 1998). According to Barth (1998), categorical distinctions can be attributed to social processes of incorporation and exclusion which maintains discrete categories in a society.
Therefore, when confronted with the influx of foreigners, racial unity became a natural instinct for many Singaporeans. Despite overt cultural differences between groups, inter-ethnic contact and interdependence enable a ‘common’ identity to be created amongst Singaporeans of all races. Singaporeans reconcile the relationship between ethnicity and nation to forge a unique composite national identity that can sufficiently differentiate themselves from foreign immigrants.
This is observable in the “Zhou Hou incident” whereby Chinese Singaporeans chose to identify and associate themselves more closely with their fellow Malay Singaporeans than with foreigners who share the same ethnicity as them. Similarly, the academic writer who stressed upon Singapore’s distinct cultural identity as the source which defines and “separates Singaporeans of all races from the mainland” exemplified how Singaporeans reconcile racial-ethnic differences to promote a national identity based on a sense of nationalism and belonging.
Hence, such media(ted) representations have clearly illustrated how Singaporeans, as the dominant group in relation to the foreigners in Singapore, show their ability to articulate and present ideas and values to shape and influence opinion to justify and maintain boundaries (Barth, 1998). While “multi-racial” identity is used to bring Singaporeans together under a common “national” identity, Singaporeans have been able to highlight distinctions to create perceived differences between Singaporeans and foreigners, classifying the foreigners as ‘outsiders’.
The categories of ascription and identification by Singaporeans themselves present a picture of reality that forms people’s views and provides individuals who accept such representations with a “moral imperative” that gives implicit instructions, forming a fundamental basis for decision-making and behaviour. Consequently, foreigners in Singapore face much challenge in integrating into the mainstream Singapore society and may experience alienation if attempts were made to resist such representations. 735 words)

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