As Singaporeans, we spent more than a decade reciting the national pledge before the start of each school day. We know that in all aspects of our lives, we should judge people on merit, “regardless of race, language, or religion”. But when it comes to our personal life – or more specifically, our romantic life – race, language, and religion can be a deal-breaker. But is that OK?
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“Have you dated a brown guy before?” Ned*, my friend’s date, asked me over drinks one night. I was stumped. I ran a mental list – my exes were Chinese and Eurasian, and the boys I’ve went out with over the past year were mostly Chinese dudes, with a couple of Caucasians thrown in. In the past year of being single, I’ve only went out with one Indian guy I met from Tinder. Well, sh*t.
To give it some context, Ned is a Western expat of Indian descent. I can’t remember what prompted the question. There was another Indian guy at our table, a friend Ned had just made. Maybe they were talking about how Chinese girls here don’t seem to want to date Indian boys. I don’t recall. But what I do remember is turning around to my friend and asking, “Am I racist if I’ve never dated Malay or Indian boys before?”
A recent study on ethnicity done by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and Channel NewsAsia revealed that when it comes to dating outside of our ethnic group, most Singaporeans prefer their children and grandchildren to date Chinese and Caucasians. According to IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, this indicates that we are “still not the multicultural nirvana that some would expect.”
So back to my question. I don’t like to think I’m racist (who does?). I like to think I’m inclusive in both my work and personal life, and very open to learning about the practices and beliefs of other cultures. But the choices I’ve made in my romantic life seem to say otherwise.
“Yes,” says Dr Norman Li, a Lee Kong Chian Fellow and Associate Professor of Psychology at Singapore Management University, without skipping a beat. Ouch. “Discrimination against someone of a different race is racism, so yes, by definition, that’s what you’re doing.”
But where does this come from?