Anti-foreigner sentiment has spilled over from chat forums to the news headlines. Anton Casey, the Curry War, Ferrari Crash and riot in Little India– race may or may not have been a factor in these events, but the public’s perception and reaction to them highlights issues of xenophobia.
Foreigners, who now account for more than 25% of Singapore’s population, are accused by some of taking local jobs, skewing wages, placing a burden on public services like transport and driving up rental and flat prices.
While Singapore has a reputation for social cohesion, a significant proportion of minority populations feel that they face discrimination. According to a report published by OnePeople.sg, nearly 1 in 2 Malays say they face discrimination when applying for a job and more than 30% of Singaporeans believe that Malays and Indians need to work harder to obtain a top position in their organisation. By comparison, only 16% of Chinese say they face discrimination in the job market.
No question, race is a sensitive issue. The deadly 1960s race riots linger in public memory and have shaped government policy since independence. Sedition laws prohibit speech or the publication of any content that promotes “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes”. The classification of every Singaporean as “Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other” is used to determine the distribution of housing, while obscuring differences within each category.
Issues of race, discrimination and anti-foreigner sentiment are set against a backdrop of rising inequality. While inequality measures dipped in 2013, the trend has been in the other direction.