Multiculturalism And Meritocracy In Singapore: Handling Race And Ethnicity

GSOC110 : Sociology

GSOC110 : Sociology

Concept of race and ethnicity

Race is essentially a concept that is related to the people’s bodily features. The appearance of the people, their hair color, skin color, height and everything that is related to the physical feature of a person can be termed as race. People usually relate to the physical feature of a person to distinguish their race (Teng & Leong, 2018). The white complexion tall people are usually considered to be of European Caucasian race where as the yellowish complexioned short people may be held as of Asian origin, people relate to race as per the physical appearance.

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Ethnicity on the other hand is more of a cultural and physical concept and the culture practices and lifestyle habits that set one group of people from another may be considered as ethnicity of a person. Many consider ethnicity as “a sense of history, language, religion, and forms of dress. Ethnic differences are not inherited; they are learned.” Nationalism is a similar mental concept where people develop the feeling of unity or oneness according to share geographical locations (Guo, 2016). Both race and ethnicity plays an important role in shaping one individuals position in the society and how that individual is perceived by others.

2. How the concepts are handled in Singapore  

In the speech of the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong it can be understood that the country Singapore is very much a promoter of multiculturalism. The country was formed with the idea that every race every ethnicity can live in this country feeling to be at home. It is everyone’s country and not anyone’s particular. The majority of the population of Singapore is Chinese therefore it is expected that the Chinese population will be having more power and mirth within the country. However the administration of the country is fully careful that these differences do not take a toll on the communal harmony of the country (Lian, 2016). The country right from the stage of its formation has ensured that the Malay population, the Indian population, all the religious minorities are given as much importance as the Chinese population.

As the official the country gives maximum importance to multiculturalism, however often on practical level it is found that the country faces various incidents of racism and cultural clash. The administration and the police have ensured that nothing of that sort is given encouragement and the culprits are given due treatment. The country has gone through several constitutional amendments to ensure that the minority races are given due political recognition.

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Multiculturalism in Singapore

When Singapore was separated from Malaysia the founding fathers of the country namely “Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Othman Wok” had 100% faith on the country being one of the most multicultural nation in the region. The founding father’s belonged to all race and ethnicity who was a part of the country. However with passing days it was found that the country is losing its multicultural heritage atleast in the political arena. Most of the political leaders who were chosen were from the Chinese background. Therefore the administration has chosen to bring in proper measures in the legislative field to ensure that all the ethnic groups have their representation in the political field (Lian, 2015).

The Prime Minister chose to take example from the political system of different parts of the world. “It is necessary in many multiracial countries. They make deliberate arrangements – either constitutional rules or conventions – but they have some kind of rotation or special representations for the minorities. Canada’s Governor-General alternates between the French-speaking and English-speaking communities. In New Zealand, they have minorities too. They have had a Governor-General of Indian-descent, and the current Governor-General has Maori blood. These examples do not happen by chance. In these countries, they specifically looked for distinguished individuals from minority communities to be the Head of State. Switzerland – an ideal country, 900 years of nationhood – they have got Swiss Germans, Swiss French, Swiss Italians, and their President rotates between these three groups” (, 2017). ingapore chose to pick up the same brand management of multiculturalism.

The country was found by a multicultural group of people namely Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Othman Wok. All of them had dreamt of a country that is culturally varied and where people from all ethnic background have their own existence and freedom without any disturbance because of their being minority.

The country had been a part of the Malaysian nation where the political system was very different and most of the time the majority Malay population had their say in most of the social and political decision making in the country (Wise & Velayutham, 2014). However when the country Singapore was curved out from the Malaysian nation it was ensured that this country was mainly based on the multicultural identity of the people and the people are living peacefully along with each other.  The Indian, the Malay and the Chinese population must coexist with equal rights and equal responsibilities towards the advancement and development of the Singaporean nation.  


Today the in Singapore the Prime Minister is Lee Hsien Loong, President is Halimah and Chief Justice is Sundaresh Menon. A Chinese, a Malay, and an Indian (Ang & Stratton, 2018). This can well explain how beautiful the present scenario of multiculturalism is prevailing in the country. However in many other situations there are various instances where this beautiful fraternity is harmed and terrorism is one of the chief such reasons.

There are various sectors of variety in the human kind. In a nation there may be religious variety, ethnic variety, racial variety, linguistic variety and so on. Among all of these the variety in the field of racism is important in this regard because the difference of race is visible among the people, other differences are more of theoretical and not visually differentiable except if the dressing is different.  Multiracialism is difficult to handle because it may happen that the people of the country may not accept people from other racial groups with different physical features. It is not that such racist difference will be expressed by the people openly however they may keep this distinction in their mind and behave differently with the people.

The Prime Minister stated “Where nobody would be favoured or disadvantaged because of the colour of his or her skin. Where everybody would have equal opportunities, feel kinship and brotherhood with people of different races and religions, and share the same Singapore nationality.” This is how the multiracialism is handled in the Singaporean scenario which is a very plural society.

The endeavors should come from the highest part of the society so that the people must be enthusiastic about following the norms and rules put in place by the administration to solve the problem of cultural difference.

The nation building responsibility rests in the hand of all people, the common people and the administrative heads of the nation. The nation building efforts that come from the administrative and political leadership to the common people is known as the top down approach of nation building. The founding fathers of the nation were themselves very concerned about taking appropriate actions so that the unity and cultural oneness of Singapore could be maintained (Teo, 2016). Therefore the founding fathers themselves had the agenda of multiracialism to be imbibed as the very important ingredient of nation building. Singapore gives maximum importance to the concept of multiculturalism in the society which has helped the present status of the country where it is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.

A meritocracy is a social framework in which individuals’ prosperity and status in life depend principally on their skills, capacities, and exertion. As it were, it is a social framework in which individuals advance based on their benefits. Meritocracy is expressed differently in relation to nobility, in which a man’s prosperity and status in life depend fundamentally on the status and titles of their family and different relations.

In the social stratification meritocracy must play a vital role and not the race or gender of a person. Race, gender, ethnicity must not be considered when the person is judged based on his or her merit and intelligence. In the Singaporean context the meritocracy of a person is given high importance and no one in the country is distinguished according to his or her social, ethnic and racial background. The country boasts of cultural variation in the highest administration , the Prime Minister is Lee Hsien Loong, President is Halimah and Chief Justice is Sundaresh Menon. A Chinese, a Malay, and an Indian.


Ang, I., & Stratton, J. (2018). The Singapore Way of Multiculturalism: Western Concepts/Asian Cultures. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 33(1), S61-S86.

Guo, Y. (2016). United in Diversity? Managing Multiculturalism in Singapore and Switzerland. In SINGAPORE AND SWITZERLAND: Secrets to Small State Success (pp. 193-213).

Lian, K. F. (2016). Multiculturalism in Singapore: Concept and Practice. In Multiculturalism, Migration, and the Politics of Identity in Singapore (pp. 11-29). Springer, Singapore.

Lian, K. F. (Ed.). (2015). Multiculturalism, migration, and the politics of identity in Singapore (Vol. 1). Springer.

Teng, E., & Leong, C. H. (2018). Localised Differences in the Conception of Cultural and Economic Security: Examining the Multiculturalism Hypothesis in Singapore.

Teo, T. A. (2016). Singapore and multiculturalism: an analytical examination (Doctoral dissertation, University of Bristol). (2017). In full: PM Lee on race, multiracialism and Singapore’s place in the world. Retrieved from

Wise, A., & Velayutham, S. (2014). Conviviality in everyday multiculturalism: Some brief comparisons between Singapore and Sydney. European journal of cultural studies, 17(4), 406-430.