• Zatiman Astha

(Insert Race Here) Conversations 2018: A Reflection

SGN started with the belief that it is often the most difficult of conversations that is the most important to be held. It is only through true authentic voices can we begin to draw real relationships to a better future.

Growing up, our race has been an inevitable part of our realities. Every form that we fill up on this island would have a category called race, which inspired the title "(Insert Race Here) Conversations".

But what is "race" exactly? As Sarah, one of our eight Willings for the series said, what exactly does being of a certain race mean?

For me personally, does the fact that I like sambal belacan makes me Malay? But then there’s Wan, who is also Malay, but sweats at the simplest of chili. Does it mean he is any lesser of a Malay? What about how others who see me? When they see my GPA of 4.5 out of 5 in university why do people always say “that’s pretty good for a Malay?”

These are the frequent questions SGN learn as we begin our video series: questions of identity and exclusions. It was also these questions that guided us to our workshop: (Insert Race Here) Conversations: Choosing What Defines Us.

Our participants were grouped and requested to unload every stereotypes and ideals attached to their assigned race. Ideally, we would have wanted more representation from various races, allowing for a more diverse conversation. This is an important consideration for the future.

Still, the conversations went on. By unloading, our participants began to empathise with another person. Here, the group assigned to 'Others' from the typical CMIO categorisation begins to have difficulties. What are the other traits that they could identify with? Have we homogenised 'Otherness' to a point that we devoid them from an identity?

Afterward, the workshop truly began. Participants were requested to consider the traits of another race and begin to consider where they fall within these traits. For graphical representation, a self-assessed rank was placed to see how much of a certain race they are. With this, we began to notice patterns.

It was a pattern born from careful consideration of putting yourself in others shoes. Slowly we began to realise unfair treatments attached to different races. Some would cautiously agree with these traits, based on biology or personal experiences, while others would fiercely defend them.

As the work continued, the more the distinction blur. Others who are, for example Chinese would identify themselves a lower rank as a Chinese person but would identify more of an Other . It was these continuous movements that made a person concluded: "Everything is socially constructed."

It was exhilarating talking about Races in Singapore, a topic that could go askew if not controlled properly. But control we didn’t, we trusted the audience to steer the conversation where it needed to and they did. Even when the emotions peaked talking about stereotypes, we let it flow. And that pressure gave way too and in return you find pocket conversations blooming long after the workshop officially ends.

True relationships, better future.

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