Webinar: Race, Discrimination, and the State

Academic Views, Events / Sunday, November 14th, 2021

AcademiaSG convened this panel for the 2021 Symposium of the Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia.

Doubly Minoritized: Indian Immigrants, Anti-CECA Sentiment and Xenophobia as Racism – Laavanya Kathiravelu, Nanyang Technological University

“They Just Don’t (Want to) Get It”: Race Privilege in Singapore’s Authoritarian State – Lily Zubaidah Rahim, Georgetown University

“Mature Content: Strong Racial References”: The Management of Racial Discourse in Singapore Theatre – Alfian Sa’at, WILD RICE

Racecraft and Affordances in Contemporary Singapore – Kwee Hui Kian, National University of Singapore

Chair: Ja Ian Chong, National University of Singapore and AcademiaSG


A national conversation and soul-searching pertaining to race, racism, and race relations has unfolded in Singapore. The veracity of key national principles such as multiracialism and meritocracy have been interrogated in an almost unprecedented fashion. All this during the COVID-19 pandemic which has exacerbated economic and social stresses in the highly competitive, diverse and dense city-state. Competition over scarce resources has become more complicated with the influx of immigrants and foreign workers, with discussions about the effects of free trade agreements often creating more confusion than clarity.

Issues pertaining to race in Singapore are long-standing, emanating from colonisation, merger with Malaysia and mass migration in the nineteenth century. The Singaporean state, whether colonial, Malaysian, or independent, has an uneasy history of managing and mobilising society along racial lines. This panel seeks to locate the contemporary Singaporean national conversation about race within broader historical, regional, global and economic contexts. The papers will examine the ways by which the Singaporean state and society grapple with claims of Chinese privilege and associated structural and institutional racial dis/advantages, growing racial diversity and income disparity, societal demands for greater political pluralism — and the challenges of governance under pandemic conditions.