Culture, Self and Identity

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There has been growing concern with nation and identity amongst Singaporeans since the influx of foreigners triggered social tension in our multi-ethnic society due to sentiments over differences in nationalities and cultures between Singaporeans and foreigners. Alongside the perception that foreigners are taking away job opportunities from Singaporeans, a sense of displacement has been strongly expressed amongst the local populace, exemplifying Singaporeans’ quest for identity and sense of rootedness.

Debate over how new immigrants, particularly those from China, might dilute the Singaporean culture and identity perennially reiterates itself in the mass media and/or social media platforms such as Facebook. A newspaper write-up, “Singapore’s unique identity sets it apart from China”, by a Singaporean academic, for example, emphasized that Singaporean identity, constituting of a composite culture and common language of communication, English, “are what crucially distinguish Singapore from China”. Such views reflected the continuing importance and creation of a ‘Singaporean’ identity based on a sense of nationalism. This burgeoning sense of ‘national’ identity was also demonstrated in a recent incident which highlighted the furore and unity forged among the various races in Singapore against a mainland Chinese, Zhou Hou, who assaulted and criticised a Malay Singaporean on Facebook. This formation of national identity hinges upon the various races unifying themselves as “Singaporeans” to display their intolerance and exclusivity towards the foreigners. Evidently, a ‘Singaporean’ identity at the national level is realized in overt unity in the form of rejecting association with and discriminating against the foreigners by highlighting cultural differences to create a dichotomization between Singaporeans (host population) and ‘foreigners’ (‘others’) (Barth, 1998).

The examples also reflected important markers used to define a unique “multi-racial” identity...
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