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CSI Assignment: Make an argument as to which theory or theories best explain racial

thinking.
By Muhammad Amrullah on 5 November 2013
A week ago we have concluded in class that there are noticeable physical differences between a Malay,
a Filipino Chinese and a Singaporean Chinese. Many students cite that the size of the eyes and colour of
the skin give away their race. While many of you dismiss these differences as superficial, I cannot help
but leave the class feeling uneasy that racial stereotypes is still deeply embedded in our society. The
reason is unknown, however, I have made three observations that can potentially shed light on why
visible human differences such as looks and skin colour can lead us to assume deep fundamental
differences in the way humans think or behave.
In a place like Singapore, people are inclined to acknowledge the differences between races because
classifying people based on race becomes more practical than classifying based on his or her wealth or
ability. And by practical, I mean ease or without using too much effort. From a micro level, we are
guilty of making decisions based on race daily whenever we see someone who looks different from us.
So a Chinese person in Singapore will not offer Bak Kut Teh (or pork) to a Malay stranger in the dining
hall simply because he assumes that Malays, in general, do not eat pork. The social constructivist will
argue that this phenomena stems from some form of cultural conditioning (Faucher, 2005). But I will
argue that this phenomena is a combination of cultural conditioning and pragmatism. From a macro
level, in order to promote racial intergration, the Singapore government sets a quota on the number of
Chinese, Malays and Indians living in a flat as part of the Ethnic Integration Policy (HDB, 2013). To many
Singaporeans, such practices may even be deemed as a practical necessity to ensure the harmony of the
people that come from different races.
More than for pragmatic reasons, racialism still persists in society because our brain is wired to see
these racial differences. Professor Maniates sheds light that race can be a key identifier to classify
people in the context of a city with many people in it. Let us assume that race is like a Facebook profile
set on Private. In Private, the only thing that you will see is the first profile picture of a person, the
persons gender and the Mutual Friends you have with that person. And these features give you
enough information whether or not you should Add as Friend. So if youre walking through a city where
there are hundreds of people going by you every second, then that experience of assessing people by
their race is similar to going through hundreds of Facebook profile every second. Daniel Goleman, a
psychologist who is famous for his work on Emotional Intellgence, argues that the wealth of
information creates a poverty of attention (Goleman, 2013). Our brain is wired to process a limited
amount of information. Thats the fundamental reason race allows the brain to classify this information
that leads us to categorize people according to their race.
So I think if we take the perspective that racialism persists due to a combination of cultural conditioning,
practical circumstances and our brains hardwiring, then racialism must exist for us to make sense of the
disorder to society. During our class, Christian Go argues that race is an attempt for humanity to
scientifically explain a phenomena and he hints that race is an artificial construct of the mind. What if
racialism is merely a figment of our imagination? If it is, then we must acknowledge that it has a
profound effect on the way we behave towards one another. In the film A Beautiful Mind where John
Nash is a protagonist who suffers a mental illness, the symptoms of schizophrenia
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does have an effect
on a persons daily activities and his relationship with friends, family and colleagues (Smith, 2011). I am
not insisting that racialism is an illness in which we have to suppress its symptoms. Racialism allows us
to make sense of the relationships we have with the people around us so that we can understand the
world.
But if we think that racialism stems from our need to make sense of the world, then we must also
acknowledge that racial thinking can also be a result of a host of other factors: income inequality, family
structures and religion. We will probably never fully understand why I have that uneasy feeling that
racial stereotypes still exist in my class. The best hope I can hope for is that when we conduct ourselves
towards one another in our class, we will appreciate that our difference is our strength. (794 Words)

Bibliography

1) Faucher, E. M. (2005). Social Construction and the Concept of Race.
2) Goleman, D. (2013, October 23). Our Attention Spans Are Getting Shorter, And It's A Big Problem.
Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/24/attention-span-
book_n_4151059.html
3) HDB. (2013, August 14). Ethnic Integration Policy & SPR Quota. Retrieved from HDB InfoWEB:
http://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10322p.nsf/w/SellFlatEthnicIntegrationPolicy_EIP
4) Smith, N. (2011, December 7). Representations of Mental Illness in the Film "A Beautiful Mind".
Retrieved from Article Myriad: http://www.articlemyriad.com/representations-mental-illness-
beautiful-mind/


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In the film A Beautiful Mind, the symptoms of schizophrenia include auditory and visual hallucinations,
paranoid ideations, delusional thinking and a distorted perception of reality.