CMIO Model: A Blemish On The Little Red Dot

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world to ask its residents to check a box indicating their race on several forms. From getting housing based on racial quotas to the reserved election that gave us our first female President, Madam Halimah Yacob, the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Other model (CMIO) has had a big role to play. How lucky are we to have our future in Singapore constantly carved out for us by an external institution on the basis of race? 

What was once implemented for equal representation of all ethnicities has transformed into a modern herald for underhanded racism. We stand today as harmonious Singaporeans but are inherently separated by our skin, our habits and our heritage. We claim to have left colonialism and racial segregation in the past, but how true is that if we're arbitrarily categorized by our race? The Singapore we live in today is far different than the one that existed 53 years ago, and the CMIO model fails to acknowledge this. 
 

Origins
Singapore, like other British colonies, was subject to a divide and rule strategy after the British drafted a town plan segregating immigrants across different locations on the island depending on their ethnicity and working capacity. This racial allotment became a norm even after Singapore gained independence, making its way into the 1824 Census officially as the CMIO model. Now everything, from our claim on an HDB house to our Identity Cards (ICs) reflects this very divide and rule technique, for we are still being divided by our ethnicity and ruled by the government on this basis. 
 

Implementation 
Today, the CMIO model has been implemented for education and housing. All HDB flats currently have quotas for the number of people in each category of CMIO that can get homes. This is to supposedly to integrate the interactions between people of different ethnicities and to build a racially tolerant neighborhood. But it can also prevent people from finding housing in areas, where their ethnicity is represented, altogether. So even if the policy is in place because of good intentions, its outcome is not doing anything to assuage a Singaporean’s struggle. 
 

CMIO is also prevalent in the education system. This was brought in during the 1960s so that students were required to learn their mother tongue based on their ethnicity. While in theory, it could work to help young Singaporeans identify with their culture, it is a direct contradiction to any kind of unified national identity. Schools end up raising children to believe that their identity is based purely on their race! Moreover, this alienates children from the other cultures as they grow to learn extensively about their own but not others. This idea is also emanated by social welfare organizations in Singapore which cater to people of certain ethnicities alone. SINDA is for Indians, CDAC for Chinese, Mendaki for Malays and EA for Eurasians. The other nationalities encompassed by the term “Others” have other resources that are specific to their race too. For a country that is trying to promote its own unique national identity, it can be problematic if its people identify with a particular cultural background but don’t understand the complexities of others. 
 

Modern Implications 
But as mentioned at the very start, Singapore has come a long way in the 50 years of its existence. When asked to consider the demography of Singapore today, people can only think of the 1964 Racial Riots. But the city state’s racial tolerance has come a long way since and the CMIO model doesn’t effectively capture this. Here’s a list of reasons why: 

1. Racial Harmony 
The Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg developed a set of indicators in 2013 to understand the racial harmony and religious relations in the country. The results indicated that over 90 percent of the surveyed have a neighbor of a different race and over 80 percent have friends from different ethnic groups. Yet, only 45 percent indicated that they had a close friend from another ethnic group.
 

The first two sets of data are possible today because of the integrated housing policy, which ensures that there are multiple ethnicities represented in housing complexes, and because of education policies requiring classes and schools to house a good number of people from all races. But despite these efforts, the CMIO pigeonholes people into their racial categories, inculcating the idea that anyone outside said race might not be able to understand the culture. Students are separated for mother tongue lessons and interact only with other people from their ethnicity, and this is the time majority of the discussions revolve around culture, heritage, and identity. By creating distinct ideas of the aforementioned, we are inhibiting social interactions with other races beyond a point. 

2. Immigration
In the past two years alone the dynamics of the various classes in the CMIO model have shifted. Particularly, the “Others” group that made up only 3.2 percent in 2016 was nearly one percentage point higher than in the past decade. Today Online also reports that the population of Indians increased by half a percentage point while that of Malays and Chinese fell. Given that Singapore’s ethnicity ratios are being altered in this new global era, one might question if the CMIO model is still relevant. Additionally, there is traction in the interaction between immigrants and foreign workers, and locals who belong to the same CMIO model race. Locals who have lived here for several generations tend to have different habits, which often makes it hard for them to get along with a person who has only recently come in. 
 

3. Children of Inter-Racial Marriages 
As stated in the very beginning, there is an increase in inter-racial marriages in Singapore. As a result, the offsprings of such marriages have mixed ethnicities and don’t directly conform to one distinct race in the CMIO model. Complications arise when indicating the race on forms of identification, and while you are allowed to list down both ethnicities, parents are expected to pick a “dominant race”. As a result, the parents become the determinants of the child’s race and get to pick the mother tongue in school, along with other things that policies in Singapore rely on the child’s ethnicity for. But these children essentially do not fit into a distinct category and might experience difficulty integrating into a class which is composed of people that do. Moreover, as these mixed-race children grow up to marry other individuals with mixed-ethnicity or one that is not defined by CMIO, the offsprings will conform lesser and lesser to the CMIO model. 
 


Going Forward
Today the CMIO model doesn’t serve its original purpose, which was for inclusive representation of minority groups in Singapore. What it is doing instead is creating more cracks in society based on race, and giving people the right to celebrate their ethnicity alone without considering that of others. Singapore’s population was primarily made of immigrants when it was first formed, but there have been moves to change this in the past. The CMIO model is everything a nation should avoid in its strive to create a unified national identity. Such racial segregation is only promoting the creation of a superiority complex that might end badly. The only hope is that even if this model continues to remain, more people are empowered to broaden their mindsets and become more tolerant.

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