I spent twenty-three years in the airline industry as a flight attendant. In many of those first years, I was often the only person of color on the crew. Therefore, my experiences in being looked at differently have been more than eye-opening. Being back here in Singapore has once again opened my eyes to the possibilities of a multicultural society.
Singapore is a multicultural society. Chinese, Malay, Indian, and others (CMIO). Here in Singapore, I am other, and my color is not as noticeable as in the US. Here I am simply different. Different in the kind of way that’s the same but different. Here the racial harmony that’s supposed to exist is reflected in the many cultures that co-exist.
Singapore became a sovereign nation in 1965. The following year the four racial groups CMIO were expected to be treated separately but equally, and there was to be no discrimination or favoritism of any race. In Singapore, all races, religious practices, customs, and traditions are accepted. As I came to understand it, the Singaporean way is reflected in the appearance of social harmony.
In Singapore, I see co-existence but not people that intermix with each other. Here race is downplayed yet elevated at the same time. As a black ex-pat, I often get mistaken for African descent, and the distinction is a relatively common occurrence here. When I go into public spaces, I’m seen as other. When I speak, the recognition of my racial identity becomes apparent in the subsequent interactions I have.
I have experienced many acts of travel bias and microaggression. My experience here in Singapore is much the same but different. Often, my experiences have left me with a less than pleasant travel experience. Multiculturalism is embraced here in Singapore, and the diversity I see here tends to be an aspect of Singapore I simply love about Singapore.
My first excursion in Singapore to end my quarantine was with a taxi driver. A typical Singaporean whose first attempt at conversation is not unlike many I experience. “Where are you from” I’m often asked? As an immigrant, my answer can be as deep or varied as I decide. I’m from an island like this. I’m from the Caribbean. I’m an American. All are true, just as with the many aspects of Singaporean culture I experience— Chinese, Malay, Indian, Singaporean, ex-pat. My story is unique and varied.
We’re all different, yet the same. A friend once told me to see the human race, not black people, not old people, not Asians, not fat people, not old people. I choose to do that, and here in Singapore, that is ok.