Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Let's celebrate diversity

(unpublished - Nov 29, 2007)

Let's celebrate diversity

Dear Editor,

I read with interest Yeo Chow Khoon's letter 'No one aspect of a person's identity should be allowed to overshadow all the others" (ST, Nov 29).

I agree with Yeo that there are many aspects and types of identities that have to be appreciated.

It is however still common and habitual that us human beings tend to simplify our experiences, to achieve a comfortable level of sense-making and congruency with whatever political, religious, cultural and class ideologies and predispositions we subscribe to. In the process, we take for granted diversity and existing differences, whether of the subtle or the obvious.

When we label, classify and pigeonhole certain peoples, we are engaging in a struggle for power. By labelling people, some will fall in minority groups, some will be less visible and some will even be treated with animosity. This in turn influences how society views and treats certain groups.

One example is the continual criminalisation of consensual private homosexual sexual activity, which sustains the privilege of heterosexual peoples over homosexual peoples. This is complicit in the rarely addressed stigmitisation of homosexuality, the often misunderstandable and over-estimated notion of the "gay lifestyle", as well as the perpetuation of homophobia in Singapore. What is worse is that many do not regard homosexuality as an aspect of a homosexual person's identity, but think of it as wrong, sinful, immoral or harmful.

Hate and intolerance are thus legitimised by such social and institutional systems and mechanisms.

We may meaningfully celebrate and dutifully maintain our differences with the establishment and sustenance of socio-religious and cultural boundaries, but these need not constitute burning bridges and alienating other communities.

In fact, we should be encouraged and empowered by our social, cultural and religious circles and communities to embrace diversity. Is the embracement of diversity in a society like Singapore constructive or destructive?

Let us start thinking about integration, not ostracism and discrimination.

Ho Chi Sam

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