Thum Ping Tjin Says We Need To Stop Blindly Following The Use Of Race

Singapore’s favourite historian Thum Ping Tjin is back to tickle us with his witty analysis of Singapore issues.

Remember his scathing critique of the Lee saga earlier this year? How about the time he destroyed Dr Vivian Balakhrisnan?

This time, Mr Thum is here to enlighten us dimwitted folks on the origins of race and why we should avoid it, like how Khaw Boon Wan avoids admitting the our train system just sucks.

The reason for this new video? The rigged reserved presidential election.

Mr Thum’s bone of contention

Speaking on his new YouTube channel New Naritif, Mr Thum said that while it was good that the government wanted all races to be equally represented, the concept of race was fundamentally flawed. In fact, the practice of segregating Singaporeans according to where we came from was actually brought over by the Brits, who simply wanted to keep the populace divided. 

Here’s why:

1. Race is a British tool used to govern its colonies

Mr Thum shared that race was a concept invented by the Europeans in the 1700s, and was introduced to Singapore by the British. There was a need to command and control the natives of Singapore at the time, given that we were one of the many trading posts under the huge British trading empire. 

Since the British were running Singapore for a profit, it was focused on efficiently managing resources. This is where the racial profiling of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others (CMIO) begins to take root in Singapore.  

So why the need for racial profiling?

“It’s a cheap way of running a country. The British put us into boxes that were convenient for them. Which box you wanted to be in did not matter, all that matters is that once you are shoved into a box, the government can just treat every single person in that box the same way.”

The racial profiling also made different races suspicious of each other as the British treated them unequally. With the natives divided, the British would be able to handle any threats from a certain racial group more easily.

Governing Singaporeans Just Became “So, Simple”

Having to only govern groups rather than individual people, the British freed up more time for more important activities. Fancy a cuppa tea?

2. Blind leading the blind

If the concept of race was meant to divide and rule people a century ago, why are we still using it now?

Mr Thum gives a very simple yet powerful example. He uses a 2015 National Geographic experiment which showed a group of people standing up at a beep. Eventually, other people who arrived later simply blindly followed, even though they did not know why.

Now here is where it gets interesting, when all of the original people who performed the action left, the action was still carried out even though nobody knew why it was done.

So what was the point of Mr Thum’s example? Well, he was trying to show that we are just like the test subjects in the video, blindly following whatever has been done, without question.

3. The problems of race still persist today

When Singapore first became independent, there was a belief that we could get rid of this racial profiling system and achieve equality, seen in our pledge. However, this has not been the case.

Mr Thum explained further. Firstly, your race on your IC does not mean you belong to that race. According to Thum, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam has explained that there is a 2-step process to obtain your race. The first step is to identify which race you belong. The second is to see if people of that race think that you belong with them.


If this sounds familiar, it is because the system has been used to determine the racial eligibility of our Malay Presidential Candidates.

The reason for this system is simple. It was meant to stop people from trying to claim to be of a different race. But why would people want to do that right? Well, Mr Thum goes on to argues that race plays an important part in our lives.

It affects where we:

“can live, where your children go to school, what kind of assistance you can get from the government and now, even your political rights. The fact that the government is worried about people gaming the system is because, of the unequal treatment of races and is itself proof that the CMIO system breeds conflict.

4. Problems Classifying Malay then, problems classifying Malay now

While “Chinese” was used for people that came from China and “Indian” for those that came from India, the term “Malay” was not so straightforward.

The British did not know how to tell the different types of “Muslim brown people” apart and clumped all the natives from the Maritime Southeast Asia along with immigrants from the Middle East. This created conflict as those from the Middle East – who were typically richer and had much more influence – debated with the natives on who should be considered more Malay.


Fast forward a century later and here we are debating whether Madam Halimah Yacob, Mr Farid Khan, and Mr Salleh Marican qualify as “Malay”.

Throw out the race card

Mr Thum’s video has been and eye-opener and entertaining as usual. By introducing race into politics, the Singapore government is going down a dangerous path that sparked the Civil War in America and gave rise to Nazi Germany.

Ominous warnings indeed, but who knows what lies ahead for us a nation.

Featured images from National Archives Singapore.