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<blockquote><p>…pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion…</p></blockquote>
So goes the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore_National_Pledge">Singapore Pledge</a> which many of us have recited in school for years. And it seems that at almost every National Day, we are reminded of how we stand at the knife's edge, and the racial riots of our parents' generation would immediately come back if we weren't careful. We'd all roll our eyeballs; <em>here he goes with the scare-monger tactics again</em>. We think of all the friends we have who are not of the same race and conclude that it isn't an issue; we are past that.
While playing basketball last Thursday I got a rude shock as to how racial lines are <strong>always</strong> in play.
The court where I play is home to ballers of many nationalities. The older Singaporean uncles play on Tuesday nights, the young mainland Chinese men, the Filipina professionals, Malaysians and even a Russian center. That night, and it happens quite frequently, they all show up to ball.
No one can dispute the different styles of play: Filipinas have quick hands and have a tendency to reach in for the steal. The Chinese adopt a physical, bruising style of play under the rim. The game, while global, is different in different parts of the world.
So on Thursday all these various styles are smashed together within the confines of a basketball court, and things get testy as the physical nature of the game takes its toll on the players. And immediately, the first accusation that is lobbed divides us along racial lines.
"You Singaporeans don't know the rules of basketball", when a foul is disputed.
"You Philippine people always slap wrists".
"Chinese players always play so rough".
The game turns into a battle as stereotypes fuel an inexplicable festering that dispenses with any semblance of sportsmanship. You could see it in their eyes – literally filled with hate, and basketball becomes a game of finding an excuse to injure the other party. A few of us intervene before things get out of hand, and cooler heads prevail.
I do not know if we will ever reach a stage where race is a transparent attribute that no longer factors in our judgement. Martin Luther King's ideal of judging a man by the content of his character rather than the colour of his skin might be something that requires a steadfast, constant striving towards, rather than a state we attain and after which we can rest.

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