When the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) implements the registration of dual heritage options for children of mixed parentage on Saturday, it could open up a Pandora's box of sorts. First announced in Parliament in January 2010, the initiative purportedly offers the flexibility of how the children's race will be recorded e.g. the offspring of an Indian-Chinese union will have a hyphenated Indian-Chinese or Chinese-Indian designation. The son of an Indian could be called Dhanabalan, but his identity card (NRIC) may indicate his race as as Chinese-Indian. Suppose the parents make the decision based on the complexion of the little tot on arrival, and DNA checks are in order. As the child develops, and should skin tone change dramatically, fairer or darker, there is option to change the race classification at age 21. Before this age, if a couple has three successive kids of different shades, porcelain white, chocolate brown and ebony black, all three will have to stick to the same "double-barrelled" race classification.
And the fun really begins when an Indian-Chinese marries a Malay-German. ICA's "neat" solution is to use the first component of the quadruple-barrelled combination for the double-barrelled race classification. And a Chinese-Italian and Indian-Thai couple is permitted to register with a single race, so long as either first component is used for the race option, obliterating three bloodlines with a single stroke of the pen. Too bad if granddad's proud heritage gets lost in the mathematical permutation.
There is no neat solution to race or ethnic classification. Just stop and think of the human tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda.
Race is a term intended to designate main subdivisions of the human species. Its core intention is to distinguish groups based on physical characteristics, such as skin pigmentation and hair texture. When a child does not strongly resemble either parent, he/she may have difficulty time identifying with either in attempting to resolve the duality. Should the child arbitrarily identify with his or her most influential parental/dominant figure, peer conflict may result if the child’s physical appearance does not support the choice of racial identification. It is painful enough to watch interracial couples resolve their own racial identity issues, but do the kids have to navigate the treacherous labyrinth of racial identity formation as well? Contemporary researchers may suggest that race is largely a social construct that has little biological significance, despite the societal emphasis placed on race. But milk tolerance rates are extremely racially specific, and lactose intolerance (LI) primarily affects people of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Jewish and African descent. The harried doctor at a public hospital may be misled by the NRIC information.
Recall the hullabaloo when teachers were instructed to use only Hanyu Pinyin names in class, and the poor kids didn't know when they were addressed. There's wisdom in grandpa's advice, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." You should remember him, he's the guy who used to have your same surname.