Racism exists in S’pore, but how to mitigate it?


In a live interview with radio station CNA938 yesterday (June 10), Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam spoke about the recent wave of back-related incidents in Singapore.

Last Saturday, a polytechnic professor confronted an interracial couple on Orchard Road and said Indian men should not “prey on Chinese girls.”

A recording of the meeting was posted on Facebook, which has since gone viral. His former students have also come forward to share their stories about the now-suspended teacher who made racist comments and Islamophobic comments in class.

Image credit: Livanesh Ramu via Facebook

More recently, on Wednesday, Facebook user Livanesh Ramu posted a clip of a man performing a Hindu prayer routine at the door of his home, while in the background a woman who looks Chinese makes a gong repeatedly. in an apparent bad taste.

In addition, a woman named Catherine Beow Tan (also known as the “Hwa Chong” woman) has been a starter in racist statements against other MRT train passengers.

It was later verified that he also had a dedicated YouTube channel that perpetuates racism and harassment, which has been discontinued.

Minister Shanmugam said it is “not at all surprising” to see this growing trend of racist incidents. He later acknowledged that there will always be some level of racism in the community, which is inevitable for any multiracial society. He noted that Singapore’s leaders have always recognized the existence of racism here, which develops in three ways: deep racial fault lines, direct racism and racial preferences.

“If you have preferences and take them out into the public sphere and express them and do it as a norm for others, I think that crosses the line,” he said.

You have to shout (racism), counter it and take action when you break the law. Because it is cancerous, it is divisive and undermines the values ​​of our society. “

Racial harmony has made great progress, but are we stepping back?

He noted that many government policies have been shaped based on the fact that there are racial preferences and racism in Singapore.

“The question is, how do we mitigate it to make sure that meritocracy works and that people of all races have fair opportunities?” he stressed.

While racism is indeed prevalent here, he believes Singapore’s racial harmony is definitely not on the cutting edge.

We have made great progress, there is racial harmony (and) most people accept the rules of a multiracial society. The direction has been positive, but I put a question mark (following) the recent facts: are we in danger of backtracking? It’s a direction that worries me. “

– Minister K. Shanmugam

He added that while racism exists here or in any multiracial society, the frameworks and processes that have been established have helped to safeguard racial and religious harmony.

“We have a fairly strict framework in Singapore and the legal provisions are quite strict, but the law cannot always be considered as a solution to all situations.”

“The legal framework is part of it, but the government and society have to work hard to maintain harmony. Racial harmony and racial tolerance cannot be achieved as acceptance just by having laws and enforcing them. Therefore, while laws are important in shaping the framework and foundations, we must do much more and go beyond achieving racial harmony.

Everyone must play a role in safeguarding racial harmony

Singapore races
Image credit: Singapore Policy Journal

Undoubtedly, the government has an important role to play in safeguarding racial and religious harmony, which is a cornerstone in Singapore.

However, Minister Shanmugam emphasized that society at large – people, and even institutions – also have a critical role to play in this.

It is not a remnant for Singaporeans to say that I am Indian, Chinese or Malay. … Beyond these (subidentities), we are also Singaporeans and this is a common identity. We must emphasize this common identity even when we recognize (and) accept our individual identities.

We must have the common vision of building a system based on justice, equality and meritocracy, where everyone can feel equal and protected. The government plays a huge role in articulating this vision.

– Minister K. Shanmugam

He went on to cite examples of how some Singaporeans tend to respond to racist incidents with their own racist comments, which he considers ironic behavior.

The government makes it a point to express these behaviors because, if not addressed, the next time the tables are returned, the government may be forced to act when it wants to act.

“The rule of law means that the law applies to everyone (majority and minority) equally,” he stressed.

“Have we applied the law fairly? Do people think we are enforcing the law fairly in all races? Is everyone protected? If they believe it, people will say I accept the workings of the law. “

While racism seems to be on the rise, it’s important to understand that this has always happened, except that social media has now helped shed more light on these issues.

“We should not leave thinking this is new,” Minister Shanmugam said.

Racial harmony has progressed, but it is also a work in progress

Singapore has always stood as an exemplary model when it comes to racial and religious harmony.

“There is racism in Singapore, but we are a better society than most other multiracial societies I know,” Minister Shanmugam said, highlighting the fact that our model has worked better than most.

Still, there is nothing natural in our state of racial harmony and it is something that needs constant attention and nutrition, or we will risk losing what we have achieved so far.

Singapore once suffered racial unrest caused by deep political and economic differences in 1964, tensions that contributed to the decision to secede from Malaysia in 1965.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, the government has consolidated multiracialism in its main national policies, which has helped build a fairly harmonious society.

For example, the government has introduced policies based on the CMIO framework, such as the constitution of group representation (GRC) and the reserved presidential elections that guarantee the representation of minorities.

There is also the policy of ethnic integration, a scheme enacted in 1989, to ensure a balanced mix of ethnicities on HDB farms.

However, some supporters have criticized the government for considering the race when drawing up our electoral system or the elected presidency.

They claim that in doing so, the government really underscores racial differences. In a Facebook post dated June 6, 2021, Howard Lee argued that these “policies play (a role) in the exacerbation of racism.”

For example, former member of the Democratic Party of Singapore (SDP), Teo Soh Lung, mentioned in separate Facebook post that the HDB ethnic quota is “discriminatory”.

In a broadcast an interview on the BBC in 2015, Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke at length on ethnic integration policy. He described it as the “most intrusive social policy in Singapore”, but also considered it the most important.

hdb ethnic integration policy
Image credit: 99.co

Once people of different ethnicities live together, they don’t just walk down the aisles and take the same elevator, he explained. “Kids go to the same kindergarten, kids go to the same elementary school, because all over the world little kids go to school very close to where they live and grow up together.”

As such, the EIP has helped maintain racial and social harmony in Singapore by providing opportunities for social mixing among Singaporeans of different races.

As for reserving the elected presidency for minority candidates, critics have said this policy goes against Singapore’s meritocratic values. In fact, hundreds of people protested in Hong Lim Park days after the first elections, reserved for Malays, which saw Ms. Halimah Yacob sworn in as president on September 14, 2017.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited the issue as an example of how Singapore is proactively strengthening the institutions that support its multiracial and multireligious society.

He explained that it is more difficult for a non-Chinese candidate to be elected president by a national vote. “How would minorities feel if year after year the president of Singapore was almost always Chinese? In the long run, this scenario would foster deep unhappiness and erode the founding values ​​of our nation. ”

He further explained that the measure gives minority ethnic groups the security that their place in society will always be safeguarded.

We simply cannot deny that much has been done to protect our national cohesion and we must not let the racist incidents shown by Singaporeans facing other fellow Singaporeans shake our beliefs.

When these racist incidents arise, most Singaporeans are quickly judged and leave a hasty comment about the person or persons involved. This negative online speech generates more negative reactions and bears no fruit.

Instead, what needs to be done is that we really offer concrete suggestions on how to improve racial harmony in Singapore to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Multiracialism is not yet perfect and we need to take pragmatic steps to get there progressively. It is important to note that the government is always open to feedback and alternative policies; that is why parliaments serve.

If we want to continue living in harmony, we must carefully manage racial and religious issues, not leave them to chance. The important thing is also that we recognize the continued existence of racism on an individual level and that we work hard to address it.

In the end, each generation must play its part in maintaining racial harmony and it is a continuous work in progress to achieve this important balance.

Featured Image Credit: Bloomberg

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