Every generation will have to decide its own balance on issues of race, says Edwin Tong
All Singaporeans need to play a part in forging stronger relations with other ethnic communities.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong outlined the government’s commitment and approach to ensuring racial harmony in Singapore in Parliament on Monday (Jul 5).
Mr Tong was responding to Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Mr Raj Joshua Thomas’ Adjournment Motion on “Unending Project of Building Racial Harmony In Singapore”.
Mr Tong said: “[Racial harmony] is a continuous work in progress, even as we aspire to be a post-race society.”
He then outlined the government’s approach to ensuring racial harmony in Singapore.
Policies today “not set in stone”
Mr Tong said since racial harmony is a constant work in progress, policies have to be calibrated such that they remain “relevant and fair”.
“Changing social attitudes mean that every generation will have to decide its own balance on issues of race and other sensitive issues,” he added.
The Government will consult multiple stakeholders, including those with conflicting views, to reach a consensus such that policies will serve to further unite Singaporeans, instead of causing further division.
Strengthening community networks and institutions
Mr Thomas highlighted the need to constantly engage diverse groups in society in order to reach better understanding between races.
Mr Tong agreed with this sentiment and mentioned examples of government efforts to do so.
These include the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony, the National Integration Council and the Inter Racial and Religious Confidence Circles that engage community and religious leaders, new citizens, and local communities, respectively.
Mr Tong also noted that although the government will do its utmost to preserve Singapore’s racial harmony, a “whole-of-society” effort is needed as well.
He said: “Government cannot, should not, compel Singaporeans to have more friends of different races and religions. Neither would this be sustainable. But we can create the conditions, and the environment to foster stronger, deeper, more long-lasting harmony.
“For racial harmony to be enduring, the heavy lifting and the motivation must come from all Singaporeans, collectively, in an open fashion.”
Enlarging our common spaces
Mr Tong also responded to Mr Thomas’ concern that students from Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools may become an insular group who do not engage with students of minority races.
Mr Tong said that all schools in Singapore, SAP schools included, are meant to be an “important common ground to develop cross-cultural understanding and friendships from a young and early age”.
He added that Singapore’s approach to racial harmony has always been to create as much common space as possible.
Beyond just creating more common spaces, Mr Tong says that much more can be done than simply bringing people together.
“We do not want our ethnic communities to just ‘co-exist’ or ‘tolerate’ each other’s existence. We certainly hope that people can embrace each other’s differences, appreciate that we all have something unique, precisely because we are different, and to stand in solidarity despite our race,” he added.
Constructive discourse necessary to build empathy and mutual understanding
Mr Tong also noted the importance of having constructive discourse when it comes to discussing sensitive issues like race.
He said: “Society falters not when we disagree about things, but when we lose interest in trying to make sense of the other person’s point of view, or to understand or to learn and relearn on occasion and trying to engage that person on the merits of our own.”
He added that community and religious leaders have a key role in fostering constructive discussions and clarifying doubts and misconceptions.
He said that the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth collaborates with technology companies to support religious, interfaith and community organisations’ efforts to produce meaningful and positive social media content on racial and religious harmony.
In his closing remarks, Mr Tong also took stock of what Singapore already enjoys in terms of racial harmony.
He said that Singapore benefits from a guarantee of equality for all races and a system of racial and religious harmony that earlier generations have established.
Racial harmony is something that Singapore has made a conscious decision to stand for, he added.
Mr Tong ended his speech by saying: “I urge all Singaporeans from all ethnic communities to engage each other in our common spaces to forge stronger relations, embrace diversity, and also to practice it each day.
“If we can do that, I am sure that our lived experiences will come closer and closer to our aspirations of a truly post-racial society.”