Youth react to PM Lee’s National Day Rally 2021 speech

Youth agreed that the speech provided Singaporeans with hope that our future looks optimistic but we still have much to work on when it comes to racial harmony.

Khalisa Zulkiflee

Creative writer and comedian on the side.

Published: 30 August 2021, 9:27 PM

On Aug 29, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally 2021 speech live at Mediacorp. 

Cancelled last year due to the pandemic, this speech was given in Malay, Chinese and English as PM Lee talked about Singapore’s COVID-19 situation and how it has impacted our economies, as well as how the government plans to tackle social issues.

PM Lee announced several policy changes regarding the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act and allowing Muslim nurses to don the tudung at their workplaces starting from November this year. 

We spoke to some youths to find out how they felt about the policy changes made and issues addressed by PM Lee. 

The issue of ‘Chinese Privilege’

“I believe he managed to cover all our anxieties that grew during the pandemic and I feel more assured now knowing that our Government is capable of tiding us through tough times. 


With 80 percent of the population vaccinated, Singapore is on the path towards a “COVID-19 resilient” nation. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/KHALISA ZULKIFLEE


“However, I think saying that Chinese people have privilege is not baseless. As the majority race we have to admit we have things going much easier for us. I never realised it either until recently but I believe it is my privilege that prevents me from facing the same problems my minority friends face.” Daniel Lim, 27, Freelancer

Appreciate that sensitive issues are addressed at a national level

“I don’t think Muslim nurses wearing the tudung will have adverse effects on society. Wearing a tudung would not impede our nurses from performing their duties professionally and caring for their patients. 

“I agree there aren’t institutional privileges offered to the Chinese. However, there are advantages to being part of the majority regardless of race, language or religion. Regardless, I am glad that such issues are part of the national dialogue and not swept aside.” Norman Fernandez, 29, Research Officer

More to be done in ensuring racial harmony

“I think it’s rather sad that we have to implement the Maintenance of Racial Harmony, since being courteous and polite should be the norm in every workplace.


The Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act seeks to prevent resentment and encourage tolerance among the different races. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/REAGAN TAN


“I see Muslims being able to don the tudung at their places of work as a long-awaited win for my community. While I’m tremendously happy for my Muslim sisters working as nurses, I regret that it took so long for this to take place.

“Minorities find it hard to find job and housing opportunities due to their race, a point that was also brought up by PM Lee during his speech. Whether it is acknowledged by Chinese people or not, Chinese privilege exists. It is felt by minorities everytime we are spoken to in Chinese, asked if we can speak Chinese and rejected when looking for a house or job. 

“I feel disappointed that the PM has chosen to completely shut down one side of the argument when he called it ‘completely baseless’.” – Haziq Adam De Silva, 20, Full-time National Serviceman

Assuring Singaporeans that the post-pandemic world would be a promising one

“PM Lee addressed the key issues many Singaporeans are worried about in a post-pandemic world. He spoke about the long-term economic goals the country has and addressed giving support to lower-wage workers, many of whom bore the brunt of the pandemic. 

“The new laws tackling racial harmony and tackling workplace discrimination are also promising. I feel that if an employer is intent on discriminatory practices then they will do just that, so I am hopeful the TAFEP guidelines will act as a stronger deterrent and be enforced to help tackle workplace discrimination.” – Anand Menon, 25, Consultant

Laws against racial and workplace discrimination are a good start

“I think that such a legislative law is needed and about time to be imposed in our society. Sometimes, people just think that their comments are harmless ‘opinions’ but to others they might not be as harmless. 

“As with an increasing number of insensitive racial acts happening online and offline (even those on TikToks), it has almost come across as “freedom of speech”. With this act in place, it gives a voice or a nudge for people to be able to stand up to those who choose to make those comments.

“As for workplace discrimination, I haven’t experienced it, but my friend was working in an office with many foreign colleagues and was the only Singaporean Malay. She mentioned to me that she found it hard to communicate as the ‘kakis will just stick together’ and, just like PM Lee said in his speech, only make ‘token gestures’ to the locals. 

“She had trouble voicing out her concerns and worries as the boss will either ignore it or tell his other foreign colleagues and in the end nothing is solved. 

“People stuck in their own cycle of doing things that are comfortable to them but not to their Singaporean colleagues will now have an additional concern at the back of their mind with Tafep becoming law.” – Siti Omairah, 25, English Tutor

Racial harmony should be part of our culture, not laws.

“Racial harmony is not something that can be properly enforced through new laws. It then becomes something that is a practice because there are repercussions, rather than a practice because it is part of our culture. 


As a multi-racial society, being accepting of other races, cultures and religions is a must. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NUR SHAZRIENA


“There will be those who will not be accepting of Muslim nurses wearing tudung in their workplaces. However, allowing Muslims being able to wear the tudung is part of being an inclusive society, and is a change that fundamentally will not ‘affect’ others, while allowing Muslims to practice their culture.” – Ryan Tan, 24, Human Resource

We’re moving in the right direction, but mental health issues should be addressed too.

“I thought that as a rally, the speech was great and provided hope and vision for the future, giving us a sense of moving forward. While I think more can be done, I appreciate that we are moving in the right direction and look forward to what progress we can achieve with this new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act.


The last nationwide study showed 1 in 7 Singaporeans experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. PHOTO CREDIT: KAT JAYNE VIA PEXELS


“I wished PM Lee could have also talked about mental health as individuals and as a society. The past year has been fairly traumatic, sometimes personally but also globally. We have suffered an immense shock and went through a lot of loss, even if that was experienced vicariously, or simply being anxious for family and friends overseas. 

“I have always wondered how we can collectively grief and heal from such a traumatic and large-scale event like the pandemic.” – Sandra Soh, 23, Research Officer

Written by Khalisa Zulkiflee, Quek Ser Han, Brandon Leong and Naren Lee Sankar.

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