U live interview with radio station CNA938 yesterday (June 10), Interior and Law Minister K. Shanmugam discussed a recent series of incidents involving bait racing in Singapore.
Last Saturday, a polytechnic lecturer clashed with an interracial couple on Orchard Road and said Indian men should not “hunt Chinese girls”.
A film footage of the encounter was posted on Facebook, which has since gone viral. His former students also volunteered to share their recounts of the now-suspended lecturer by making racist remarks and Islamophobic comments in class.
Recently on Wednesday, Facebook user Livanesh Ramu posted a clip of a man performing a Hindu prayer at the door of his home, while in the background a woman who looks like a Chinese woman repeatedly rang the gong in seemingly vicious sobs.
In addition, a woman named Catherine Beow Tan – also known as the “Hwa Chong” woman – found herself in the headlines giving racist remarks to other passengers on the MRT train.
It was later determined that she also had a dedicated YouTube channel that continues racism and harassment, which has since been discontinued.
Minister Shanmugam said it was “not very surprising” to see this trend of rising racist incidents. He later admitted that there would always be a certain level of racism in the community, which is inevitable for any multi-racial society. He noted that Singaporean leaders here have always recognized the existence of racism, which is played out in three ways: deep lines of racial faults, open racism, and racial preferences.
“If you have preferences and you bring them out into the public sphere and express it and set it as the norm for others, then I think it crosses the line,” he said.
“You should invoke (racism), you should frown against it and you should take action when it breaks the law. Because it is cancer, it shares and undermines the values of our society. “
Racial harmony has made tremendous progress, but are we regressing?
He pointed out that many government policies are shaped by the fact that there are racial preferences and racism in Singapore.
“The question is how to mitigate this to make sure that meritocracy works and that people of all races have fair opportunities?” he pointed out.
Although racism has really prevailed here, he feels that Singapore’s racial harmony is definitely not on the edge of a knife.
We have made tremendous progress, there is racial harmony (and) most people accept the norms of a multi-racial society. The direction is positive, but I put a question mark (following) recent events: are we in danger of regression? That’s the direction that worries me. “
– Minister K. Shanmugam
He added that although racism exists here or in any multi-racial society, the established frameworks and processes have helped preserve racial and religious harmony.
“In Singapore, we have a pretty strict framework and the legal provisions are pretty narrow, but you can’t always look at the law as the solution to every situation.”
“The legal framework is one part of it, but the government and society must work hard to maintain harmony. You cannot achieve racial harmony and racial tolerance just by accepting laws and enforcing them. “Therefore, although laws are important in shaping frameworks and foundations, we need to do much more and go beyond that to achieve racial harmony.
Everyone must play a role in preserving racial harmony
The government undoubtedly has an important role to play in preserving racial and religious harmony, which is a cornerstone of Singapore.
However, Minister Shanmugam stressed that society as a whole – people and even institutions – must also play a crucial role in this.
Singaporeans are not deprived of being able to say that I am an Indian, a Chinese or a Malay. … Beyond these (sub-identities), we are also Singaporeans, and that is a common identity. We must emphasize this shared identity even though we recognize (and accept) our individual identities.
We must have a common vision to build a system based on justice, equality and meritocracy, in which everyone can feel equal and protected. The government plays a major role in articulating this vision.
– Minister K. Shanmugam
He went on to give examples of how some Singaporeans tend to react to racist incidents with their own racist remarks, which he considers ironic behavior.
The government stresses that such behaviors should be called for, because if it is not addressed, the next time the tables are turned, the government may find itself constrained when it wants to do something.
“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 believe that we apply the law fairly to all races? Are they all protected? If they believe in it, then people will say I accept the operation of the law. “
While racism seems to be on the rise, it’s important to understand that this has always been the case, other than that social media has now helped shed light on these issues.
“We should not leave thinking this is new,” Minister Shanmugam said.
Racial harmony has progressed, but it is still ongoing
Singapore has always been supported as a role 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 of,” Minister Shanmugam said, noting the fact that our model worked better than most.
However, there is nothing natural in our state of racial harmony and it is something that requires constant attention and nurturing, or we will risk losing what we have achieved so far.
Singapore once suffered from 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 rooted multi-racialism 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 Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and reserved presidential elections that ensure minority representation.
There is also the Ethnic Integration Policy, a scheme adopted in 1989 to ensure a balanced combination of ethnic groups on HDB estates.
However, some troublemakers have criticized the government for factoring in racism when designing our electoral system or elected presidency.
They argue that by doing so, the government is actually underlining racial differences. U Facebook post as of June 6, 2021, Howard Lee argued that such “policies play a role in exacerbating racism”.
For example, former member of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Teo Soh Lung, mentioned in private Facebook post that the HDB’s ethnic quota is “discriminatory.”
U broadcast BBC interview In 2015, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam discussed ethnic integration policy for a long time. He described it as “the most intrusive social policy in Singapore”, but he also considers it the most important.
Once people of different ethnic groups live together, they don’t just walk the hallways and take the same elevator, he explained. “Kids go to the same kindergarten, kids go to the same elementary school, because around 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 an elected presidency for minority candidates, critics said the policy runs counter to Singapore’s meritocratic values. In fact, hundreds protested in Hong Lim Park a few days after the first election – reserved for Malaysia – saw Ms. Halimah Yacob under oath as president on September 14, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited the issue as an example of how Singapore is proactively strengthening institutions that support its multiracial and multireligious society.
He explained that it is harder for a non-Chinese candidate to be elected president by national vote. “How would minorities feel if the president of Singapore was almost always Chinese from year to year? In the long run, such a scenario would encourage deep disaster and erode the fundamental values of our nation. “
He further explained that the move gives minority ethnic groups the assurance that their place in society will always be protected.
We simply cannot deny that much has been done to protect our national cohesion and we should not allow racist incidents that show that Singaporeans oppose their Singaporean counterpart to undermine our belief.
When such racist incidents surface, most Singaporeans are quick to judge and leave hasty comments on the people involved. Such negative internet discourse gives birth to more negative reactions and does not bear any fruit.
Instead, what needs to be done is that we actually provide concrete suggestions on how to improve racial harmony in Singapore to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Multi-racism is not yet perfect and we need to take pragmatic steps to reach it gradually. It is important to take into account that the government is always open to feedback and alternative policies – that is what parliaments are for.
If we want to continue living in harmony, we must carefully manage racial and religious issues, not leaving them to chance. It is also important that we recognize the continued existence of racism at the individual level and work hard to address it.
Ultimately, each individual generation must play its part in maintaining racial harmony, and we are constantly working to achieve this important balance.
Credits for featured images: Bloomberg