Do we really need a Racial Harmony Day in Singapore?
This is Racial Harmony Day today and schoolchildren in Singapore dress up in different cultural outfits and play traditional games to mark the occasion.
But some have questioned the need for Singapore to have a day emphasizing racial harmony.
Isn’t it a bit hypocritical, they ask, to celebrate the occasion when so much work remains to be done?
Minorities in Singapore still have to deal with casual racism that underlies some of our daily interactions, with more overt racist incidents that happened in the last year, like the polytechnic professor who denounced an interracial couple on Orchard Road, or physical and verbal attacks on people from other races, both Singaporean and foreign.
More recently, we had to face the ignominy of an aunt Korean live streamer accosted in Singapore to warn her ‘not to get raped by Indians’. Yes, my mind is still confused. It was wrong on so many levels.
A recent survey by CNA and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) indicates that more than half of Singaporeans believe racism is an important issue to addresscompared to 46.3% in 2016.
And last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the government intended to adopt a new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Actwhich will include “softer” measures and encourage moderation and tolerance between different racial groups.
So what is there to celebrate if there is so little racial harmony in Singapore?
Perhaps breaking down the phrase “Racial Harmony Day” might help us find an answer.
Do we need a racial harmony day?
Why not just a day of harmony? By highlighting our disparate races and cultures, if we accentuate our differences too much, would we instead risk alienating each other?
One way to test our openness to our differences is to see how we celebrate public holidays in Singapore. Most of us would see this as a break from work, but ask yourself: how far do you go to celebrate the different holidays with your friends from other cultures and races?
For non-Chinese, do you visit your Chinese friends’ homes during Chinese New Year? The same for non-Muslims during Eid? What do you know about Diwali? Do you think Christmas is all about gifts?
It is not to shame anyone for not knowing the details of other cultures and races that live in Singapore. The crucial question here is: if you had the chance, would you want to learn?
I still depend on friends from other races, cultures, and religions to educate me on things I’m not aware of. Sometimes I google it myself (checking the facts on multiple sources, of course!). There are also free public forums such as The Whitehatters AMA (Ask Me Anything) Series that bring leaders of different faiths together in a safe space to raise unspoken questions.
Perhaps in this context, organizing a Racial Harmony Day is just another opportunity to teach our children more than something that appears on a test sheet.
Nonetheless, we must always be careful that such occasions don’t become just another way for stereotypes of casual racism to perpetuate themselves – like this wonderfully relevant video from NSFTV illustrated.
We must also not forget that it is more than just CMIO regarding ethnic groups in Singapore.
If we only focus on the four official races in Singapore for Racial Harmony Day, what about other people from other nations who call Singapore home?
I have a friend from Uzbekistan who has lived in Singapore for years. The other day, a new acquaintance was chatting with us and casually asked, “So, when are you coming home?”
She seemed a little surprised and replied in English still tinged with a charming Russian accent: “Singapore is my home”.
It’s small, genuine interactions like this that give me hope.
This, to me, is the ideal, that even if someone should take a cultural faux pas, we have a safe space to address it. I hope we won’t be too quick to take offense at ignorance, but see it as a chance to share. Not to dazzle or challenge someone, but to gently correct, with a touch of humor, and tell as a funny anecdote later!
do we need a breed harmony daytime?
In June last year, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong spoke at a race and racism forum in Singapore organized by IPS and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
His speech is good worth reading in fullbecause he takes a candid look at racism and could be an indication of how Singapore will approach the issue in the future.
In his speech, he said: “Race is never an easy issue for any society in the world, especially for very diverse societies like ours. It’s very moving because the question of race is linked to our identities, our cultures, our ways of life.
“The natural instinct of humans is to seek out the people who are most like us and to keep a distance from others…we would be mistaken if we believed that racial and religious harmony was the natural order of things. It does not just fall from the sky. There is nothing pre-established in a multiracial society.
“Now, in a positive way, social media has helped create greater awareness of racism here. It has caused us, especially the majority, to look closely at ourselves in the mirror and think more deeply about who we are and who we want to be.
“And we clearly cannot leave things as they are. We are better than that. Whether online or offline, we must hold ourselves to higher standards and fight racism wherever it exists in our society.
Do we need racial harmony daytime?
Why not every day? By making it one day, are we now saying that we are free to indulge in our stereotypes on other days?
Our children dress up to go to school. For them, it’s a chance to have a little fun with fashion and discover other cultures. I’m glad that in Singapore we don’t have to worry too much about accusations of cultural appropriation like some in other countries do.
By making it an occasion, it is an opportunity for our children to learn more about the lives of their friends outside of the classroom.
It’s not just games and disguises either.
Education Minister Chan Chun Sing shared on his Facebook this morning how students at Kranji High School started thinking about how they would react to different scenarios of racial stereotyping and racism during their lessons. character and citizenship education.
He said in the post: “Racial harmony has been and remains a work in progress…As our schools commemorate Racial Harmony Day today, let us remember the importance of building racial harmony and to deepen our appreciation of diverse cultures.”
Or as Prime Minister Lee said in his Racial Harmony Day Facebook post last year: “We celebrate Racial Harmony Day every year not to proclaim that Singapore has ‘solved’ this issue, but to remind us that this is something we need to keep working hard on.”
find something bigger
Last Friday (July 15), Liverpool played Crystal Palace in a packed National Stadium. One thing that struck me after watching Jordan Henderson score the opening goal in the 2-0 win was the celebration from the fans in the stands.
A boy waved his Liverpool scarf gleefully in the air as an older man cheered beside him.
In the sea of red, no one cared whether their neighbor was Chinese, Malay, Indian…
Last Saturday (July 16), during rehearsals for the National Day Parade, a naval diver dove into the water from the last RSAF Chinook helicopter, the Singapore flag was proudly flown and fireworks exploded later in the night. Artists strutted around and the crowd, after two years of Covid, swallowed it.
In the sea of red, no one cared whether their neighbor was Chinese, Malay, Indian…
We forget our differences when we find something bigger than ourselves to unite.
It could be a sports team you root for. A show that blows you away. A cause to defend. An event to celebrate. It could be the family you have, the friends you find. Organizations you join. The people you meet.
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When I was in school, we were taught the melting pot analogy about cultural assimilation. But in our more diverse times, I think it needs an update.
With Singaporeans’ love affair with dipping food into boiling hot soup, I’ll call it the hotpot analogy.
Let’s add ingredients from our different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds into a simmer broth unique to Singapore. Each additional ingredient retains its original flavor, while adding its own character to make the broth even richer.
There are more things that unite us than things that divide us. Recognizing our differences need not come at the expense of our unity, nor should celebrating our unity threaten our uniqueness.
Maybe, in this way, for this reason, there is still a place for Racial Harmony Day in Singapore.
Where is he? What do you think?