Here in Singapore, we are living in a multicultural society.
Singapore was ruled by various sultanates until 1819 when the British came to set up a colony. During the British rule, Singapore established a port that essentially flourished and attracted many migrants from around the world. After finally achieving their independence in 1965, Singapore made its own way. Today, estimations show that over half of the total workforce in Singapore is foreign. Wherever we go, we see a mix of various traditions, languages, and religions prevailing around the state. Examples include the old streets of Chinatown, Muslim characteristics in Arab Street, and Little India along Serangoon Road. In addition, British colonial influence can be seen in the Neo-Classical buildings around the country.
Nevertheless, racism persists in Singapore. Racial discrimination is the discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race, also known as Racism. Where most countries do not condone racism, it still exists and has become a stereotype in society today. According to a survey commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies, almost half of the 2,000 respondents in Singapore felt it was still an important problem today.
“While their support for multiculturalism is strong, there is still sometimes an attitude problem between different races in Singapore,” says Faisal Halabia, a senior of SAS.
“We still have a long way to go. It is important to know that disintegration still persists in Singapore,” states Gabriella Zhao, founder of the organization United Singapore.
In the same survey by Channel NewsAsia and Institute of Policy Studies, six in ten Singaporeans said to have heard racist comments, with almost half saying the comment was made by a colleague. Two-thirds of Malay and Indian respondents who had experienced differential treatments claimed that race was the basis of such treatment. Malays further stated they were treated differently due to religious differences, while Indians said they were treated differently because of their skin color.
Communication, awareness, and cultural knowledge are important concepts that could help bridge one culture to another.
“There’s this one video of two men of different color exploring each other’s insecurities and misconceptions by rapping. Often it’s just coming into contact with people who are different, ” says Faisal Halabia.
Furthermore, Rohan Jasani, a junior of SAS asserts that “the most important thing to do is to educate people about our similarities, not our differences.”
The Singaporean government has worked, since its onset, at the implementations of racial harmony. In 1964, Singapore went through periods of racial riots — first on the 21st of July and a second time on the 2nd of September. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was noteworthy for his push towards equality, striving for equal rights for all Singapore citizens, regardless of race. Similarly, organizations such as OnePeople.sg have strived to foster social cohesion in Singapore’s multi-racial and religious society. In the Orange Ribbon Walk 2017, people from different cultures and nationalities had the opportunity to engage in conversations. This event helped enhance mutual understanding and to create a platform to address some of the stereotypes and misconceptions pertaining to race and religion. It ultimately featured a 3.8km walk around the civic district to show support for racial harmony.
We are all born equal. What gives us the right to judge others, to criticize them, or to look down on them? Clearly, we are living in a multicultural society, but we need to continue the good work to truly achieve racial harmony in Singapore. Only then can we truly become a cosmopolitan society.