OnePeople.sg, a government organisation created in 1997 to foster harmonious racial and religious relations in Singapore, has launched a series of videos on race dialogues it has held so far.
“OnePeople.sg has been conducting conversations on race, in particular, difficult issues which confront issues of ethnic and religious diversity,” the organisation said on its website. “Having dealt with conversations on the ground, now we wish to extend videos of these conversations online and get a greater number of people on board, who may benefit hearing from diverse perspectives as well as share their views. We hope the video series would enable us to aspire for a deeper state of relations beyond tolerance.”
One of the videos deals with the race categorisation in Singapore and asks: is this segmentation of the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) still relevant here?
The question is one which has been raised by various quarters in recent years, with some asking if Singapore should go beyond such simplistic and divisive categorisation and to foster a more genuine and authentic national identity.
The conversation on CMIO involves Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, who is also the chairman of OnePeople.sg.
There will be several videos on the CMIO topic, including discussions on how the CMIO system actually protects minorities, and how it fosters and help build personal identity. There will also be one recording on the issue of casual racism which had been in the news recently.
More videos of the conversations will be released by March next year.
The project is supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), and is supposed to be a model to the public on how conversations on such “sensitive” topics can be held.
While it may be a tentative start to such conversations, it is nonetheless a significant change from the government which has always cautioned the public from engaging in such debates for fear that offence may be taken by some.
Dr Janil, who is a pediatrician by training, said last year that Singaporeans need to discuss the issue of race openly.
Dr Janil acknowledged then, during a forum, that while the CMIO system is not perfect, it is needed to preserve racial harmony. Because of this, the system enabled the Government to ensure a mix of different races in public housing and in schools, and prevent racial ghettos, he added.
“The CMIO is not there to divide. It’s because we accept that when people look at each other, there is bias, prejudice,” he said.
The minister believed that biases and prejudices cannot be eradicated by policies, but by honest and open conversations, done in good faith and mutual respect.
But in order for such openness to work, he said, people have to do their best not to be offensive and not to take offence.
In a study by the Institute of Policy Studies, whose results were release last year, it was found that while SIngaporeans mostly respected the different races, racism was still an issue.
“About 70 per cent of those interviewed reject outright discrimination, such as not hiring someone because of their race or religion, or insulting others because of race,” the Straits Times reported of the study. “They view such acts as racist, and say these actions are not acceptable at all.”