Singapore—OnePeople.sg organised the first in a series of sessions to talk about race relations on September 21, Saturday, together with Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and supported by Roses of Peace, an interfaith group.
The first session was called “Regardless of Race – The Dialogue,” with 130 people in attendance.
Janil Puthucheary, the chairman of OnePeople.sg, talked about the challenges saying “That line between meaningful engagement, being a little too sensitive, being appropriately sensitive, between finding something entertaining, engaging and offensive, is not prescribed. It’s not clear.
‘Regardless of race’ is in our pledge … but it’s something that needs active work. We want a series of dialogues and that’s what OnePeople.sg is hoping to kickstart today.”
One topic that was discussed is the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools and the yearly Racial Harmony Day celebrations held in schools.
Some of the participants said that it is necessary for there to be more “meaningful, sustained interactions” among races in Singapore.
A report on the session from Channel NewsAsia (CNA) quoted a former researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies, Leonard Lim, as saying that Chinese-only speaking SAP schools are denying access to pupils of different ethnic backgrounds.
The children who are schooled there have limited access to forming deep friendships with with others who do not come from Chinese families.
Mr Lim therefore made the suggestion that interaction opportunities for SAP school students be increased. He asked, “Take the ethnic integration housing policy, for instance. It’s there to prevent the formation of enclaves but aren’t SAP schools in a way encouraging the formation of enclaves and ethnic segregation?”
One participant said festivities such as those held in commemoration of Racial Harmony Day are “very token and basic,” and thus described a need for deeper discussions about race with students.
Whether more should be done to address racial prejudice at work was also discussed. According to a recent survey, a bigger proportion of Indian and Malay respondents said they felt more discrimination when applying for employment since 2013.
Mr Lim also shared a personal story that he characterised as “clearly very discriminatory”.
“Someone had said (the) hiring of a minority candidate for a particular role in the company affects the way people from outside of the organisation see us, treat us or talk to us. That to me was clearly very discriminatory and I said ‘No, I don’t think it’s an issue at all’.”
Some participants told CNA that the seeing was a good venue for hearing a point of view that is different from their own. A woman named Norami Aliza said it was a a “safe environment” for asking questions about sensitive issues, especially regrading prejudice at work.
According to another participant, Joshua Tan, age 67, “It is a timely dialogue given how Singapore has developed as a country. Back when I was younger, it would have been difficult. We weren’t ready.”
The next session from OnePeople.sg will be on Sunday, September 29, wherein the keynote speaker will be Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, and he will be talking about some of the issues raised in the first session. -/TISG