Saturday 20 July 2013

Race not an issue in Singapore: Indicators of Racial and Religious Harmony 2013

But most Singaporeans do not have close friends of another race
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2013

MOST Singaporeans say that race is not a factor in determining who gets promoted at work or served at public facilities here, according to a new study.

But while the survey found that many believe all races are generally treated fairly by society, it also notes that more than one in two Singaporeans do not have a close friend of another race.

Just 45 per cent of the 4,131 Singaporeans interviewed have such friends, an attribute that is essential for racial harmony, said the study released yesterday.

It is the first such study carried out to gauge the state of racial and religious harmony in Singapore by asking people for their views on 10 areas.

Overall, the results are positive, indicating that people of different races and religions get along.

The study's authors attributed it to government policies that foster social harmony. For instance, eight out of 10 Malays and Indians do not feel they are treated worse than other races in the workplace. And nine out of 10 feel there is no discrimination when they use government services, like hospitals.

Also, the vast majority of Singaporeans take online racist or offensive postings in their stride, such as when former NTUC staffer Amy Cheong ranted on Facebook about Malay void deck weddings.

Fewer than 10 per cent say they are often upset by incidents that insult their religious beliefs or racial customs.

The study ranked the 10 indicators with scores, from one (worst) to 10 (perfect). The score was above five for all except for interracial friendships, at 4.51.

Despite the positive picture, IPS and said racial harmony remains a work in progress. chairman Zainudin Nordin cited especially inter-racial friendships.

Such close-knit relationships form the backbone of racial harmony, the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP said at a press conference.

"It could be as simple as going into a lift and not looking down, but making an effort to chat with the neighbour of another race and deepening that relationship," he added.

The study found that two in 10 Chinese have a Malay or Indian friend, while nearly two-thirds of Malays and Indians have at least one Chinese friend.

Dr Mathew Mathews, the study's principal investigator and an IPS research fellow, attributed the poor score in inter-racial friendships to the population demographics.

The Chinese form almost 75 per cent, a vast majority compared to Malays (13 per cent) and Indians (9 per cent).

As a result, the Chinese can go about their daily routine without needing to meet someone from a minority race, Dr Mathews said.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser, who was not involved in the study, agreed but said economic status could also be a factor.

"We need to promote inter-racial collaborations on projects of common interest and under conditions of equality," he added.

But Dr Norman Vasu of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies noted that the other findings show the poor friendship score has not hindered inter-racial relations.

Racial and religious harmony 'remains strong'
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2013

RACIST online postings about Malay void-deck weddings and Indians needing to be in separate train cabins hogged headlines last year.

But a study has found that racial and religious harmony remains strong, despite these incidents that threatened to damage Singapore's social fabric.

Fewer than 10 per cent of 4,131 Singaporeans surveyed said they had often been upset in the past two years by situations that could potentially lead to racial or religious tension.

These instances could range from being insulted for one's racial customs or religious beliefs, and being challenged about one's religion, to undesirable attempts to convert one to another religion.

No specific examples were put to the people interviewed for the study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and racial harmony group

But two incidents stood out last year.

In March, Nanyang Polytechnic student Shimun Lai, upset at the congestion on an MRT train, wrote on her Facebook and Twitter accounts that Indians needed their own form of transport or to be in separate cabins from others. She also likened them to dogs.

In October, former NTUC staff member Amy Cheong made headlines for posting a racist rant on Facebook about Malay weddings.

But the study found that overall, six out of 10 Singaporeans agreed or strongly agreed that the country is free from both racial and religious tension.

Seven out of 10 agreed that they did not experience any religious or racial tension in their daily lives.

Principal investigator Mathew Mathews of the IPS, as well as, said the findings are a credit to government policies that foster harmony, such as ethnic housing quotas that ensure the proportion of residents in HDB blocks mirrors the national demographic. "It's nice to see these fruits of nation-building policies," Dr Mathews added.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser, who was not involved in the study, said he believes most Singaporeans are not racists.

"I'm not suggesting that Singaporeans are entirely free of racial prejudice. But the Amy Cheong case shows there are strong social and legal sanctions against deviants," added the National University of Singapore don.

Indicators and scores

INDICATORS that gauge state of Singapore's racial and religious relations, ranked by scores:

1 Absence of minority discrimination in using public services (9.75)

2 Absence of interracial and religious tension (7.99)

3 Embracing diversity (7.63)

4 Absence of minority discrimination in workplace (7.56)

5 Interracial and religious comfort in public and private spheres (7.46)

6 Interracial and religious social trust (7.18)

7 Embracing colour blindness (6.96)

8 Interest in intercultural understanding and interaction (6.49)

9 Absence of minority perception of social exclusion (6.20)

10 Presence of close interracial friendships (4.51)

The survey asked Singaporeans questions on 10 different aspects of racial and religious harmony.

Their answers were used to compute how Singapore fared according to the 10 indicators. Nine indicators had a score above five, with 10 being the perfect score.

The national survey interviewed 4,131 Singaporeans aged 18 or older. The overall profile mirrors the country's population demographics.

To ensure minority views were adequately represented, an additional booster sample of 492 Malays and 489 Indians were included for scores where minority views were sought (indicators 1, 3 and 9).

Who has a friend from another race?
Probably younger, more well-off S'poreans: Survey
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2013

SINGAPOREANS who are younger, better educated, have higher incomes, and live in a more expensive house are more likely to have a close friend from another race.

The findings, from an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and survey released on Thursday, goes against some commonly held perceptions that older folk, and those living in Housing Board flats, have deeper relationships with those from other communities.

Tertiary schools and cosmopolitan workplaces may give the young more opportunities to build such friendships, said Dr Mathew Mathews, the study's principal investigator.

Education and working together tend to "open people's world view and help people become more apt at dealing with diversity", said the IPS research fellow.

Race differences may also become less salient as people become better off, he added, as their values and aspirations tend to be more similar to one another's.

In the study, more than one in two of the 4,131 Singaporeans surveyed said they did not have at least one close friend of another race. The overall profile of the survey's respondents mirrored national demographics.

About two in 10 Chinese had a Malay or Indian friend, while nearly two-thirds of minorities had at least one close Chinese friend.

The study defined a close friend as someone with whom they felt at ease, could talk to about what was on their mind, or they could call on for help.

Across all the three major races, those aged between 18 and 25 were more likely to have such friends from another race than those who were older (see table).

Among those surprised by the findings was Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle leader Ameerali Abdeali, who said he had expected older people to be the ones more likely to have close cross-racial friendships.

Because of his childhood in a kampung, he has close friends from other races, he added.

But rosy pictures of interracial camaraderie that were a result of kampung days might not be representative, said Dr Mathews, noting that some of these communities were segregated.

Moreover, these ties might not have translated to close friendships, on which the study focuses, said chairman Zainudin Nordin.

Dr Mathews added: "Speaking a common language didn't necessarily mean people were deeply connected (to those from another race). The racial riots happened in the 1960s, a time when people did speak other languages."

Experts also noted that the recent increase in interracial marriages among the young complement the findings.

"That's the epitome of integration," said sociologist Paulin Straughan, who was not involved in the study.

The strength of interracial ties was also greater the higher up the socioeconomic ladder a respondent was, the study found.

"People from similar class backgrounds share similar values and lifestyles, and cross-racial friendship becomes a lot more possible," Dr Mathews said.

"The higher you move up the socioeconomic ladder, towards the middle class and beyond, the more people's values become similar. There's more likelihood of you finding affinity and closeness with others with similar values, regardless of race."

Commenting on the finding that those who pursued higher education were more likely to have close friends from another race, Prof Straughan said polytechnics and universities were much less homogeneous than primary and secondary schools.

"At those levels, there's a higher likelihood that you're in a Chinese-medium school or mission school," she said.

She pointed to how there tend to be fewer Muslims in mission schools, and fewer Indians and Malays in Special Assistance Plan schools, which have a focus on Chinese culture.

"But by the time you come to polytechnics and universities, the boundaries are broken down. There's more ethnic diversity, and a greater likelihood you'll mix with those not from your race," she said.

How can interracial ties be strengthened, especially among the lower-income groups?

Mr Zainudin, an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, suggested small-group recreational programmes to help neighbours get to know one another better.

This could take the form of encouraging them to greet one another in lifts, and fun quizzes about how well they knew one another.

"This allows people to get a bit of courage to say hello," he said.

But at the end of the day, he added, it was still down to the individual to make a move.

Racial differences 'easier to bridge'
60% of S'poreans liked meeting people of other races, 50% felt that way for other religions: Study
By Andrea Ong, The Sunday Times, 28 Jul 2013

People are more likely to step forward to get to know a person of a different race than a different religion, according to new data from a recent study.

It found that 60 per cent of 4,131 Singaporeans surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they liked meeting and getting to know people of other races.

But 50 per cent wanted to do the same for people of a different religion.

"It will take a little more time for us to bridge some of our religious differences because religion goes to the core of who we are, as individuals, as people," said Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) research fellow Mathew Mathews yesterday.

Dr Mathews, who led the study, was responding to a question on the differing focus placed on racial and religious harmony which emerged tops among some 800 young people at a forum yesterday. It was organised by racial harmony advocacy group, which did the study with IPS.

The students, who were from a cross-section of secondary schools, post-secondary institutions, religious and international schools, could vote electronically for questions they wanted to pose the panellists.

Other speakers on the panel, moderated by chairman and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Zainudin Nordin, were Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and writer Neil Humphreys.

Dr Mathews noted that while race and religion have traditionally been conflated in Singapore, the survey findings show this may not necessarily be the case.

For instance, respondents were more receptive to inter-racial marriages than inter-religious ones, he said, adding that more data will be released at a later date.

The panellists also discussed the complexity of dealing with stereotypes, with several asking students to resist forming judgments based on one or two encounters with someone of a different race, religion or nationality.

However, noting that race and religion are "primordial" and "very much part of who we are", Mr Tan said: "I believe that there's no point pretending that we're colour blind. There's no point pretending that these things don't matter."

While some have told him Singaporeans have attained a level of maturity that obviates the need to keep talking about racial and religious harmony, he feels it is important to continue to work at it.

"Not because we are not confident in ourselves but because we believe that it's precious," he said.

They also discussed attitudes towards foreigners.

Mr Tan said the Government realised in 2008 or 2009 that the influx had crossed a "social threshold" and has been tightening the tap ever since.

"Processes, policies, we will make adjustments," he said. "But as people, we have a choice in the way we regard others. We may not like it, but we can still determine the way we talk about it. We can still determine if we treat people with dignity and respect."

Less educated, poor sense discrimination

Those from minority groups who feel racially discriminated against at work are more likely to be less educated and from a lower income bracket, according to a recent study.

But on the whole, perceived workplace discrimination remains low, noted research fellow Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies, which did the study with racial harmony advocacy group

It surveyed 4,131 Singaporeans. Of the 1,736 Indians and Malays polled, only one in 10 reported feeling discriminated against at work often or very often. Of these, 14 per cent lived in one- and two-room flats, against 5 per cent in five-room flats or larger dwellings.

Some 13 per cent earned below $1,500 a month; 3 per cent earned $4,500 a month or more. Twelve per cent did not complete secondary education; 9 per cent have degrees.

Dr Mathews suggested that the perception of discrimination may be "heightened" if in a particular occupation, workers tend to be from one race while supervisors are from another.

Community needs to be proactive in fight against racism
By Mathew Mathews And Danielle Hong, Published The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2013

THE findings of a recent study on race have given Singaporeans reason to be optimistic about the future of race relations in the country.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and study on Indicators of Racial and Religious Harmony found that younger and better educated people were more likely to have at least one friend of another race.

The study, which was released last month, also revealed that six out of 10 of the 4,131 respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition that the country was free from both racial and religious tension.

One possible conclusion is that racial differences have become less salient in Singapore in recent years as living standards rise and the values and aspirations of Singaporeans converge.

Such an interpretation, however, needs to be treated with caution. Race, as a marker of identity, is something most Singaporeans are still keenly aware of. This can be seen in high-profile incidents such as former NTUC assistant director Amy Cheong's rant against Malay weddings at void decks on Facebook in October last year.

Structural racism is kept at bay in Singapore through sanctions and state policy. For instance, the Presidential Council of Minority Rights ensures that no policy intentionally or inadvertently discriminates against any minority group.

However, the domain of racial prejudice and collective discrimination such as what may happen in the neighbourhood or the workplace is not so easily managed. This is essentially because racial prejudice is learnt.

Race is an important part of a person's self-identity. Identifying oneself as a member of a particular race protects against possible threats to one's self-esteem.

Further reinforcement comes when people associate with homogeneous social groups. Because there is little diversity, knowledge of other groups in society is likely to be limited. A predominantly Chinese social group, for example, is unlikely to understand the nuances of Muslim wedding culture and make concessions for it.

And because racial identification is closely linked to an individual's self-identity, the resulting prejudice is unlikely to be amenable to change.

Additionally, since people tend to feel anxiety when they come across evidence challenging their world views, a sense of consistency is generally sought out in forming decisions and opinions.

Take, for example, someone who believes that the Chinese are grasping and calculating. Should such a person encounter a self-sacrificing, compassionate, generous Chinese person, he or she may find it difficult to reconcile this with his or her world view. Psychology suggests that such individuals are likely to focus instead on the traits of the Chinese person encountered that support, rather than subvert, the previously formed opinion.

In other words, racism will continue to persist as long as differences do. Indeed, everyone is a little racist - in that we seek solace in commonalities.

The problem arises when the cultural or racial differences displayed by other groups are assessed negatively. How can such undesirable assessments be managed?

First, it is necessary to move beyond a superficial recognition of cultural and racial differences. The aim should be to encourage dialogue so that differences can be better understood and appreciated. This means asking questions that might seem ignorant. Asked in the right spirit, however, such questions should not be dismissed as revealing disrespect.

Unfortunately, the respondents in the survey did not show much interest in intercultural understanding and interaction. But asking questions about cultural practices or personal theological beliefs might lead to discoveries of important commonalities.

Dialogue helps identify racial biases by forcing participants to articulate their reasoning processes. In this way, people are challenged to provide evidence for their tendency to attribute certain characteristics or habits to particular racial groups.

Imagining counter-stereotypes of a particular racial group could further aid the process.

In a study done at the University of Virginia on ways to ameliorate racial bias, it was found that unconscious biases could be limited by asking people to imagine meeting individuals who do not conform to the common racial stereotype.

If a society has a view of Malays as sport-loving and the Chinese as book-loving, for example, imagining Malay scholars and Chinese soccer players might help challenge those assumptions. It could also promote greater openness to the potential of others. Perhaps giving more publicity to individuals who do not conform to such popular stereotypes could assist in this process.

But the fight against racism does not simply involve people using their imagination in this way. It also requires the community to be proactive.

As Singaporeans, we must not succumb to the bystander effect. Rather, we should step in to redress racist situations in our everyday life whenever we encounter them. We should speak up for those who have been unfairly treated. Only then will we feel invested in a cohesive society that can see beyond colour.

The writers are researchers at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.

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