Sunday 14 August 2016

Regardless of Race: Channel NewsAsia - Institute of Policy Studies Survey on Race Relations 2016

We need to talk about race issues, says Minister of State Janil Puthucheary
The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2016

Singapore has enjoyed decades of racial harmony but some social observers interviewed in a new TV documentary said it may be superficial as Singaporeans still harbour stereotypes of other races.

Another reason given by Minister of State Janil Puthucheary is that people are hesitant and afraid to discuss race relations because of the fear of being seen as racist.

They are also afraid of offending other races, added Dr Janil, who is also the chairman of, a national body that promotes racial and religious harmony.

He and the experts were discussing the results of a survey showing that half of Singaporeans hold negative stereotypes of other races.

They believe, for instance, that some are more violent, less friendly or more likely to get into trouble.

The survey, however, found that almost everyone respects the other races and believes all should be treated equally.

About 2,000 people were polled in the Institute of Policy Studies survey, and they reflect Singapore's racial composition.

The survey was commissioned by Channel NewsAsia for its documentary Regardless Of Race, which airs on Monday.

Dr Janil told about 100 people at a forum, after its private screening last night, that Singaporeans need to discuss the issue of race openly.

It sparked a lively discussion on issues such as the perceived everyday privileges the Chinese majority enjoy and whether the Government's model of classifying people by race, known as the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) model, is outdated.

The participants noted that the Chinese were less likely to be the butt of racist jokes and more likely to have more choices at food courts. They were also less likely to worry about their actions being ascribed to their race, said social science graduate Sherilyn Chan, 22.

But, management consultant Michael Heng, 61, did not agree, saying: "There is no toilet reserved for me, there is no carpark space reserved for me.''

Several people, however, wondered why "such a big deal" was being made about race, because differences between races are part and parcel of daily life.

Others questioned why race was being discussed along the lines of the CMIO model because there are differences within each racial group. The Chinese have dialect groups such as Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew, while among Malays, there are Javanese and Arabs.

As for the CMIO model, Dr Janil acknowledged that while it is not perfect, it is needed to preserve racial harmony. It enables 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.

These internal biases cannot be fixed by policies, but by people engaging in honest conversations about race, carried out in good faith and with mutual respect. For this to work, people have to do their best not to be offensive and not to take offence, said Dr Janil .

CNA – IPS Survey on Race Relations

Racial ties in Singapore generally healthy, survey shows
Race still found to be important in familial, personal relationships, and choice of leaders
By Tan Wei Zhen, TODAY, 18 Aug 2016

A nationwide survey of 2,000 citizens and permanent residents aged 21 and above has found race relations and attitudes towards racial issues to be generally healthy, with people striving to uphold multiculturalism and lauding policies in place to promote it.

However, it found that their perceptions of the different races are coloured, so much so that race matters when it comes to familial or inter-personal relationships. People also have a preference on the choice of Prime Minister and the President, based on race.

While the survey painted a rosy picture in general, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) senior research fellow Dr Mathew Mathews — who led the study — said there is “still some way to go” in terms of deepening interracial ties.

“People do believe in the merits of multiculturalism. The fact that few including minorities have faced insults, name calling and harassment in the last two years is a good sign,” he said.

However, he noted the fact that respondents still believe that people from some races are “more predisposed to some negative behaviour”.

“We want to come to a stage when many of these stereotypes are questioned and people really believe that just because they have seen some people from a particular race behaving in a negative way it does not mean that is reflective of the whole group,” he said.

Conducted between June and July, the door-to-door survey, commissioned by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and the IPS, found that Singaporeans seek to uphold the values and ideals of multiracialism, and there is a high level of interaction between the different races.

There is strong endorsement among the respondents of the meritocratic system and policies to safeguard race relations.

Respondents also said they aim to socialise their children to understand and be sensitive of cultural differences.

About 75 per cent of the respondents were Chinese, followed by Malays (13 per cent), Indians (nine per cent), and others (2.8 per cent).

In general, most respondents are accepting of social interaction across racial lines. About 7 in 10 Chinese Singaporeans said they were amenable to inviting Indians and Malays to their homes for a meal, or to them playing with their children or grandchildren.

Most respondents said they interact with people of other races in a variety of settings, such as attending an ethnic celebration, making inter-racial friends, and taking an interest in understanding the culture of those around them.

Nevertheless, it is “impossible to judge the depth of these interactions”, the survey noted.

More than 70 per cent of the respondents indicated that the various policies meant to safeguard racial or religious harmony, such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others racial categorisation, were helpful in building trust between the races and safeguarding minority rights.

However, when it came to familial and inter-personal relationships or the choice of the country’s President and Prime Minister, there is a clear racial preference towards people of the same race.

A vast majority of Chinese, Malay and Indian respondents also find those of their own race more acceptable partners to marry into the family, to help with business issues, or to share personal problems with.

In general, a greater proportion of respondents from the minority races were accepting of the Chinese, as compared with the Chinese being accepting of the minority races.

The least preference among many respondents were for new citizens, the survey showed.

Overall, the respondents acknowledged that racism persists in society here, with reservations among some about broaching sensitive issues with people of other races.

Six in 10 respondents across all races said they have heard racist comments, of which under half said that such comments were made by colleagues and friends.

The primary way of dealing with such information was to ignore these comments, which 63 per cent did, and 29 per cent responded by arguing with the person who had made the statement.

Nevertheless, 73 per cent of all respondents disagreed with the statement that “race is very important in determining who is successful and who is not”, with the survey noting that Malay respondents were “slightly less likely to disagree”.

Almost 90 per cent agreed that everyone who works hard, regardless of race, has an equal opportunity to become rich.

Even so, about half of the respondents (53 per cent) felt that being of the majority race was “advantageous”, with this perception being more acute among the minority races.

The fieldwork for the survey was carried out by market research company Blackbox.

A “drop-off pick up” method was used where the surveyor approached a pre-determined prospective household, identified the eligible person using a set criteria, and invited him or her to independently complete a survey questionnaire, which was worded in all four official languages.

Participants were given an envelope to seal in their completed questionnaire, before it was collected by the surveyor.


Clear racial preference for Prime Minister, President: Survey
By Tan Wei Zhen, TODAY, 18 Aug 2016

Race matters when it comes to Singaporeans’ preferences for the country’s Prime Minister or President, a nationwide survey has shown.

The survey found that the vast majority of the 2,000 respondents prefer the country’s top leaders to be of the same race as themselves. This sentiment was markedly stronger among respondents aged 50 and above.

Nevertheless, sizeable proportions of the respondents across the various races said they would accept leaders of a different race.

For example, while almost all (98 per cent) of the Chinese respondents said they prefer a Chinese Singaporean Prime Minister, about 53 per cent and 60 per cent said they would accept a Malay Singaporean Prime Minister or a Indian Singaporean Prime Minister, respectively.

Among the Malay respondents, 93 per cent said they prefer a Malay Singaporean Prime Minister and 86 per cent indicated they would accept a Chinese Singaporean Prime Minister. Three-quarters said they would accept an Indian Singaporean Prime Minister.

As for Indian respondents, 89 per cent said they prefer an Indian Singaporean Prime Minister. Seventy per cent and 88 per cent said they would accept a Malay Singaporean Prime Minister or a Chinese Singaporean Prime Minister, respectively.

The findings were generally similar when it comes to the respondents’ racial preference for the country’s President.

Taking age into account, 63 per cent of Chinese respondents aged below 30 were in favour of having a Malay Singaporean Prime Minister, for example, compared with 42 per cent among those aged 50 and over.

While the survey showed that people are still “mindful of race”, IPS senior research fellow Dr Mathew Mathews, who led the survey, said it does not mean they are “necessarily opposed to having someone of another race to fill key positions”.

“People have grown accustomed to politicians and key leaders of different races and over time they accord them great respect. There are often features that transcend racial identity. So if you know someone is competent, a great thinker and speaker, one who is really concerned about people, you can set aside your prejudices and accept that person. But it takes time for people to take notice of these qualities,” he added.

The issue of a minority race leader for Singapore surfaced as a point of discussion last July, when Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was asked at an IPS forum on whether Singapore would ever see an Indian Prime Minister. Responding, Mr Tharman had said that it seemed “inevitable” at some point that a minority Prime Minister would be a feature of the political landscape, in line with Singapore’s meritocracy system.

Announcing a review of specific aspects of the Elected Presidency (EP) in January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had flagged safeguarding minority representation as one area of review, noting Singapore has not seen a Malay President since the Elected Presidency was introduced in 1991, and only one Indian President, Mr S R Nathan, since then.

The Constitutional Commission tasked with the review submitted its report to Mr Lee on Wednesday.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University said that the survey findings could be used to support the argument that Singaporeans vote along racial lines.

But if the EP was tweaked such that a minority race President would be elected regularly, such a system may steer people away from voting for the best candidate, especially if he or she is from a minority race.

“If voters know, by default, that a minority president will, by law, be elected in the next election, this round they may take the position that there is no need to vote for a minority candidate because that minority group will have their turn the next round,” Assoc Prof Tan said.

National University of Singapore political scientist Reuben Wong noted that the findings did not answer the question of whether Singaporeans would vote along racial lines over other qualities such as competence.

He added that it was clear that Singaporeans still have a strong “CMIO” (Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others) mentality, perpetuated in policies such as those for housing and mother tongue languages.

“I feel it (CMIO) has in some ways overrun its course. There were reasons to do this in colonial times, but because we keep perpetuating this discourse, people have a very strong sense still of ethnic identity in Singapore,” he said.


Racism still an issue in Singapore today, say most polled
By Laura Philomin, TODAY, 18 Aug 2016

Racism still persists in Singapore, going by a survey on race relations commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies, where almost half of the 2,000 respondents felt it is still an important problem today.

Results from the survey showed that 46 per cent disagreed with the statement that racism was a problem of the past and not an important one in the present time.

More than half of the respondents also agreed that being part of the majority race is an advantage in Singapore, but 67 per cent disagreed that the needs of the majority race should be looked after first, before the needs of the minority races.

Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of respondents perceived themselves as hardly racist or not at all, but were more likely to notice racism in others.

Almost 40 per cent of respondents reported that their close friends were at least mildly racist. More Chinese respondents (42 per cent) reported feeling this way, compared to Malay (34 per cent) and Indian respondents (22 per cent).

They were also more likely to judge others as more racist than their close circle of family and friends. In general, 56 and 53 per cent of respondents perceived most Chinese and Malay Singaporeans to be at least mildly racist respectively. However, 49 per cent of respondents felt the same way about most Indian Singaporeans.

Six in 10 respondents said they had heard racist comments, mostly from workplace colleagues and friends. On how they responded to such comments, 63 per cent said they would ignore them while only 29 per cent indicating they argued with the person about the truth of the statement.

On what constitutes racism, about 65 per cent considered not sitting beside someone of a different race as racist. Outright discrimination — such as not hiring someone based on one’s race or religion, or making generalisations about people of a particular race as being “dirty, lazy or too money-minded” — was considered racist and never acceptable by 70 per cent of respondents.

In comparison, less than half deemed it racist for a person to not have friends of a different race.

Racial minorities also reported to perceive more instances of differential treatment, with over half of them agreeing they had had people act as if they were better than them in the last two years. Two-thirds of Malay and Indian respondents also thought that they were treated differently because of their race.

Over 40 per cent of Malay respondents indicated they were also treated differently on the basis of religion and income or education. Six in 10 Indian respondents felt they were treated differently because of their skin colour.

When asked about how they responded to these experiences, more than half ignored the remarks, but 49 per cent of Malay and 37 per cent of Indian respondents said they worked harder to prove the detractors wrong.

Even though respondents from minority races attributed negative experiences they had encountered to race, comparatively fewer said they had been racially discriminated against.

Almost half of the Malay and Indian respondents said they had heard someone talk about racial discrimination or prejudice, but only a third of them had felt racially discriminated against.

New immigrants kept at arms length: Survey
By Laura Philomin, TODAY, 18 Aug 2016

Not only are new immigrants perceived to be more racist, they are also the least preferred group among the different races here when it comes to social and business interactions, says a survey on race relations commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

For example, new immigrants from China were viewed as at least “mildly racist” by 65 per cent of the respondents. New immigrants from India and the Philippines were also perceived to be at least “mildly racist” by 54 per cent and 56 per cent of the respondents respectively.

In contrast, 56 per cent of all respondents viewed Chinese Singaporeans as at least “mildly racist”, while 53 per cent and 49 per cent felt the same way about Malay Singaporeans and Indian Singaporeans, respectively. 

The survey also found that new immigrants were the least preferred when it comes to someone marrying into the family, helping with business issues or sharing personal problems with.

For example, only half of the respondents said they would invite new immigrants to their homes for a meal. In comparison, between 66 per cent and 90 per cent of the respondents indicated they would ask someone of a different race — Chinese, Malay or Indian — over for a meal.

Also, only 7 per cent of the respondents said they would prefer a future Prime Minister to be a new immigrant.

IPS senior research fellow Dr Mathew Mathews, who headed the survey, said of the findings: “People sometimes perceive, though unfairly, that new migrants are threats to existing ways of living. People then perceive that new migrants, who often come from societies which are not multicultural like ours, may hold onto many more prejudices.”

He stressed that these perceptions “may not always be true since many new migrants may have had exposure in their own countries to people of other cultures”.

“But it can’t be denied that depending on the background of new migrants, they may not have imbibed the same norms we have about the value of other races and (accord) due respect and sensitivity to different cultures,” added Dr Mathews.

Survey shows ‘there are blind spots’ when it comes to race
By Laura Philomin and Iliyas Juanda, TODAY, 19 Aug 2016

She may have parents from different races, a Chinese mother and an Indian father, but Ms Priya Ning Rehunathan said she would prefer dating someone who is Indian because they would share the same culture.

“I’ve dated people of different races and feel that having the same culture or religion is quite important in a relationship. It’s not necessarily their race or colour of their skin,” the 26-year-old talent manager said. “It just puts the both of you on the same page in terms of your lifestyle (and) how you raise your kids.”

She used to have male friends who remarked that they would never date a girl with darker skin, but Ms Priya noticed that attitudes have started changing and race is no longer brought up as an issue among her circle of friends.

Ms Priya was sharing her experiences in response to a nationwide survey on race issues commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

The study found that race relations and attitudes in Singapore are generally healthy but there is a gap between what people know they should or should not do and what they really do in their personal interactions with others.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan from the National University of Singapore (NUS) also pointed out that evidence from the survey shows that “there are blind spots clearly reflecting our ignorance”.

“Perhaps this is a reminder to Chinese Singaporeans that (as the) majority, there is a certain responsibility that we have to bear ... We have to make an effort to be inclusive in our social endeavours,” she said of how they could expand their social circles and have open discussions to bridge this gap.

Associate Professor Straughan also suggested that affected groups initiate conversations on more difficult issues such as extremism and self-radicalisation, where they can control the discourse and dispel myths.

Another finding of the survey was that Singaporeans preferred someone of their own race marrying into their family, or taking on leadership positions such as prime minister or president of the country.

However, Assoc Prof Straughan said that preference is not necessarily an indication of racism. For example, she noted that the racial preferences captured in the survey do not match the rising proportion of inter-ethnic marriages in Singapore.

“A preference for familiarities does not mean that one is a racist,” she said.

If the respondents were asked if they wanted a candidate such as Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to be Prime Minister or President, as opposed to just “an Indian candidate”, the outcome would have been different.

“He is Indian, but also now an individual with very clear achievements, characteristic traits and, therefore, it’s no longer mystical,” she said.

“The trick is for us to not let those labels stick on just very shallow kind of interpretations of what race is … but rather, the conversation should bring you to an individual.”

Still, traditional mindsets can be hard to shake off among the older generation.

Retiree Teo Peck Har, 61, and Madam Clara Lee, 57, a secretary, both said that they would prefer a Chinese Prime Minister.

For 39-year-old executive assistant Aileen Tay though, race comes second to a leader’s capabilities.

The survey may show that Singaporeans subscribe to the values of multiracialism, but sociologist Tan Ern Ser from NUS cautioned that racial harmony cannot be taken for granted: “We must continue to work towards integration and nip any sources of racial tension in the bud.”

‘Only 60% of parents explain racial matters to children’
By Iliyas Juanda, TODAY, 19 Aug 2016

Children should be educated about racial issues — such as why racism is bad for the country — and be allowed to interact with other races, a majority of respondents to a survey about race relations felt.

But while about nine in 10 respondents believed that it is important to explain to their children why racism is bad for society, only about 60 per cent of the respondents who were parents actually did so, according to the aforementioned survey.

The findings were similar when it came to explaining to children the customs and practices of other races, explaining to children what people of other races find offensive, and explaining to them why people of other races do things differently.

Respondents generally felt it was important, but among parents, only about 60 per cent actually explained it to their children.

A smaller proportion thought it was important to educate children on the merits of one’s own race. Only 77 per cent of respondents felt it was important, and among parents, 51 per cent did so.

According to the survey, the median age when respondents realised the differences between races was 10. Nineteen per cent of respondents were told by parents and elders not to mix too much with people of other races.

This was more prevalent among Chinese respondents (21 per cent) compared to Malay (14 per cent) and Indian respondents (13 per cent).

When it comes to marriage and other personal issues, race matters
By Laura Philomin, TODAY, 19 Aug 2016

Singaporeans still prefer someone of the same race when it comes to things like marriages in the family, helping them run their businesses or to share personal problems with, a survey on race relations in Singapore showed.

In general, the survey also found that respondents from minority races were more accepting of the Chinese, compared with the Chinese being open to other races, for various roles and relationships. The survey was commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies which involved 2,000 respondents, weighted to Singapore’s demography.

Although the overall finding was that Singaporeans try to live out multiracial ideals, less than a quarter (21 per cent to 24 per cent) of Chinese respondents said they would accept Malay Singaporeans and Indian Singaporeans marrying into their family.

In comparison, Malays were more receptive to other races — 63 per cent would accept a new Chinese family member, and 41 per cent would accept Indians. The figure for Indians was 50 per cent towards Chinese and 30 per cent towards Malays.

In terms of personal relationships, Chinese respondents were also less likely to share their personal problems with people of other races. Less than half of them (43-48 per cent) would confide in people from other races, while between 53 and 84 per cent of Malay and Indian respondents said they would do so.

In terms of economic activity, such as getting someone to help manage a business, there was a general preference across all races for getting a Chinese to do the job.

More Malays preferred Chinese (82 per cent) to Indians (47 per cent) in helping them in their business. It was the same case among Indians, with 72 per cent open to Chinese help, compared with 42 per cent for Malays.

Racial preferences were less noticeable when it came to social interactions. About two-thirds of Chinese respondents were amenable to Malays and Indians sharing a meal at their homes or playing with their children and grandchildren. This proportion was higher for Malay and Indian respondents — between 77 per cent and 89 per cent.

Eight in 10 of all respondents also said they were not told by their parents not to mix too much with people from other races when they were growing up and they have made friends with people from the three main racial groups.

About 60 per cent of respondents who have children also said they have spoken to their children about the differences among the races, the customs and practices of other races, as well as why racism is bad for society.

Singaporeans respect all races, but racism still an issue: Survey

Nearly all respondents feel all races should be treated equally, but many say they have experienced racism
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2016

Singaporeans strongly support multiracialism and meritocracy, with nearly everyone saying they respect people from all races and that all races should be treated equally, according to a survey.

But almost half of them recognise that racism can be a problem and are aware there are a significant number who are at least mildly racist.

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. They view such acts as racist, and say these actions are not acceptable at all.

The survey also found that Singaporeans are comfortable interacting with people of another race.

Most people across the races say they will accept a prime minister or president from another race. However, they admit they prefer such a leader to be of their own race.

This preference for one's own is seen in personal relationships as well: Singaporeans would rather their family members marry someone of the same race.

They also feel more at ease sharing their personal problems with a friend of the same race.

These differing attitudes of Singaporeans towards those of other ethnic groups, depending on activity and setting, were among the findings of a survey of 2,000 Singapore residents aged 21 and older.

Their racial composition and the types of homes they live in are reflective of the Singapore population, but an extra 500 Malays and Indians were polled so that their views were properly represented.

The survey was commissioned by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). It was first cited by CNA for its TV documentary Regardless Of Race, and released by the IPS yesterday.

A key finding is that all races strongly believe in meritocracy and racial equality.

Nine in 10 agree that anyone who works hard can become rich, no matter their race.

Two out of three disagree that the interests of the majority race should be looked after before those of the minority races.

This was the case even among the Chinese who, however, have different perceptions of how strongly other races are pushing for their cultural rights.

Nearly 30 per cent of Chinese feel that minority races are demanding more cultural rights, a view shared by almost 40 per cent of Malays.

At the same time, 40 per cent of minority respondents feel the Chinese are demanding more rights.


While the support for multiracialism is strong, many said they have experienced racism or indicate that they hold racist attitudes.

Six in 10 had heard racist comments, with almost half saying the comment was made by a colleague.

Singaporeans also showed a sharp contrast in attitudes, accepting people of other races on a casual, social level, but preferring those of their own race in personal and political settings.

Two-thirds of Chinese would invite Indians and Malays to their home for a meal. More than 80 per cent of Malays and Indians would invite people of other races to their home for a meal.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who led the study, said of the findings: "We have bought into the principles of meritocracy, but that does not mean we have removed all of our implicit biases."

Let's talk about race, in ground-breaking documentary
In a documentary that takes an unprecedented look at racial prejudice and privilege, presenter Janil Puthucheary finds out if Singaporeans are ready to have an open discussion on race.
By Kane Cunico, Channel NewsAsia, 11 Aug 2016

When Dr Janil Puthucheary was approached to host a documentary looking at race relations in Singapore, it seemed “such a crazy idea” that he thought the executive producer from Channel NewsAsia was joking.

“Her opening line was, ‘I want to do a documentary about race to find out if we (Singaporeans) are all racist,’” said Dr Puthucheary, “I mean, she was a little bit extreme to just provoke the conversation. But I remember my reaction was, ‘This will never happen, no one’s going to talk to us about it.’”

But to Dr Puthucheary’s surprise, over the five months of filming – hitting the streets, bars and institutions to interview academics, celebrities, sportsmen, taxi drivers and school children to find out where Singaporeans really stand on race relations – his interviewees did not shy away from the challenging topic.

Said the chairman of, the body which works to promote racial harmony: “They were very willing to talk about some of these things, knowing that it was going to become part of a public documentary.

“I’m hoping it will be engaging enough that people will take the message seriously, and think about how to take this forward and have deeper conversations about race.”

Produced by Channel NewsAsia, the 45-minute-long Regardless Of Race - which will air on Aug 15 at 8pm - investigates perceptions of race in multicultural Singapore.

The documentary features the results of one of the largest nation-wide surveys on race – involving 2,000 respondents, and specially commissioned by Channel NewsAsia in partnership with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

The producers and Dr Puthucheary also conducted a social experiment to expose the privilege gap between the majority race and the minority races, which proved an eye-opening experience for all participants.

The documentary shows that it is indeed possible for Singaporeans to have “moderate, reasonable, polite, respectful conversations about what are some of the most difficult subjects we have to deal with”, said Dr Puthucheary. “And we need to have a bit more of this, so that people will understand each other and understand their own biasness.”

Ahead of the documentary’s premiere on Aug 15, Dr Puthucheary reflects on his journey in an interview. Here are excerpts:

Q: In the show, one taxi driver said he did not think he was racist, but then went on to describe why he picked passengers based on their race. How did it make you feel to hear those stereotypes about your own race?

There’s the conflation of prejudice and racism. And he, the taxi driver, Uncle Steven, has prejudice. And he understands he has prejudice.

He still has to pick up his customers. He might not always have a good experience with some customers, or he may have a bias about some customers. But then he sees it is important that he behaves in a non-racist way, and he thinks of himself as non-racist.

And it is that separation - that fine line of racism versus bias and prejudices. We are not going to get rid of people’s prejudices and biases. It is about how you cope with it. And in a strange way, Uncle Steven has some of the most insight... He understands his biasness and prejudice, and he understands that it is important not to be racist.

That is kind of what we need to achieve.

Q: Do you think that because you are of a minority race or that you are a politician, there will be a perception that you have a certain agenda?

(I felt) like, are you sure you want me to do this (programme)? Is it going to be good for the show that I’m the person involved? But as the chairman of, part of my agreement is to look at these issues and to deal with them. So I didn’t want to shy away and ‘taichi’ the responsibility to somebody else.

Being in the minority race and also being in politics, yes it was going to have an impact on people’s perceptions. There are biases and this is part of it, right? You cannot hide the fact nor should you try to.

On the other hand, there are things you can say if you are part of that race. There are some jokes in there that, if it was not an Indian saying it, they would come across as different - but it is okay because I said it, or someone else who was Indian said it.

Q: In the Channel NewsAsia-IPS survey of 2,000 respondents, what key findings stood out for you?

There were a lot of things. One which was quite worrying, (was) the fact that a large group of parents (41 per cent) don’t talk to their kids about racism being bad, that this is not an appropriate behaviour. That’s a bit worrying, because that has an impact on how kids are growing up and where the future of this conversation and this issue is going.

Q: You spoke to a group of children from Townsville Primary School about race, such as whether they had been teased because of the colour of their skin.

The conversation I had with the school children was interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, they understood that this was an important subject. And they talked about it in positive tones – like, what they did on Racial Harmony Day, how they have friends of different races, different religions.

And when I asked them about problems that they had or how they felt, actually, they were very honest and frank. “People call me this, and I don’t like it. And I get very upset.”

One of the other reasons it was interesting is that many adults assume kids only start to have these types of thoughts and ideas at a later age, but actually it starts fairly young.

And that is one of the reasons why we do need to talk to our kids from quite a young age about these things. It cannot be that just because it is happening in school, it doesn’t have to happen in the home.

Q: In one social experiment, you asked participants a series of questions about being treated a certain way based on race, such as at job interviews. They took a step back or forward depending on their experiences; their final positions showed a privilege gap. Afterwards you spoke to them – what do you think they took away?

I think they took away different things depending on their world view and their perspective. But I think they all took one thing away – that actually, they were able to have an open and productive conversation about race and privilege and tolerance with each other, which they hadn’t expected to do.

Everyone opened up, everyone talked about how they felt when they saw how the experiment played out and where they were standing. Everyone tried to imagine how the other participant might feel - they tried to put themselves in the mind of the other participant. So that was very heartening.

Q: What did you hope to achieve by doing the show?

Now, I do not think that in the 45 minutes of the show we covered everything, but I hope we took the right approach, which is to at least have the conversation about some of the deeper, more important issues.

I’m hoping it will make people sit up and think. I’m hoping it will be engaging enough that people will take the message seriously and think about how to take this forward and have deeper conversations about race.

Q: For example, what are some activities has in store?

Our primary focus is having dialogues and conversations, and creating that kind of moderated common space - a safe space, for dialogues. We’ll be doing a lot more.

In particular, we want to reach out to groups of people that we haven’t had opportunities to do so yet. And extend our conversations to wider groups of youths as well. We try to publicise our efforts to have people come forward to have discussions, and more ground-up partnerships and so forth. So we’re going to do a lot more of that.

Managing Singapore's new diversities
By Mathew Mathews, Published The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2016

Singapore has become more socially diverse in recent years, beyond our traditional differences of race, religion and language. Much of this has come about because the country has positioned itself at the intersection of global flows. But welcoming what is new and foreign into our island has meant that Singaporeans, who have become accustomed to a set number of diversities which are neatly categorised and presented, have had to accept that these are in a state of flux.

A case in point would be the growing number of children of mixed parentage, who have parents not just from the different ethnic groups in Singapore but from diverse racial, nationality and socio-economic backgrounds. Such blends intensify the anxieties among those who have become accustomed to neat categories to deal with the diversity around them.

We also have significant segments of our population who are wary of the diversity management strategies of the past. These included homogenisation, where inclusion of all forms of diversity was not the priority; public policy instead promoted the forging of a national identity. Thus, instead of recognising the many dialects that the Chinese used, Mandarin was made the official language of the Singaporean Chinese. This decision, though contentious in some quarters, reduced intra-linguistic differences and built social cohesion.

Singapore's highly globalised citizens today, who align themselves with civil society and feel a sense of greater social responsibility, have questioned if the traditional model of diversity management is the best way forward. They believe in greater inclusion for all. They are thus likely to feel that the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others model is too rigid and should be dismantled, question if family policy should be based on the traditional family structure, and be concerned that migrant workers do not have the same rights as local workers.

How should policymakers seek to better deal with our new diversities and aspirations for greater inclusion? A recently-released book, Managing Diversity In Singapore: Policies And Prospects, which my former colleague, Dr Chiang Wai Fong, and I edited, could offer some useful insights

First, our policymaking community needs to better appreciate the complexity that is intrinsic in diversity. If we are to be more inclusive and ensure that we provide adequately to a diversity of needs, we must understand the complexity that is in our society and become familiar with its properties. We must recognise that individual experiences of diversity are shaped by forces such as gender, age, class and employment status interacting in a complex manner - social scientists call this intersectionality. So it is not possible, for instance, to design a one-size-fits-all service for single mothers, older persons or the disabled since their experiences differ based on their intersectionalities.

Second, we should help our population become accustomed to the differences in our society and be careful not to eagerly stamp out diversities which might go against current conventions. While there was a time when Singlish was viewed as a corrupting force to standards of English, needing to be excised, there has been greater acceptance that it plays a role in how Singaporeans perceive their national identity and feel closeness to fellow residents. Essentially, we should not simply reject everything that is out of the norm but carefully study them and perhaps acknowledge that they contribute positively in different ways to our social fabric. But to do so will require our population to be mature to imbibe these different perspectives and look for synthesis rather than engage in boundary-making. This unfortunately has taken some time when it comes to the issue of migration, where a sizeable number of Singaporeans still think in terms of "us versus them" rather than viewing migrants as a potential strength for Singapore.

Third, we should push for policies which recognise the complexity of diversity. It is inevitable that the design of policies would require that group boundaries are demarcated so that entitlements can be variably given. For instance, we need to differentiate those who are disabled to ensure that they are able to park at disabled parking spaces. However, we can allow for less rigidity in other policy areas. The double-barrelled race options for children born of mixed parentage is one step in that direction. Some have also argued that we should make second language choices fluid in school since parents may not align themselves with the current construction where the parent's racial category dictates language options in school. Policies could encourage Singaporeans to donate to all the self-help groups rather than the one which serves their ethnic group. These are policy tweaks which may help Singaporeans better accept the fluidity of categories.

Fourth, we should better articulate the values that bind us. Such values give us a sense of rootedness amidst change. But this too can be contentious since we are in an era of value pluralism. Nonetheless, after so many years of nationhood, we can be assured that there must be some values that are salient to all Singaporeans - one of which is that our diversity can be a strength and not a weakness, and that we are better off with diversity than without it.

Dr Mathew Mathews is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.


IPS Conference on Managing Diversity in Singapore
CNA – IPS Survey on Race Relations
Key Findings from the Channel NewsAsia – Institute of Policy Studies Survey on Race Relations

Regardless Of Race: Will We Ever Get There? - 2021

Regardless Of Race: 5 Years On (March 2022)

No comments:

Post a Comment