Singapore

Dialogues on race must continue: Ong Keng Yong

This article is more than 12 months old

Racial Harmony Day underscores need for diversity and conversations on it to foster better understanding, says diplomat Ong Keng Yong

Differences in cultures and backgrounds will always exist in an urbanised society like Singapore, and there is a need to continue having discussions about race and diversity beyond Racial Harmony Day, Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong said yesterday.

Speaking at a virtual book launch, Mr Ong said he is often asked why there is a need for Racial Harmony Day, which was yesterday but was marked in schools last week ahead of this week's holiday.

He pointed to a recent case where the National Library Board removed a Chinese-language children's book for review after it was flagged for racist content, as well as other instances where Singaporeans have "preconceived notions" about others from different ethnic or religious backgrounds as reasons why Singapore still needs conversations and programmes to foster greater understanding of race and diversity.

Such efforts need to go beyond Racial Harmony Day, and be sustained in schools and society, he said. "It's necessary for us to start this kind of awareness building right from an early age... and as we go up the educational ladder, we become more sophisticated in expressing ourselves," added Mr Ong, who is executive deputy chairman of Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

He was speaking at the launch of the book Faith, Identity, Cohesion, which seeks to continue conversations from the International Conference on Cohesive Societies that Singapore hosted in June last year. The launch was organised by RSIS and World Scientific Publishing.

Yesterday, President Halimah Yacob said Racial Harmony Day is a timely occasion for Singapore to reaffirm its commitment to social cohesion.

"Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it is even more important that we preserve our close and harmonious ties among different races and religions, which do not come by chance," she said on Facebook.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the task of strengthening racial harmony is one that demands constant effort and engagement, and each new generation will have different life experiences and reference points which shape their views on race and religion.

His generation, for instance, were "indelibly marked" by the race riots in the 1960s, while today's generation are exposed to global issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, he said in a post.

"The older generation are more cautious when talking about race and religion, having seen past strife and the hard work put in to achieve the harmony we enjoy today. Youth are more open about these matters, and more willing to talk about sensitive topics," noted PM Lee.

"Values and views will naturally evolve over time, but what is important is that we never take our peace for granted."

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