Race consciousness in Singapore cannot, should not be erased: Edwin Tong, Government & Economy

Thu, Sep 03, 2020 – 9:06 PM

CONSCIOUSNESS of race in Singapore cannot and should not be erased, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said on Thursday.

Making his first speech as a minister in Parliament at the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President, Mr Tong said Singaporeans are today less race-conscious than their parents and grandparents were, and this has taken consistent and systematic effort through policies that touch almost every aspect of life.

“This did not happen by itself and it is not something which will endure by itself. We must not think we have arrived,” he said, adding that race and religion remain fault lines and are emotive issues.

This is why the consciousness of race cannot be erased, nor should it be, he said. Being “one united people regardless of race” does not mean Singaporeans should renounce their cultural affinities or discourage people of the same community from coming together to support each other, he said.

Aljunied MP Sylvia Lim had spoken earlier about Singapore becoming a “race-blind society”.

Mr Tong said the government shares the same aspiration of recognising the individuality of each race while reaping the strength in that diversity behind the common Singaporean identity.

Meanwhile, ethnic self-help groups (SHG) have rallied their respective communities to serve the more vulnerable across racial and ethnic lines, he said, noting that while they are race-based, they are not race-bound.

“Our ideal is that one day, we want to see a Singapore, where we do not need such SHGs, but that is not going to come about by wishing the differences away. It can only come about by working at it,” he said.

Mr Tong added that Singapore’s youth must have as much a voice in the discourse on race and other issues as anyone else.

“We need to talk about how we can refresh and revitalise the bonds that bind us, because the social solidarity we enjoy today, and that has proven so important during this crisis, is not a given. It needs constant attention.”

He also outlined his ministry’s efforts to facilitate job and training opportunities for Singapore youth. One initiative is a YouthTech Programme that will create up to 1,000 placement opportunities for youths to gain digital-related work experience, with the aim of supporting the digitalisation efforts of businesses and organisations.

He said many are worried about achieving their aspirations in these turbulent times, and about longer-term challenges like climate change and mental well-being, even as they are concerned about how they can help realise the vision of Singapore as a more caring and inclusive society.

“An important consideration for me is how we can harness youthful energy to bring about positive change, to allow our young to blossom instead of allowing uncertainty and discontent to fester among them, resulting in negative confrontation,” he said.

This means giving them the space to engage with the rest of society, while the older generations in turn need to be more appreciative of generationally differing views. Meanwhile, society needs to give the young hope of a brighter future, including good jobs and good lives.

He also acknowledged that there will be times when people raise difficult questions beyond just race and religion, focusing instead on “newer, divisive and contentious issues” such as LGBTQ+, equality and personal freedom.

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