Racial Harmony Day #OnThisDay (21 Jul) #HarmonyinSG
📷: In Singapore, harmony amidst diversity is one of our proudest achievements. We celebrate differences that strengthen rather than divide us. When we are in harmony, we can make beautiful music together. Happy Racial Harmony Day! (credit: PM Lee’s FB page)
Today (21 July) is Racial Harmony Day, dedicated since 1998 as a day for schools in Singapore to reflect on the topic of race and religion. In 1964, 21 July was when Singapore saw the first of two race riots that killed 36 and injured more than 500 people that year.
Racial conflict is a concern for Singapore, where people from diverse cultures, religions and languages live, work and play, while striving for a better future.
Our Singapore Way of approaching this challenge was encapsulated by Minister for Finance Mr Lawrence Wong, who is also Singapore’s current Deputy Prime Minister, in a speech on race and racism in Singapore at the Institute of Policy Studies - S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (IPS-RSIS) forum on 25 June 2021. He pointed out that our founding fathers knew we needed deliberate policies to ensure “bigots and chauvinists from whatever race would be constrained and curbed”.
These include making English our common language, amending our Constitution to create a Presidential Council on Minority Rights, gearing our housing policies towards a balanced mix of ethnic groups to avoid racial enclaves. Such measures have helped to confine the racial riots of the 1960s to history textbooks, enabling Singaporeans to experience decades of peace and harmony.
Our Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had declared in 1965: “We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everybody will have his place, equal.”
Minister Lawrence Wong offered three suggestions on how Singaporeans today can contribute to this “vital national project”:
Recognise it is harder to be a minority than the majority: “it is important for the majority community in Singapore to do its part, and be sensitive to and conscious of the needs of minorities…It matters to our students, neighbours, co-workers and friends who have to deal with stereotypes about their race, or insensitive comments.” Minorities reciprocate by recognising the “legitimate needs and concerns” of the majority community.
Advocate for mutual accommodation, trust and compromise: “we should not insist on maximum entitlements and rights for our respective groups, construe every compromise as an injustice that needs to be condemned, or put the worst interpretation on every perceived slight or insensitivity.”
Strengthen our “Singaporean Singapore”: “We must have the humility to acknowledge our multi-racialism is still a work in progress, the honesty to recognise that not everyone will want to move at the same pace. And yet persevere to protect our multiracialism. Cherish it, nurture it, strengthen it.”
Racial Harmony Day is a reminder that strong economic growth would be meaningless if we face constant conflicts in society. Singaporeans risk clashing along fault lines with challenges from internal and external influences. But as citizens and fellow stakeholders, we all share a common responsibility “regardless of race, language or religion” to achieve “happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation”.
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