Our multi-racialism is not perfect and we have to keep working at it deliberately to reduce our imperfections, step by step, Finance Minister Mr Lawrence Wong said at the IPS-RSIS Forum on Race and Racism (June 2021).
We got to where we are today not through confrontation or compulsion but through mutual understanding and compromise, Mr Lawrence Wong said.
No community asserts its own entitlements and presses its claims against others, and no community got everything it wanted. Through mutual understanding and compromise, we have found a balance that all can accept, Mr Wong said. This balance is a delicate balance. But it is not a fixed position as society’s attitudes continues to evolve and change with time.
“Collectively, we have achieved more together than what we would otherwise have attained by just focussing on our own agendas.”
Majority must take the extra step to make minorities feel comfortable
Mr Wong stressed that the majority community must ‘take the extra step to make your minority friends, neighbours, co-workers feel comfortable’. This is because in any multi-racial society, it is harder to be a minority.
“This matters because it cuts across all aspects of daily life,” Mr Wong said. “It matters to someone who sometimes faces discrimination when looking for a job. It matters when someone feels left out when everyone else in a group speaks in a language that not all can understand. It matters to potential tenants who learn that landlords do not prefer their race. It matters to our students, neighbours, co-workers and friends who sometimes have to deal with stereotypes about their race, or insensitive comments.”
Referring to ‘Chinese privilege’ that people sometimes talk about, Mr Wong said it is important to understand that the Chinese community in Singapore is not monolithic. There are many Chinese who would object to being characterised as privileged and he explained why.
“There may well be biases or blind spots that the Chinese community should become aware of and rectify. But please understand that we still have a whole generation of Chinese Singaporeans who are more comfortable in Chinese than English, and who consider themselves at a disadvantage in an English speaking world. They feel that they have already sacrificed and given up much to sustain a multi-racial society: Chinese-language schools, Nanyang University, dialects, and so on. “What do you mean by ‘Chinese privilege’?” they will ask, for they don’t feel they were privileged. Naturally many of them would object to being so characterised.”
We must continue with our approach of mutual accommodation, trust and compromise, Mr Wong emphasised.