On 25 June 2021, RSIS co-hosted a forum on Race and Racism in Singapore with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). The forum included a keynote speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister of Finance, and drew together distinguished scholars and practitioners in Singapore.
Mr Wong outlined key events that occurred in the last year, acknowledging that racism exists among us. Reiterating that race poses an existential challenge to Singapore, Mr Wong highlighted the necessity of having an equal place for each racial group, while ensuring that minorities would be protected.
The speech was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Dr Shashi Jayakumar, Head of Centre of Excellence for National Security, RSIS. Questions posed included whether Singapore is moving in the right direction towards racial harmony, and how to better understand the reasons for racism. Dr Jayakumar also queried the potential for individuals from minority ethnic groups to be Prime Minister in Singapore, in relation to Singapore’s meritocratic creed; how educators can be counselled to address racism in schools; the effectiveness of the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others framework; and the role of civic activism in Singapore.
The roundtable discussion that followed featured four speakers including Dr Elmie Nekmat, Associate Professor from the National University (NUS); Dr Daniel Goh, Associate Professor of Sociology from NUS; Mr Goh Sin Teck, the Editor of Lianhe Zaobao; and Dr Laavanya Kathiravelu, Assistant Professor from the Nanyang Technological University. The panel was moderated by Professor Paulin Straughan from the Singapore Management University.
Speakers addressed both issues raised during the keynote speech and questions posed by the audience. They spoke candidly about the roles of social media and mainstream media in both inciting and mitigating racial tensions in Singapore. Also raised were the need for an independent race commission in Singapore, training for teachers, and the creation of safe spaces that could prevent gaslighting and exclusionary practices. These function to address implicit biases in schools, protect meritocracy as the bedrock of society, and create an empowered civil society where minority voices and experiences can be heard. Not experiencing racism is a constitutional right rather than a privilege, and both institutions and majorities have a responsibility to ensure that all rights are respected.