More open dialogue regarding race needed

A recent survey on racial harmony ("Singaporeans respect all races, but racism still an issue: Survey"; last Saturday, and "We need to talk about race issues, says minister"; Aug 12) brought out an issue Singapore faces today.

While Singaporeans desire equal treatment for every race, we still hold some negative stereotypes of race, which begs the question - are we hypocritical?

I believe that Singaporeans are not hypocritical when it comes to issues of race but rather, just a little lost in this department.

Social psychologists have found that when interacting with someone of a different racial group, we get more nervous.

While this nervousness could be due to a variety of reasons, one emerging theory postulates that we feel uncomfortable because we are afraid we might behave in a way that will offend the other person, or make us look racist. This nervousness or fear is called intergroup anxiety.

Intergroup anxiety promotes avoidance and shortens interaction with people of different races.

It has been found that because of minimal interaction with people of different races, people start to rely on stereotypes because it is the only way they know how to relate to those of other races.

Singaporeans genuinely strive for racial equality, but it is our anxiety that gets in the way.

There is a need for more open dialogue regarding issues pertaining to race in Singapore.

We often avoid talking about race because we are afraid to offend or appear insensitive. However, if this continues, the anxiety will only grow and stereotypes will continue to be perpetuated.

We also need to create an atmosphere where people are not afraid to ask and learn more about a different race.

While this learning takes place, we need to be patient and open-minded to those who are genuinely trying to understand other races and cultures.

Together, we can be more than just tolerant of - we can be comfortable with - people of different races.

Lee Peiwei (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'More open dialogue regarding race needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe