Social cohesion needs continual work

Racial stereotyping in the media or in public gatherings can have negative consequences (Racial stereotypes in media: Not just a bit of harmless fun; June 23).

All it takes is one insensitive racist remark from a member of the public, albeit inadvertently or even innocently made, to cause discord among the various ethnic communities here in Singapore.

Unfortunately, a plural society that has existed since colonial times in segregated economic, social and residential spaces has given rise to mindsets, stereotypes and cultural attitudes that remain to this day.

Racial harmony has been the hallmark of our nation since independence.

It has always been taken for granted but we all must keep in mind that to ensure cohesiveness, we have to continually work towards it.

In homes and classrooms, for example, we should help young people learn to appreciate diversity in a way that opens them to a larger worldview.

There is also a real need for us to appreciate the intricacies of diversity by not only tolerating, but more importantly, appreciating and celebrating one another's beliefs, lifestyles, cultural practices, mannerisms and social norms.

Few Singaporeans, for example, know why Indian women wear a pottu (dot) on the forehead, why Indians traditionally greet each other with palms pressed together, why Muslims bring their hands to their hearts when meeting someone, why Muslims do not keep dogs as pets, why Muslims fast during Ramadan, why Muslims perform korban (sacrifice), why wine is sometimes served at Eurasian funerals, why presenting a clock to a Chinese person should be avoided and why we should respect the burning of joss sticks by the Chinese.

A multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual society like ours requires tolerance, empathy and acceptance.

Social cohesion is the edifice on which our survival and progress are built, and this is enshrined in our Constitution.

It is, therefore, up to all of us to cast our prejudices aside and work for togetherness.

This is the surest way to achieve greater cohesion, integration and racial harmony.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Social cohesion needs continual work'. Print Edition | Subscribe