Tackle racial prejudice from the bottom up

I compliment Channel NewsAsia for its inspired choice of Dr Janil Puthucheary - Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Education, and an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC - to host the documentary, Regardless Of Race.

He was excellent as a "TV journalist" - passionate, knowledgeable and sensitive about the subject.

The documentary was a creditable effort. It could have been more effective if the producers had examined where racial prejudice nests today.

Today, racial prejudice festers because each community has made it private, taking it out of the public space, bottling it in and reinforcing it within their own communities.

Racial prejudice breeds today in the whispers, musings and reinforcement of stereotypes and wrongs perceived when members of one community gather, out of the earshot of other communities.

That is the danger that is not being addressed, and I hope the media will address this on its various platforms.

It would also be useful to look at how the pioneer generation achieved harmony.

We tackled prejudice from the bottom up, not vice versa, as the case seems to be today, with the Government having to bear a disproportionate amount of the work.

The People's Association may be doing its best, but its efforts are not a substitute for the genuine harmony my generation developed - because it was personal for us, not contrived.

Racial harmony was natural then because it was conceived from the rhythms of daily life. Prejudice was calmed by a responsible media, not stoked by the emotive anonymity of social media.

Racial harmony sprang from a recognition and celebration of, and not a retreat from, our racial and religious differences.

Racial difference was accepted as a positive preference and tool for multicultural unity, not the purveyor of prejudice.

A good place to start is to share our ethnic differences openly, and recognise and embrace them as preferences, not prejudice.

If we wish to reinvent the wheel when it comes to racial harmony, we can do it even better with the cultural tools of my generation.

Ravi Govindan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Tackle racial prejudice from the bottom up'. Print Edition | Subscribe