Work together to forge integrative identity

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's concern over growing intolerance, ignorance and bigotry in society and the need for open minds, as well as the call by other analysts to go beyond mere tolerance, hits the nail on the head ("Fighting intolerance a challenge everywhere today, says Tharman"; Nov 11, and "The race issue: How far has Singapore come?"; Nov 8).

As Singaporeans, we pride ourselves on our brand of multiculturalism and diversity, but we must realise that it is premised on respecting differences that conform to simplistic categories of race and religion.

While this racial classification has hitherto successfully guided the state's nation-building project, it has also resulted in the unintended presumption of fixed and rigid boundaries.

Although many here proudly identify themselves as Singaporeans, they also hold a strong sense of identity to their own racial, cultural and religious groups.

The fear is that such manifestations of race add to the distance between the various communities and accentuate negative and racial stereotyping.

Identity markers have shifted over the years, with increasing intermarriages and immigration.

Hence, it is important that cultural diversity be allowed to evolve without any form of racial profiling.

We should all do our part to de-emphasise our Chinese-ness, Malay-ness, Indian-ness and Eurasian-ness, and work together to stress similarities and forge an identity that is more integrative, harmonious and cohesive.

The single most important thing to do is to educate people to not merely tolerate, but to also appreciate, differences in cultural practices, living styles and mannerisms.

Let us deal with human diversity and "otherness" in trusting and trustworthy ways, and learn to appreciate conflicting viewpoints in a way that opens up a larger world view.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Work together to forge integrative identity'. Print Edition | Subscribe