The way today's young view multiracialism and multiculturalism is different from how these values were envisioned 50 years ago, said Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary yesterday.
Still, it is important to understand how the younger generation feels about these values, he added.
Though racism today is talked about more in terms of stereotypes and representation rather than about safety and security, it is no less important an issue, he added.
Dr Janil, who is chairman of OnePeople.sg, a charity that promotes racial harmony, made the point at its 10th anniversary dinner at Shangri-La Hotel where he addressed more than 500 community and religious leaders, volunteers and donors.
He said people no longer worry if they can walk safely through different parts of town because of their race. But they worry about jokes and how many actors are representing their race on television.
"It's an aspiration to a higher type of inclusion, and that shift of aspiration speaks about how much we've done and about far we've come as a country," he said.
Although the anger and outrage felt when those aspirations are not met may initially look trivial compared to the dangers of the past, these new issues cannot be ignored, said Dr Janil, who is Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Education.
"If not, the next generation will feel disenfranchised and will not believe in our model of multiculturalism or multiracialism. We must treat their aspirations for a deeper harmony with the same vigour and respect as the social issues of the past. We must tackle them and do something about them."
He added that while the country has come a long way, OnePeople.sg's mission - to make sure younger generations understand the emphasis on racial harmony - has not changed.
The organisation was set up in 1997 to coordinate the resources of community development councils and self-help groups. It took on the role of promoting racial harmony in 2001 and was renamed OnePeople.sg in 2007.
It has been working with schools to build shared values and grow a pool of young ambassadors to spread the message of religious harmony and lead programmes. It now has about 160 facilitators, up from 10 in 2007.
It also works with community groups and ethnic and religious institutions to foster community cohesion.
Dr Janil said OnePeople.sg will continue to widen its network and work to create safe spaces for people to discuss difficult issues.
Yesterday's dinner raised about $501,000 to fund the charity's programmes and activities.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the guest of honour, launched a 504-page commemorative book entitled The Singapore Ethnic Mosaic: Many Cultures, One People. It features various sub-ethnic groups and their history, religion, language, and value systems.
Mr Thomas Liew, 35, a volunteer who facilitates small group discussions at the charity, said he was glad that young people today are well-read and concerned about race and ethnicity issues.
"Raising awareness about these issues is important because we cannot be complacent about the peace and stability brought about by racial harmony," he said.