Building a cohesive society right down to our coffee shops

In recent weeks, several incidents have highlighted the racial fault lines in our society.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam correctly suggested that various sections of society need to come together to build bonds of trust between those from different racial and religious backgrounds (Racial harmony requires ground-up efforts: Shanmugam, Sept 30).

While everyone has a part to play when it comes to this unity, I feel a greater burden of this responsibility may fall on the majority ethnic group as it is easier for them to have blind spots and not be aware of the sensibilities of the minorities.

On occasion, members of the majority race may carry out actions which are not meant to be racist but can be considered insensitive to the minorities, for example, the brownface advertisement controversy.

I saw another example of this blind spot in operation when I went to a newly reopened coffee shop at Hougang One Mall.

As I worked through my meal, I realised that there was not a single halal-certified stall in the coffee shop. There was Thai, Korean and Japanese food but not our local Malay or Indian food.

How ironic for a heartland coffee shop. This is akin to not welcoming 20 per cent of our population.

The kind of interaction that Mr Shanmugam was suggesting happens best in the many public places we have where people from the various ethnic and religious groups mingle.

I am quite sure it was a purely commercial decision based on the economics, but did the management consider the social cost of this decision?

Organisations need to start walking the talk and lead the way towards a more cohesive and inclusive society.

Kunwar Bir Singh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2019, with the headline 'Building a cohesive society right down to our coffee shops'. Print Edition | Subscribe