Some race issues are facts of life

The recent survey on racial harmony in Singapore is objective, frank and timely ("Singaporeans respect all races, but racism still an issue: Survey"; last Saturday).

Race issues are often not openly discussed; any discussion is mostly through discreet comments and innuendos within communities ("More open dialogue regarding race needed" by Miss Lee Peiwei; yesterday).

As a member of a minority group here, my observations are as follows:

•The domination of a majority race in Singapore, as well as in most countries, is a fact of life, whether in politics, the economy, academia, business or other areas. However, other races have opportunities to progress in various fields, including politics. Group representation constituencies, for example, give other races a chance to enter Parliament.

•A common language is practical and important for all races, and also for international trade. It was, therefore, wise for founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team to choose English as the language of instruction for our education system. At the same time, they were wise to support the learning of mother tongues, as these languages facilitate the understanding of customs and heritage so important to the respective cultures.

•Religious beliefs are important to a good number of Singaporeans, although the nation may be a secular state. However, serious problems have arisen from the religious bigotry and deviant religious teachings of subversive and influential groups in other parts of the world. Of great concern is the danger of extremists deviously coupling religion with perceived racial discrimination in the country. Besides the police and security forces looking after the safety of all citizens, community and religious leaders should also always be on the alert and continue with inter-religious and racial harmony activities.

•It is not possible to completely stop job recruitment based on racial preferences, particularly in the private sector. Reasons for such recruitment include ease of communication , as in the case of companies owned by Chinese Singaporeans, and perhaps in deference to other cultural or religious norms and sensitivities. We have to be aware of these facts, and be appreciative that this is not the case in the public sector.

Despite these issues, enhancing the understanding of various cultures is vital and highly beneficial for multiracial societies.

This is what we must bear in mind for Singapore's future.

Adrian Villanueva

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Some race issues are facts of life'. Print Edition | Subscribe