ST webinar on race relations and harmony

Call to put race-based data in context to avoid stereotypes

Racial Harmony Day at Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in 2019. Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah said it is important to contextualise race-based data, for instance, looking at other factors that may explain a particular group's poorer health outcomes, su
Racial Harmony Day at Chua Chu Kang Secondary School in 2019. Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah said it is important to contextualise race-based data, for instance, looking at other factors that may explain a particular group's poorer health outcomes, such as education levels or socio-economic status.ST FILE PHOTO

The collection of race-based data can risk perpetuating certain stereotypes, and to get around this, such data needs to be put in context along with other data, said Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah at the ST webinar yesterday.

She cited the example of a new workgroup set up earlier this year to improve the health of minority ethnic groups.

The former vice-president of Mendaki Club said it is important to contextualise such race-based data, for instance, looking at other factors that may explain a particular group's poorer health outcomes, such as education levels or socio-economic status.

"I think we are afraid that if we collect data according to race, you would end up perpetuating certain stereotypes... That's a real worry," said Dr Shahira.

"It's still relevant to have this kind of model, but (it is important to) always have more data to support it and to contextualise whatever data you have."

She was discussing the relevance of race-based classifications and groups, in a reply to a question from a viewer who asked if the self-help groups are still relevant, given that they may perpetuate polarisation between different races and reinforce separate racial identities.

The role of such groups has come under scrutiny again of late as people discuss the issue of race and racial discrimination in Singapore.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said removing racial classifications or ethnic self-help groups also does not remove the fact that there are differences across races in Singapore.

Far from polarising society, the use of race-based classifications and the existence of self-help groups can also give the authorities a better sense of relative outcomes and performances, so as to better channel resources, he said.

He also stressed that the self-help groups help all segments of society, and are not limited to helping only specific races.

There are four race-based self-help groups here: the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Yayasan Mendaki, the Singapore Indian Development Association, and the Eurasian Association.

In a similar vein, he said race-based policies like the Ethnic Integration Policy - which sets quotas for flats owned by each racial group in a block or precinct - also seek to bring communities together.

Without the policy, racial enclaves could develop and that would push people further apart, he added.

Another panellist, Tamil Murasu news editor and digital editor Tamilavel, said Singapore can aspire to reach a stage where such self-help groups are no longer required. But for now, such self-help groups do have a better understanding of the differences and nuances of each ethnic group, and can better help to address problems, he added.

Dr Shahira also said self-help groups do not just focus on helping one race, citing how Mendaki Club's initiatives serve not just the Malay/Muslim community.

"A lot of what we do is for the wider community," she said. "That's something we always drill into everyone, (that) you don't live alone, you live with everyone, with other races, other religions... You need to think about other people other than your own community."

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2021, with the headline 'Call to put race-based data in context to avoid stereotypes'. Subscribe