Youth urged to know other races better

Young Singaporeans should make an effort to better understand different communities and their attitudes, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

This will help forge common ground across an increasingly diverse Singapore and result in a more harmonious society.

The minister was addressing 300 young people yesterday at the Singapore Youth Conference.

"Make the effort to know the communities and their attitudes well: Appreciate the concerns... (and) unique identities of each community, pick out the commonalities, the strengths and differences, and leverage them to open up neutral spaces for discussion," Ms Fu said.

She added that in this space, groups must be able to discuss issues in an open and respectful manner. This is important against the backdrop of an increasingly diverse Singapore, with more new citizens and more Singaporeans speaking up about issues close to their hearts - from animal welfare to heritage and environmental issues.

While diversity is a source of strength in Singapore, it "can be a source of vulnerability as well", said Ms Fu, pointing to protests over police shootings of black Americans and growing Islamophobia in Europe. "Here in Singapore, we pride ourselves on our cohesive and harmonious society. But we cannot take this for granted."

Yesterday, conference attendees aged 20 to 60 broke into groups where they discussed topics such as stereotypes of foreigners and how the Internet is shaping human interaction.

Some weighed in on why there might be an us-versus-them mentality. A Chinese woman married to a Malay man said her dating experience taught her that this mentality rises to the fore when one group feels as though it has missed out on a benefit because of others.

"It is like when local students miss out on scholarships given out to foreigners," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'Youth urged to know other races better'. Print Edition | Subscribe