Sunday, 7 September 2014

Racial Harmony or Peaceful Co-Existence?

A nagging question persists in my mind: Do we have true racial harmony and integration, or do we merely coexist peacefully with one another?

When did you last reach within your soul in true introspection to re-examine what most of us have taken for granted - our state of racial harmony?

A few years ago, when I saw that my 10-year-old son does not know or have a Malay friend in his primary school, I shuddered at the realisation that most of his schoolmates would also grow up quite alienated from an important ethnic group in their common communal fabric.

Indeed, how could they possibly understand the multiracial dynamics of our society when there are fewer than 10 Malay pupils scattered among the more than 2,000 children in his school?

Parents, and political leaders, should be mindful that as we 'segregate' our children into more ethno-culturally or religiously 'homogeneous' schools, we also risk tearing apart the common communal fabric that most of us adults had painstakingly weaved and constructed through racially integrated housing estates, schools, laws and community grassroots organisations over the past 40 years.

With so much effort and resources now deployed to send Chinese children to China for 'cultural immersion' programmes, we should also dedicate time and resources to get schoolchildren into our own 'multicultural immersion' programmes.

From the 911 event in the United States to our own Jemaah Islamiah saga and racist bloggers, and the various racial riots in Sydney and Paris, it is clear that a key solution to counter racism and racist tendencies lies in a greater acceptance of diversity that could demolish what one Member of Parliament Zainudin Nordin referred to as the 'insidious arguments about racial supremacy or culturally innate abilities'.

Differences in academic achievements should not be linked to artificial and false distinctions in religious beliefs and ethnic lifestyles, along superior-inferior dimensions.

A greater acceptance of diversity requires a mental paradigm shift that begins by expanding the compassion in our heart.  Our common compassion for one another creates the communal space where we can bring all that we have to share for a better mutual understanding, and in which we can agree to disagree at times without acrimony because there exists a mutual acceptance of who we are.

As a truly racially integrated and harmonious community, we must have the deep feelings of connectedness, mutual identification and belonging, besides sharing a geographical place.  The heart of true racial and religious harmony is defined by our shared interactions and identities.

As a nation reaching our 50th birthday, we need to take stock and ponder whether we have hitherto 'forged a strong enough bond that can withstand any threat to our social communal canvas'.

I believe that at the core of the answer lies a real struggle in many of us over whether we would feel comfortable letting our young children interact freely with others of different ethnicity, unaccompanied by adults.

Racial harmony and integration in Singapore remains very much a work in progress. Much more is needed before we dare to declare, without hesitation, '...regardless of race, language or religion' in all that we think or do a one people and one nation.



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