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Race consciousness should not be erased: Ministers

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They say that while Singaporeans are more tolerant of differences, nation has not arrived at post-racial state

The concept of a "race-blind society" that is free of racial prejudice and discrimination in attitudes and practices is an ideal that Singapore wants to work towards.

But it is premature to conclude that Singapore has arrived at such a post-racial state, two ministers - Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman - said yesterday.

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) had on Tuesday called for a national exercise to review how Singapore's journey towards becoming a race-blind society can be hastened. The concept of a "race-blind society" is an aim set out in a report by the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency in 2016.

Ms Lim had also called for an open review of various race-based policies, including the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) and race-based self-help groups.

While the self-help groups have done good work, their existence reinforces racial consciousness, she said.

In speeches on Day 4 of the debate on the President's Address, the ministers yesterday stressed while it is important to work towards a more inclusive society, it is also important to maintain an awareness of and respect for differences between groups.

Mr Tong noted while Singapore has become less race conscious and more tolerant of differences, Singaporeans must not think they have arrived at an ideal "post-racial state", or that no more effort will be needed to bridge different groups.

Singaporeans should also take care not to ignore or underestimate the "severe and sometimes unintended negative consequences that can easily occur with unrestrained comments" on race relations and related issues, added Dr Maliki, who is also Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs.

Mr Tong said there is "absolutely nothing natural or inevitable" about the progress Singapore has achieved on issues of race and religion, especially with the young perhaps coming closer to the ideal state of unity and harmony than their parents and grandparents.

"We got here precisely because we have worked consistently and systematically at it, through policies that touch almost every aspect of our lives," he said, noting how Singaporeans of different races live together, study together and go through national service together as a result of such policies.

Moreover, consciousness of race in Singapore cannot be erased, nor should it be, both ministers noted.

To be inclusive, Singaporeans must accept that there are differences across races and approach these differences in a constructive manner, added Dr Maliki.

Singaporeans, Dr Maliki said, should also allow for a "positive sense of racial identity to exist and develop", and have in place a comprehensive set of policies and community initiatives, including self-help groups.

This will help address issues in the community as part of a larger ecosystem that provides help to those who need it, and solve problems effectively and with empathy.

Singapore Politics