Singapore must do more to fight racial microaggressions: Panellists
Panellists at discussion on race describe their experiences, say schools and workplaces must get involved
Some people at vaccination centres have refused to get a Covid-19 jab from a member of another race, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong.
And Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah - who is an associate consultant and orthodontist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital - said some patients have asked for chairs to be cleaned because they were used by members of a minority race.
These were a few instances of racial microaggressions - slights or insults that are often encountered by people - that Mr Tong and Dr Shahira touched on yesterday at a panel discussion on race organised by The Straits Times.
Mr Tong said such microaggressions can happen daily in public spaces, schools and workplaces, and it is important to address these experiences before they fester and leave a bad impression.
He said: "We have to deal with these microaggressions... and this really is dealt with best by venue, places, and also making it part of the lived experience - have people socialise, have teams that come together."
Mr Tong and Dr Shahira were among five panellists at the ST Connect webinar on race relations, moderated by The Straits Times' Singapore editor Zakir Hussain.
The panellists agreed that microaggressions and racial discrimination exist in Singapore but added that the key task now is for individuals and organisations to address the issue and take steps to put an end to the problem.
For instance, Mr Tamilavel, the news and digital editor at Tamil Murasu, said he has had racial slurs directed at him many times by children when he is in lifts.
The parents, he added, have done nothing on each occasion.
Such experiences, he said, stand in contrast to other instances of children being respectful and greeting him when they see him in the neighbourhood because their parents have taught them well.
Another panellist, Mr Leonard Sim, who is the general secretary of advocacy group hash.peace, said there need to be more discussions on such racially discriminatory acts because they affect the mental health of the victims.
Mr Sim's organisation works with mental health advocacy group Mental ACT to help those who have experienced racial discrimination talk about their experiences.
He said: "You get conversations that are very real, very raw, an outpouring, sometimes, of grief, trauma, emotional hurt, and we are very lucky to have our partners at Mental ACT to help us and make sure they are okay and healing from these experiences."
Mr Sim said workplaces need to get involved in efforts to address racial discrimination because people spend a lot of time at work.
Schools too, have a role to play, and Mr Tamilavel said the efforts have to go beyond celebrating racial diversity on Racial Harmony Day once a year.
Children are by nature inquisitive, and it is important to open up channels for them to ask questions about other races without judgment or prejudice, he said.
Mr Tong said racial microaggressions cannot be allowed to be normalised here. If that were to happen, people at the receiving end of discriminatory actions and words might feel like the situation in Singapore is a "lost cause", he added.
"And when we get to that stage, it becomes a slippery slope. So, these are all occasions where we have to be proactive, deal with it, inoculate against a situation.
"But when it does arise, it has got to be dealt with," he said.