SINGAPORE: Racism exists in Singapore, but the situation is “much better than before” and improving over the years, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Sunday (Aug 4), in the wake of a controversial video by YouTuber Preetipls and her brother Subhas Nair that touched on the issue.
“You look at the regular discussions on race, issues - this is a basic fact. But the situation now is much better than before, improving over the years," he said on the sidelines of a temple event in Woodlands.
"We want to build a cohesive society, but racism corrodes and deepens the fault lines in society," he said, adding that Singapore does "a lot" to counter it.
In Singapore, racism is discussed "openly", studied and reported in the media, he said, pointing to surveys done by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) as examples.
He referred to the latest IPS survey released last week, that showed a slight increase in perception of workplace racial discrimination, despite improvement in some other areas of race relationships.
Racism is a key concern for his and other ministries, the Minister said.
READ: 'Two wrongs don't make a right' - Ministers, religious leaders on rap video and 'brownface' ad
Mr Shanmugam's comments on Sunday came the day after Preetipls, whose name is Preeti Nair, and her brother Subhas apologised "unconditionally" over a video they created and starred in to call out a NETS E-Pay advertisement for being discriminatory.
"LANGUAGE OF RESISTANCE"
The Nair siblings have been in the spotlight over the video, which featured vulgar language and questioned the use of "brownface" in the ad featuring Chinese actor Dennis Chew portraying minority races in Singapore.
Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that the siblings, like everyone, had the right to raise the issue of racism but said the way they did it was not right.
"If everyone starts discussing race and religion in the way they did, you will in fact get more racism, not less. That is our key concern," he said.
They used the "language of resistance" in the United States, Mr Shanmugam said, but Singapore is in a “very different” situation, he added.
The siblings had given an earlier apology spoofing one issued by Havas Worldwide for the e-payment ad, which MHA had earlier called "a mock, insincere apology".
READ: Preetipls, Subhas Nair 'unconditionally apologise' for rap video after MHA criticises 'insincere apology'
In any multi-racial society there is always a need to “frankly” discuss issues like casual racism and how to deal with and increase awareness, he said.
He said this is done through regular conferences, symposiums and dialogues on these issues, some by Government agencies, some by Non-Governmental Organisations and others.
"There are areas where the Government can do things, there are aspects where people have to become more aware and more sensitive," he said.
Nevertheless, much progress has been made since Singapore became independent, said Mr Shanmugam.
He also reiterated the words of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew: " We are not a Malay nation, we are not a Chinese nation, we are not an Indian nation. This is a country for all Singaporeans."
AD IN “POOR TASTE”
He also said Singapore has progressed by having clear Government policies, and Singaporeans generally accept multi-racial values, adding that "we must see how we can progress further".
“As many of us recognise, there continue to be racial fault lines and religious fault lines. It is always work in progress,” he said.
The Minister also said the E-Pay advertisement was in "poor taste".
“Many disapprove of it and the people behind the ad, and others need to learn from that - be much more sensitive,” he said.
There is "much" Singaporeans can be positive about as National Day approaches he said, pointing to headlines on unrest, conflicts and shootings in places like Hong Kong, Texas and Kashmir that he said he came across on Sunday morning.
"But we in Singapore can be thankful that we have avoided headlines like these. And we must continue to focus on getting things better, discuss issues openly and work on them," he added.