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WP calls for greater understanding, mutual respect amid efforts to eradicate bigotry and racism: Pritam Singh

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SINGAPORE: Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on Tuesday (Jun 8) said that the Workers’ Party “will appeal for greater understanding and mutual respect from all” amid efforts to eradicate bigotry and racism in Singapore.

Mr Singh made the statement in a Facebook post addressing a viral video showing a man identified as a Ngee Ann Polytechnic staff member making racist remarks towards an interracial couple.

In the post, Mr Singh said society should call out bigoted views, even if they are privately held.

“As a multi-racial and increasingly multi-cultural, but most importantly – secular society – the public space is a shared space which is for all Singaporeans – regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation etc to participate actively in,” Mr Singh said.

“We are of course entitled to our private views – but should we not as a society call out bigoted private views with a view to make the public space safer and accommodative for all?

“Doing so would be a learning opportunity to self-reflect, unpack our preconceived notions and in doing so, determine what sort of society we aspire to be.”

Mr Singh described reactions to the incident as a “silver lining”.

“That many of all ages and persuasions have done so in response to (the man’s) racist diatribe, in a determined, yet restrained manner, represents a silver lining,” he said.

“The swift backlash from the public and politicians of all stripes have also shown that such views are not acceptable in the Singapore of today, even if we continue to live with the comfortable truth that they persist.”

READ: Shanmugam ‘not so sure’ Singapore moving in right direction on racial tolerance after man’s racist remarks captured on video

LEE KUAN YEW’S VIEWS ON INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS

Mr Singh pointed out that concerns regarding interracial relationships are not unheard of in Singapore, and highlighted founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s views on the subject.

“In the 2011 book Hard Truths, our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once shared that if his daughter wished to marry a black African, he would have no qualms of telling her: ‘You’re mad’. He also expressed reservations about inter-racial marriages,” Mr Singh said.

“Paradoxically in the same book though, Mr Lee identified ‘inter-marriages’ as an example of how some racial communities integrate better than others.

“It would seem that Mr Lee had both public and private views about inter-racial marriages and these turned on the context of his observations about specific aspects of Singapore society.”

READ: Alleged incidents of racism ‘go against what we stand for in Singapore’, says Chan Chun Sing

“NOT UNHEARD OF”

Mr Singh said that such reservations are not unique to any racial or religious group in Singapore.

“Opposition to inter-racial unions especially amongst the older generation is not unheard of. For this group, you don’t need to be a member of the majority Chinese community to hope that your son or daughter would not marry out of their race/religion,” he said.

“I know of Indian and Malay parents of Mr Lee’s generation who feel the same way.”

Mr Singh said that these parents tend to become more accepting of such relationships when they “see the happiness in their children’s eyes over the choices made, or when the grandchildren come along”.

He added that these parents tend to keep their views private, unlike the Ngee Ann Polytechnic staff member, and described the man’s actions as “a serious and fatal misjudgment”.

“Bigoted views, even if privately held, have a nasty habit of showing themselves up opportunistically in day-to-day circumstances,” Mr Singh said.

“It would be important for those who host such private views to reflect deeply on how these can hurt themselves and more importantly, those around them.

“When it comes to racism – there can be no ifs or buts.”

READ: Ngee Ann Polytechnic suspends teaching staff member who made racist remarks to couple in viral video

“TECTONIC SHIFTS”

Mr Singh said that “tectonic shifts” are currently taking place with societal norms in Singapore, but added that incidents that illustrate differences in cultural and generational norms will continue to occur as the country evolves.

“The secular public space belongs to us all, not one single racial or religious group or community. And there, we practice tolerance, give-and-take and make adjustments so that everyone is a proud member of the Singapore family,” he said.

“Tectonic shifts are taking place with regard to societal norms in Singapore. And in my estimation, this is being felt most strongly between younger and older Singaporeans. There will continue to be episodes of divergent cultural and generational norms.

“Going forward, my colleagues in the Workers’ Party and I will appeal for greater understanding and mutual respect from all, even as we work to promote efforts to eradicate the bigotry and racism that many Singaporeans – both young and old – seek to consign to history.”

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