Let’s not deny the reality of racism

By Zarifah Anuar, Communications Executive of AWARE

Racial dynamics in Singapore have seen much discussion recently (“Singaporeans can accept a non-Chinese PM” and “Ensuring minorities will always have stake in S’pore”, 28 Jul).

While Racial Harmony Day festivities are heartening, efforts to promote racial harmony must go beyond celebration and performance alone.

It is certainly reassuring to have research confirm that minorities can access public services and that members of the majority Chinese population may form personal connections with minorities.

But these findings do not mean that Singapore is ‘colour-blind’. Racism and discrimination still persist.

Exclusionary hiring practices are common. Job postings calling for ‘bilingual speakers’ are often used to discriminate against non-Chinese workers, even when Mandarin language skills are not necessary to perform the job, as with the recent notorious incident involving a frozen yoghurt chain.

Tenants seeking rental housing also face discrimination. Many landlords have a policy of summarily rejecting Indian tenants due to their race, often on the basis of insulting stereotypes.

These practices are divisive and harmful, preventing competition for jobs on an equal footing, and making access to housing more expensive for minorities.

The state can do more to address inequalities, such as by enacting anti-discrimination laws.

It can also set the tone by making its own employment practices more inclusive.

At the moment, all occupations in the civil service allow Sikh men to don the turban, but the same courtesy is not extended to Muslim women who wear the hijab.

This is supposedly due to security reasons in the military and police forces, and hygiene concerns in nursing. Yet in functional terms, there is not much difference between a hijab and a turban, so why would one piece of cloth cause these problems, while the other is harmless?

These issues should be addressed through self-critical scrutiny and open discussion. Unless we are honest about the racism that persists in society, we cannot hope to effectively address it.

This letter was written as a reply to these two letters on The Straits Times and first published on AWARE’s website.