Race Relations Still a Work in Progress: Divian Nair

The We Are Majulah founder called on students to seek common space in a diverse Singapore at Cross-Cultural Symposium 2016.

Singapore has made remarkable progress on race relations, but rooting out racism is always a “work in progress”, said Divian Nair, founder of “We Are Majulah”, a campaign which aims to rally Singaporeans together.

Speaking at the 4th Cross Cultural Symposium at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the former radio presenter said the progress can most notably be seen in how the bar for racism has been raised over the years.

Divian Nair speaking with students after giving the keynote speech at the 4th Cross Cultural Symposium. Photo by: Wong Si Jia

Divian Nair speaking with students after giving the keynote speech at the 4th Cross Cultural Symposium. Photo by: Wong Si Jia

“2 generations ago, with our grandparents, not stabbing each other in the neck was not being racist,” said Mr Nair, making reference to the racial riots that plagued Singapore in the 1960s.

“For our parents’ generation, just working with someone of a different race and talking to that person was not being racist,” the 29-year-old said.

But Singapore can aspire for more progress, Mr Nair told the 150-strong audience at the annual symposium on Nov 12.

“I think people seem to want to hold on to (the notion) that we’re not racist … but it’s not true,” he added, citing his own encounters with racial slurs as a biracial person in school and at work. “It (Rooting out racism) is always going to be a work in progress.”

Mr Nair’s sentiments seem to echo the findings in a recently published study on Singapore’s race relations, commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies.

While the broad-based survey reports a strong support for multicultural ideals and generally healthy interactions across ethnic groups, many recognize that a segment of the population remains mildly racist. A higher proportion of ethnic minorities (Malays and Indians) tend to perceive that their race or skin color is partly to blame for the negative treatment they receive.

Breakout sessions held for students to discuss views and opinions on racial and religious harmony in Singapore. Photo by: Nur Emilyanna

Breakout sessions held for students to discuss views and opinions on racial and religious harmony in Singapore. Photo by: Nur Emilyanna

In-group preference is also prevalent, according to the survey, with many preferring those from their own race to manage their businesses, marry their family members, and take office as the country’s president and prime minister.

The findings have since prompted a robust debate in the public sphere. Many of these hot button issues were also discussed in breakout sessions at the Cross Cultural Symposium (CCS) this year, titled “EmbRACE our differences”.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Sociology lecturer Ng Sue Chia, 35, noted how the dialogue on race relations has become more “serious” at this year’s symposium compared to the past editions.

“When the CCS first started, it was a very surface discussion on the differences in cultures,” Ms Ng told The UrbanWire, adding that the open dialogue and rich discussions on racial stereotypes and color bias are certainly encouraging.

Ms Foo Tze Chuan, a student participant from Singapore Polytechnic, also felt the discussion useful. “It is because of all these talks that we know of more people who actually share the same viewpoint as us … From there, we know what are the steps we can take to address the problems not just by ourselves but together.”

Also speaking at the symposium were Ms Looi Mei Fong, Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Deputy Principal, and Mr. Andrew Sabaratnam, Senior Director of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

About Divian Nair

Divian Nair was a former radio presenter for 987 FM, a television host, and now the director of Storyteller Productions. He is also the founder of the “We Are Majulah” national campaign, which aims to foster a stronger sense of national identity among Singaporeans.

His campaign video, “I will not die for Singapore”, went viral after going on YouTube in Feb. It drew a mix of praises and criticism. Check out the video here:

 

About the Authors:

Charlene Koh

Charlene

 

Charlene enjoys long walks to the fridge, the company of cats and emotional eating. An avid fan of computer gaming, you can find her in front of her computer on weekends shouting choice phrase at virtual zombies or hunting down dragons on Skyrim.

 

 

Keane Lee

Keane

 

You would probably find Keane either eating, working, training or watching TV shows at any point in time of the day. Keane spent 6 months of his internship program in Cambodia where he took up the role of project manager – social media and with that comes his experience in design and social media strategizing. Keane is also a fitness enthusiast who loves to spread his passion and knowledge. Keane is a big fan of superhero films (both Marvel and DC) and TV series and aspires to, one day, gain the superpower of eating without feeling full.

 

 

About UrbanWire

The UrbanWire is an entertainment and lifestyle e-zine keeping the youth current and connected since 2002. Keep updated on the latest entertainment news at our website.