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Grace Fu, the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said in a statement: “Over the last 50 years, we have built a Singapore where every citizen matters, regardless of race, language or religion. This has been our fundamental approach to nation-building and will continue to guide us into the future. Signing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) further entrenches our commitment to this end, to unequivocally show that racial discrimination has no place in Singapore.”
To what extent has Singapore done well in promote racial harmony over the past 50 years?
Firstly, Singapore has its pledge which we recite in school every morning: “We the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people. Regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity, and progress for our nation.” We can see the essence and importance of racial harmony from this pledge. The only and main reason why we are still standing strong as a nation is because of our ability to work harmoniously. Though Singapore has diverse races and cultures, we are encouraged to maintain our own uniqueness and distinctiveness while living together.
Secondly, the formation of organisations like the inter-religious Organisation (IRO) and Community Development Councils (CDCs) have played an important role to ensure that racial harmony is preserved in Singapore. The Religious Harmony bill, which ensures that religious activities do not cause inter-ethnic tensions helps to monitor IRO and CDC activities. The IRO composes religious leaders of the nine major religions of Singapore (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i Faith, Jewish and Zoroastrian) to promote inter-faith understanding and harmony in Singapore. The IRO organises activities, workshops and talks on common beliefs with the objective of promoting racial and religious harmony.
The CDCs were formed in 1977 to strengthen community bonding in the various districts. They organise many interesting activities such as family outings, sports carnivals, job fairs and cultural performances for residents to promote social cohesion. One of the successful CDCs programmes is the home stay and home visit. Children will spend the day with families of other races. They will eat with the family, learn and understand their cultural practices.
Thirdly, the government’s initiative to promote racial harmony is the “Singapore 21”. The logo of “Singapore 21” shows four figures holding hands represent Singaporeans of all races in unity, sharing a common Singapore vision and living and working together in Singapore. The key messages that help promote racial harmony are that each one of us is unique and can contribute to Singapore’s success, regardless of who we are, and every citizen has the opportunity to develop his/her full potential, regardless of his/her background.
Among many government’s initiatives to promote racial harmony is the Housing and Development Board (HDB). More than 80 % of Singaporeans live in HDB flats. There is existing legislation governing the percentage of certain race is allowed to stay in the certain HDB block. Living in multi-racial housing estates allows different racial groups to interact with and understand one another better. However, we have also seen and read that this may also increase the likelihood of friction between different races. Hence, residents have to learn to tolerate differences and accept other races.
From the above few examples, Singapore has done well in addressing racial and religious discrimination to a certain extent for the past five decades. A survey on Racial and Religious Harmony conducted by the Institute of Policy studies in 2013 showed that approximately 80% of Singaporeans are willing to work on building closer relationships with people of different race or religion. However, the same study also revealed that 40% of Singaporeans feel that racial tensions still exist. The survey also showed that 31% of Singaporeans have had experienced some unpleasant encounters with another racial group.
In conclusion, there are still some traces of racism surface from time to time. Insensitive remarks or actions based on stereotypes about a certain race may cause offence, and social media magnifies both the effect and reach of the offence and the grievances of those who feel victimised. This inevitably leads us to question ourselves if Singapore has done enough in addressing racial and religious discrimination.
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