Let’s face it. Racism does exist in Singapore.

As you endeavour to socialise your children to understand and be sensitive of cultural differences and highlight the negative aspects of racial differences in the media. You must also tell them that such racism does exist in Singapore. You should not tell them any differently because then you would be lying to them.

Channel News Asia-Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) polled 2,000 Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 21 and above between June and July this year for a survey on race relations. It was revealed that:

1 – Most Singaporeans believe in meritocracy and try to live out multiracial ideals. 

2 – Racism remains a problem for some Singaporeans of minority races.

3 – Singaporeans prefer someone of the same race to hold the nation’s highest positions.

Other findings include:


Around seven in 10 of the respondents regarded policies meant to protect racial harmony, like the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) racial categorisation, as helpful in building trust between the different races.


When asked if talking about racial issues would cause unnecessary tension, 66 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, while 64 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that it was “very hard to discuss issues related to race without someone getting offended”.


The survey also found that more than nine in 10 of the respondents endorsed features of multiculturalism such as according respect, equality and value for people of other races. Similarly, more than 90 per cent of the respondents stated that they liked talking to people of all races and lived in peace with everyone.


The survey results also showed a high level of in-group preference – the majority of respondents preferred those of the same race as spouses, to help them run their business or to share personal problems with.

Notably if given a choice, most Singaporeans prefer someone of the same race as the nation’s Prime Minister or President.ips6We thought that it was rather surprising that less than half of Singaporean Chinese (>60 yo) wanted a Singapore Malay to be the President or the Prime Minister of Singapore, considering the fact that they lived in the era of Mr Yusof Ishak (a Malay and the first President of Singapore!).

It is however encouraging to note that despite the underlying racism revealed in this survey, our younger population (<30 yo) fared much higher when asked about race issues, an optimistic trend that we hope would continue.

To be fair, the majority of respondents did say that they would be prepared to vote for a minority. If they really think race doesn’t matter to them, they are among that majority.

But the point is there is a substantial minority that says they wouldn’t vote someone of another race.

The point is Singaporeans are not completely race-blind.

Singapore as nation has never avoided our differences and took this reality into account. While there have been progress across the board on racial issues, race is still a determining factor when it comes to more intimate relations.

This CNA-IPS survey proved without a doubt that racism fault lines still exist among the young and the old in our society today. Our harmony cannot be taken for granted and left for the people to ‘nurture’ on their own.

The Government must continue to be “watchful, prudent and hands-on” in its approach to matters of race and religion.


Take a look at the tables below for other interesting key findings!

OK, here's me being Mr Obvious in Channel NewsAsia's Signatures documentary "Regardless of Race". The segment was filmed at the Sembawang Hill Food Centre, where you can find the most wonderful fish soup. Full episode here: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/tv/tvshows/regardlessofrace/cna-signature-regardless/3045514.html.

Posted by Kenneth Paul Tan on Tuesday, August 16, 2016