Racial Harmony Through the Arts and Culture

The following article first appeared in the Singapore Chinese daily, Lianhe ZaoBao’s Bilingual Commentary Column, on 6 January 2001. Chinese translation by Lianhe ZaoBao.

As the world is moving towards the Global Village era, with freer movements of people and instant communications between countries, more of the hitherto homogeneous societies are becoming plural ones. The consequential adjustments by the natives and newcomers are often traumatic.

Viewed from both the historical and current standpoints, racism is demonstrably still one of the greatest dangers facing mankind today, and will continue to exercise the minds of rational-thinking people for a long time to come. In our own time racial conflicts, and religious bigotry, have polarised or torn apart countries and communities, and inflicted untold miseries on their people and retarding their national development.

We in Singapore are most fortunate to have racial harmony and religious freedom, thanks to the farsightedness of our ever vigilant leaders and the strict laws against anyone stirring up racial or religious animosities. This is augmented by the firm desire of the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans to keep it that way. While we enjoy an enviable reputation for good racial relations, there is, unfortunately, not much spontaneous social interaction among the races outside of the work environment, despite that more public avenues now exist for them to do so.

It is, of course, human nature everywhere for people to feel more comfortable in the company of their own kind. But for any multi-racial society with multi-culturalism to flourish, it is essential that its ethnic components must strive to understand and appreciate each other’s way of life. This would help to remove any in-built prejudices and misconceptions due to sheer ignorance, unfounded apprehensions or apathy and bring the different races closer.

In view of our colonial past and racial mix, English has been the dominant language of administration, business and education, and the vehicle of communication among the various races here. Without it, Singaporeans of different extractions will cease to communicate. The pervasive soft power of the English language is such that many Singaporeans, understandably, are more attracted to the Western culture and influences than to their own ethnic roots. Consequently, they tend to have lesser interest in the cultural heritage of their forebears and those of their fellow citizens.

In light of the factors mentioned earlier, these are formidable obstacles to promoting greater social interaction among Singaporeans. Unfamiliarity and lack of genuine interest in each other’s culture and way of life are, in my view, two major impediments that need to be overcome. As a positive first step, we should begin to take a more active interest in the arts and culture of the other racial groups. Knowing rudiments of each other’s language and traditions would certainly make this a more meaningful and pleasurable experience. But it is a difficult task, especially for the older Singaporeans.

The answer probably lies with the younger people. Parents and our educational institutions have a vital role to play in inculcating the right attitudes in our young during their formative years. With concerted and sustained efforts by all concerned Singaporeans, racial harmony should attain a new dimension when the next generation of citizens take their rightful place in society.

Lam Pin Foo
18.9.2009

通过艺术和文化增进种族和谐

环球化的趋势,使到人们能够在世界各地更自由流动,国与国之间的沟通也更为迅速和直接。越来越多的单一种族社会逐渐变得多元化。

土生土长的人们和外来人口之间,所需要作出的相互调整和适应,往往是令人感到非常不愉快的经验。

不论是从历史或现代的眼光来看,种族主义仍然是人类面对的最大危险之一。有识之士需要时刻保持警惕。

在我们这个时代,种族冲突和宗教偏见,在很多地方使国家和族群对立或分裂。不仅人民饱受其害,国家发展也因此停滞不前。

在新加坡,我们很幸运的能够享有种族和谐和宗教自由。这得感谢我们高瞻远瞩的领袖,以及对付企图挑起种族或宗教敌意人士的严刑峻法。此外,国人都强烈的希望保持现有的情况。

虽然我们拥有令人羡慕的种族和睦关系,可惜,除了在工作地点以外,不同族群的人,较少在公共场所自然交往。

当然,和来自同一族群的人在一起,总会让人感到比较轻松自在。但是,如果要我们的多元种族社会,进一步发扬光大,个别族群就有必要学习了解和欣赏彼此的生活方式。

这可以帮助消除因为无知、毫无根据的疑惧或者冷漠,所造成的偏见和误解,进一步缩短各族的距离。

因为我们的殖民地背景和多元种族社会,英语长期以来都是官方、经商和教育的主要语言,也是各族赖以沟通的语言。如果没有了英语,来自不同族群的人,将难以交谈。

英语和它所带来的影响,使人们更容易被西方文化吸引,而忽略了自己的根,这是可以理解的。因此,他们一般上对先人的文化遗产不感兴趣。

这样看来,要促使新加坡人多多沟通,须要克服许多困难。我认为,对它族文化和生活方式感到陌生和缺乏了解的兴趣,是两大障碍。

我们可以开始做的,是培养对它族艺术和文化的兴趣。如果我们对它族的语言和传统,有一些基本的认识,这肯定会是一个很有意义和愉快的经验。但是,知易行难,对老一辈的新加坡人来说,更是如此。

不过,我们可以把希望寄托在年轻一代的新加坡人身上。在年轻人的成长过程中,家长和教育机构在灌输他们正确的态度上,扮演着关键性的角色。

只要我们同心协力和持之以恒,种族和谐的关系必定能在将来更上一层楼。

蓝秉湖
(作者是一名退休律师·叶琦保译)

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