Acts of racial insensitivity and microaggressions exist in every society, including Singapore, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in a Facebook post on Saturday (June 6).
He was referring to a 2016 picture of former Raffles Institution (RI) students in blackface that has elicited backlash in the past couple of days.
The student who posted the photo has since apologised, and RI has also released a statement on the matter.
Heightened awareness likely due to George Floyd incident
Ong said in his Facebook post that the awareness of acts of "racial insensitivity" and microaggressions, such as the 2016 photo, is likely heightened in Singapore due to the current response in the U.S. after the death of George Floyd.
Ong noted that many young people in Singapore have spoken up:
"I can see many of our students, of all races, having strong feelings about the matter.
It is good that our young are standing up for what’s right and what has been a founding value we strive to uphold in Singapore."
"Our situation is entirely different"
However, Ong also said that the situation in Singapore is "entirely different" from that of the U.S, which has slavery, the Civil War, a civil rights movement, and racial segregation as part of its history.
In contrast, Singapore "was founded as a multi-racial country regardless of race, language or religion" upon its independence in 1965.
"That is not to say racial differences do not exist simply by decree. Tribal instincts are part of human nature," said Ong.
Accordingly, he said, many policies have been developed over the years, as well as the passing of laws such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the establishment of the Presidential Council of Minority Rights.
These were all put in place "to guard against systemic racism," Ong wrote.
"Students should know that racially insensitive acts are not condoned.
Singapore will always be a work in progress, always improving based on our founding ideals, and our system of governance is designed with them in mind.
All of us have to play a part."
You can read his full post here:
Top images via Alfian Sa'at and Ong Ye Kung on Facebook.