‘Long way to go before we embrace racial, cultural diversity’

Singapore has yet to reach a point where its citizens have learned to accept and respect racial and cultural differences between them, says Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer.

Speaking on the second day of the annual AG-SIM International Youth Leaders’ Summit at the SIM Grand Hall on Saturday morning, Palmer gave about 700 youth leaders from Singapore and 10 other countries such as Malaysia, Korea, China and even the U.S. a reality check on racial harmony.

He highlighted that “it is not automatic” that people will accept or embrace one another’s cultural and racial differences.

“In fact, the tendency is to go the other way — towards your own kind,” he said. “Our approach (to dealing with this is) not to try and make everyone the same, but instead to make everyone realise we are different and learn to accept… and respect those differences.”

“Are we there yet? I don’t think so,” he continued. “Will we ever get there? Maybe one day in the distant future but not so soon. Why do I seem unsure? Because it is natural to congregate with one’s own culture or race,” he added.

Acknowledging the “considerable progress” Singapore has made thus far toward the goal of acceptance and mutual respect, Palmer nonetheless maintained that overcoming transcultural and racial differences is a challenge, and “a work in progress in Singapore”.

But he reminded the visiting youth leaders gathered not to shy away from the differences, but to instead find them, and engage in them.

“Whatever you choose to do, I only ask you to do one thing — just make sure you deal with it,” he said. “Because it is when you choose not to deal with it that it will become a problem.”

The two-day summit, jointly organised by Agape Group Holdings and SIM Global Education, started on Friday, where youth leaders between the ages of 15 and 35 came together in Singapore for talks and workshops on the appreciation of transcultural and racial diversity.