Though Singapore prides herself in being a multiracial country, she is far from perfect. Racism is still rife in Singapore, albeit less blatant. With Racial Harmony Day being celebrated every year, parents can take the opportunity to educate kids of all ages about race and racism – what it is, what to do and not...
Though Singapore prides herself in being a multiracial country, she is far from perfect. Racism is still rife in Singapore, albeit less blatant.
With Racial Harmony Day being celebrated every year, parents can take the opportunity to educate kids of all ages about race and racism – what it is, what to do and not to do.
Why kindergartens and other educational institutions celebrate Racial Harmony Day
This unique Singaporean celebration falls on the 21st of July each year and commemorates the 1964 Race Riots. 23 people died and 454 were severely injured when clashes occurred between the Malay and Chinese citizens at the Padang.
Since 1997, all school kids in Singapore – from preschools and kindergartens to primary and secondary – celebrate this day as a reminder of the importance of peace and what it means to live harmoniously in a multiracial society. Schools usually celebrate by having their students wear their traditional costumes and having various cultural performances.
While race can be a touchy subject, it is vital that as parents, we avoid treating it as a taboo subject. Young children especially are very aware of their environment and will notice it at some point. It is best that you broach the subject with them first before they pick up other things in school.
Check yourself first
No matter how hard we try, even adults have biases or are ignorant about certain cultures.
Reading articles, books and talking to people of different races will help you to be more aware of racial differences. Most of us are prone to committing “micro aggressions” – a term used to describe “brief and commonplace” insults or prejudices. They are usually not made with bad intentions, like stereotyping someone based on their race.
Oftentimes one will not notice racism until it happens to you, but there are some ways you can talk to kids of all ages about race.
Introducing race to toddlers
Due to their young age, toddlers may not fully understand the concept of race, but they are naturally curious and may ask slightly embarrassing questions.
Some parents have recalled incidents of their child imitating the accents of other nationalities or asking inappropriate questions about other races’ traditional costumes. The best way to prevent this is to expose children to other cultures by having them mix with kids of other races and going for different celebrations for a first-hand experience.
When your kids do put you in a spot with the odd question, gently explain to them that the other culture is not “weird” and draw similarities to your culture. At MindChamps PreSchool Singapore, the kids celebrate different holidays like Deepavali, Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. Teachers will talk to kids about the various holiday customs and kids will get to sample foods of different cultures.
How to talk to your preschooler about race
At this age, kids are able to understand simple topics so you could bring up the idea of race when the occasion calls for it.
You could broach the subject through books, pointing out that differences are okay. Some books that you could start with include “Happy in Our Skin” by Fran Manushkin or “The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi. These books touch on the issue of race and accepting the differences of others, which could serve as a starting point to broach the subject.
When they ask questions, seize the opportunity to talk about other races or explore the topics together.
Preschoolers at MindChamps PreSchool embark on excursions in order to understand more about the world around them. For example, the kindergarteners from MindChamps PreSchool @ Changi Terminal 3 all went on a trip to the national museum to learn about the close-knitted kampung life of the 50s and 60s. This excursion gave them a glimpse of Singapore’s “growing up years” while they had fun interacting with the exhibits.
Race conversations with primary school children
Children at this age should have a clearer concept of right and wrong and should understand what kind of remarks are not appropriate.
Gently correct them if they make the odd comment and remind them why it is wrong to say certain things. If you see occurrences of racism or prejudice, point it out to your kids and explain why it is not acceptable.
Discussing race with secondary school children
Teens should be old enough to understand the difference between culture and race. They are also at the age of identity exploration and may start thinking about how they want to define themselves, as well as what race means to their identity.
Have your teenager read articles about racism and you can share your experiences with them as well. It is vital not to make race a taboo topic and acknowledge that you are still learning, along with your teen.
Kids at this age should be held responsible for their actions and racist behaviour should not be tolerated. If you catch them making racist remarks multiple times, some investigation must be done to figure out the reason behind their actions.
Race is always seen as a sensitive topic but it does not have to be treated that way. Encourage your child to keep an open mind, never stop learning, while remaining respectful and humble.
Written by Steffi Wee