Ethnocentrism, not racism, is the root cause of division in Singapore's society today

Jun 13, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

The Dave Parkash incident where a Singaporean Chinese male accosted an interracial couple, telling them that it was a disgrace for a Chinese girl and an Indian man to be together may be ethnocentrism at play.

Some landlords' preference for not wanting to rent out their properties to those of Indian ethnicity may also be an example of ethnocentrism.

To be clear, racism exists in Singapore but to truly drive a constructive discourse on what's dividing Singaporeans these days, we first have to understand the exact problem that's festering.

Ethnocentrism vs Racism

Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture and way of life is more superior to all others. It is the idea that one's own culture is the main standard by which other cultures may be measured.

When people use their own culture as a parameter to measure other cultures, they often tend to think that their culture is superior and see other cultures as inferior and bizarre.

Racism on the other hand is one's hatred for another race based solely on the colour of their skin or their ethnicity.

Ethnocentrism can set precedence to racism or xenophobia if the provocateur seeks to deny a person's right to well-being, standards of living or even employment because the person's race is different from theirs.

Ethnocentrism is often perceived as racism, but it lacks the malicious intent of racists who are bent on eradicating other races. A person can be proud of their race or origin without wanting to destroy those not like them.

For instance, a landlord may reject an Indian or a Chinese national from renting his home based on the preconceived notion about how different groups would take care of their homes better, but he may also employ Indians and Chinese immigrants as employees in a different setting.

Is the landlord then an ethnocentric or a racist?

Very often, people that are ethnocentric don't know they are using their culture and way of life to judge another's. The culture of an ethnocentric person is considered the 'normal' way that things are done, just as the landlord believes.

Was Tan Boon Lee, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer who confronted Dave Parkash and his girlfriend over the couple's interracial romance a racist?

That would depend on whether Tan is consistenly applying his discriminatory ideals into his own way of life.

If it can be demonstrated that Tan applies his discriminatory views towards grading his students who are from the minority race, then yes, he is racist as he is denying the student's right to a fair and equitable treatment of the student's academic achievement based solely on his hatred for the student's race.

Civility - a step towards a more harmonious society

The opposite of ethnocentrism is cultural relativism: the ability to understand another person's culture on its own terms and not to make judgments using the standards of your own culture.

No doubt, differences in values, beliefs, and behavioural norms can trigger emotional resistance or backlash.

A non-hindu may feel digusted with the Hindu practice of using a cow to bless their homes or a non-Muslim may be repulsed by female circumcision as practiced by Muslims in Singapore.

We can learn to understand and tolerate someone else's culture but tolerance implies a passive endurance of differences privately perceived to be repulsive, immoral, or even abhorrent.

So what's the best way forward?


Civility is about treating others with courtesy, politeness, and concern. It does not involve endorsing or morally accepting their culture or behaviour. It involves disagreeing without demonising, and hearing diverse opinions without attacking.

This notion of civility involves neither the sacrifice nor the moderation of personal convictions. It does, however, make us more expansive in our thinking and promotes reflection.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Being Singaporean has never been a matter of subtraction, but of addition; not of becoming less, but more; not of limitation and contraction, but of openness and expansion."

It may be wishful thinking to get Singaporeans to be more accepting of someone with a different culture but the least they can do is to be civil about it.

1 in 5 youths in Singapore has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime

Jul 21, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

One in seven people in Singapore have experienced a mental disorder such as bipolar disorder or alcohol abuse in their lifetime, more than three-quarters did not seek any professional help.

The top three mental disorders here were major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder. This is based on the finding of the second Singapore Mental Health Study by the Institute of Mental Health, which started in 2016 and involved interviews with 6,126 Singaporeans and permanent residents.

In the same study, youths between 18 to 34 years were presented as the most vulnerable group - one in five would have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime.

The study was conducted on 6,126 participants, representing the population, between 2016 and 2018 in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Nanyang Technological University. It was funded by MOH and Temasek Foundation

One in 43 people has had a psychotic disorder in their lifetime

Psychotic disorders may involve one or more of the following:

  • Delusions, which are the fixed belief in something that is not true.
  • Hallucinations, which are sensations that are not real, such as seeing things that are not there.
  • Disorganised thoughts, making a person's speech difficult to follow with no logical connection.
  • Abnormal motor behaviour, which includes inappropriate or bizarre postures, or a complete lack of response to instructions.

The most common psychotic disorder in Singapore was schizophrenia, with about one in 116 - or 26,800 people - having been diagnosed with it at some point in their lives.

Treatment gap of 11 years between first experience to seeking help

Respondents cited a “treatment gap” of 11 years as the median time between when they first experienced symptoms and when they sought help for obsessive compulsive disorder.

It was four years for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse, two years for generalised anxiety disorder and one year for major depressive disorder.

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), from 2017 to 2019, an average of 12,600 patients aged 15 to 34 years sought treatment for mental health conditions at public hospitals each year.

Current approaches to treating mental health conditions

Broadly, there are two approaches for treating mental health conditions: Medication and psychotherapy - both of which can be used on its own without another, with different effects on an individual.

“Medication reacts differently for different individuals even if it’s the same condition - a certain medication may work perfectly well for one, but for another it can have more complicated side effects,” said Mr Jackie Tay, the executive director of PSALT Care, a registered charity and mental health recovery centre.

On the other hand, psychotherapy and counseling involve the “human factor” or the social connection between the clinician and the patient.

“It’s the chemistry and connection - some patients would connect better with certain styles of therapists. You also need to navigate around that,” said Tay.

As such, the continuum of care for mental health conditions can also be long, intensive and complicated. For example, one young adult whom CNA spoke to likened the process of finding suitable treatment to finding a soulmate on matchmaking sites like Tinder. Kevin agreed.

“It's not like maths, where you have a correct answer. You have to slowly find what works for you,” he said.

More seeking help

Mr Asher Low, executive director of Limitless, a non-profit organisation that deals with youth mental health, said the organisation has seen over 250 new clients seeking help so far this year - 13 more than the number of new clients for the whole of last year.

"Quite a number of our existing clients deteriorated because they lost access to coping activities and social support, or were stuck at home in an unconducive environment, such as (one with) poor family relationships or abusive parents," he said.

But it is not just the young whose mental well-being has suffered due to the pandemic.

O'Joy, a voluntary welfare organisation looking after the mental health of seniors, saw a 26 per cent increase in the number of clients in August and last month compared with the same period last year.

O'Joy clinical director Teo Puay Leng said seniors who are still working may be anxious about losing their jobs and being unable to find another one in the current economic climate, while others are affected by their loved ones getting retrenched.

Those who are used to taking part in outdoor activities have also become anxious as they have had to stay home on their own, she said.

Meanwhile, Samaritans of Singapore - which focuses on suicide prevention - received 26,460 calls for help from January to August this year, up from 21,429 in the same period the year before.

Chief executive Gasper Tan said callers sought help for issues arising from the economic impact of Covid-19, stress from having to adapt to telecommuting and home-based learning, and social relationships affected by the virus situation.

Better mental help awareness

Ms Joy Hou, principal psychologist at EmpathyWorks Psychological Wellness, who saw an almost 20 per cent increase in clients, said that while the increase may be in part due to Covid-19 taking its toll, it could also point to greater awareness of mental health issues and reduced stigma in seeking professional help.

IMH senior consultant Jimmy Lee echoed the sentiment by saying that the increase in help-seeking behaviour during this period is "a good thing".

Dr Lee said that the crisis has resulted in various mental health organisations coming up with new initiatives such as virtual seminars, new helplines being set up, and people learning to identify and help those in distress.

"I think this is a good opportunity... People are concerned about the mental health needs of various aspects of the population," he said.

Mental Health Helplines

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Institute of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788