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Efforts to encourage ‘social mixing’ could end up being cosmetic

I refer to the report “Survey points to social class divide among Singaporeans” (Dec 28).

Efforts to encourage ‘social mixing’ could end up being cosmetic

Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

Shahril Shaik Abdullah

I refer to the report “Survey points to social class divide among Singaporeans” (Dec 28).

The survey’s result should come as no surprise since there is indeed a natural tendency for people of the same social class to band together, as rightfully pointed out by Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies.

Of course, there needs to be intervention to break up this tendency since it is clearly against the national interest to achieve and celebrate diversity.

However, deeper thinking is necessary in approaching the problem, to ensure that solutions are not half-baked. For instance, the call from the survey report for the Government to re-double its efforts to encourage more social mixing by way of volunteer work or the use of public sports facilities amounts to nothing more than a mere scratch of the surface.

Take volunteer work as an example. More often than not, volunteers from an upper-class background are not so much interested in the poor as they are desirous of wanting to lead or “save” the poor. They take great delight in their paternalism towards the poor. They can do that only if, firstly, they really know something about the poor and their lived realities; and secondly, if they are humble enough to re-think their motives for volunteerism.

One does not need to have a PhD to identify inequality of income as the root of a social class divide. Hence, casual social mixing, such as a shared use of public sports facilities that is not driven by a substantive purpose to address this inequality, is merely a case of trying to create a superficial “reality” that there is no class conflict.

As long as the root of the income-gap divide is not addressed, the social class divide will be here to stay. What we need to overcome this divide is social solidarity, not cosmetic social mixing. We need to get everyone regardless of class to come together in solidarity to create a just society that demands equal opportunities for all.

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