On Chinese Privilege in Singapore
Does being the token minority most of the time seem a bit daunting? Well, welcome to my life.
Living in Singapore – a predominantly Chinese community where they make up 74.6 per cent of citizens – I’ve gotten used to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but when it gets to the point that not having Chinese as my race on my ID or being able to speak Mandarin puts me at a disadvantage, my frustration at the subtle privileges I don’t have access to rise above the surface and I blow my top.
It is sad that we are bound to have privileged races in multi-racial communities. In Singapore, the Chinese carry the invisible knapsack, in which they finds themselves with a load of resources that come easy to them. Furthermore, everything seems to be measured against them – a concept similar to that of white privilege in other parts of the world. But that’s a whole other story.
Most Singaporeans never had to go through the hardship of having to turn away jobs because it was required that you do not wear a hijab or speak Mandarin fluently.
“You have a Chinese name? No worries, I can pronounce that.”
“You don’t understand English? That’s okay – all the movies in theatres have Mandarin subtitles.”
“You’re enlisting in the army soon? You’ll have a fair chance of being placed in the police force, civil defence department, or armed forces.”
Even casual racism still happens here. Being called a “terrorist” just because you’re Malay, Muslim or have darker skin may seem funny to most, but let’s be real – it’s just downright ignorant and cruel. Insensitive comments come frequently too, and as time goes on, for some, the self-fulfilling prophecy takes over and we subconsciously accept that we might just be inferior. I mean, how many times have we heard something along the lines of, “You’re so pretty for a Malay!” or “Are you sure you’re Indian? You’re so fair!”
How do we claim to be a multi-racial society and pride ourselves on our harmonious culture when that aspect of our lives is a fraud? Do we see all races as equal? Unfortunately, I beg to differ. Most of my country couldn’t even accept that an Indian won Miss Singapore Universe in 2014, because she was “too dark”.
Not only that, but non-Chinese get stereotyped as being less capable, less competent and thus less able to succeed. If you’re Malay, you probably have no future job prospects. If you’re Indian, you’re smelly and your cultural festivals are neglected. Just the fact that Singapore grants a two-day public holiday for Chinese New Year and only one day for other racial festivals says a lot about what we truly prioritise in our nation.
Chinese privilege is something the rest of Singapore can only wish to have. Yet most invalidate it. One of the worst things about racism in Singapore is how it isn’t explicit; rather, it’s an issue that is neglected, denied and never paid attention to.
Racism, be it in Singapore or elsewhere, is entrenched in our social systems, institutions and culture. Acknowledging this is the first step to overcoming it. We are all so much more than our skin colour and race.
I invite you to share your own thoughts in the comments section. After all, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we celebrated this week, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Cover by Haley Bell