“I entered the next phase of my life in JC not knowing much about the inequalities and discrimination faced by Singaporeans. I was from an English speaking Christian school and mixing around with other races was not much of an issue. I must also admit that I was from a rather privileged family background.
I am Indian, more specifically a mix of a Tamil and Gujarati heritage, and am born a Hindu. These labels are important as we embrace diversity – not to divide, but to appreciate the rich diversity around us.
In JC, the first thing I noticed as I stepped into my new class was how nearly everyone was speaking in Chinese (Mandarin). Most of the students in my class (and my JC) were from Chinese SAP Schools. I still remember one of the first questions a classmate asked me – “”Are you Malay?””. I do not look Malay in any way, but to him as I later found out, as long as you are lighter skinned, you are Malay – likewise, if you are darker skinned you are definitely Indian.
The acute lack of awareness of other races became more and more apparent as the term progressed. Another one of my classmates (who is from another notable SAP School), did not know what Halal food meant and my exasperated reply to him led me to discover further that he didn’t know that Hindus were not allowed to eat beef. The ignorance only scratched the surface.
A disturbing number of of these SAP school students sang their school songs in Chinese, spoke in Chinese at home, to their friends, and everywhere else. They learnt a lot about China and Confucius teachings. They have an unhealthy obsession and love for China, it’s history and the rise of China as a superpower. The lives were almost entirely sino-centric and failed to appreciate and understand the diversity in our own home, let alone the rest of the world. There I said it. Many people think it, but do not talk about it. On their own, there is nothing wrong with the above. But SAP schools do not equip their students for a further beyond their safe zone of Chinese friends, colleagues, bosses etc. As many Indians can attest to, the discrimination and prejudice faced by Indians in the working world arises partly from the above.
Another of my classmate, who was also Indian (thankfully, ‘cos I wouldn’t have survived alone), was called names such as “”blacky””, the usual “”you’re so dark I can’t see you in the photo””, “”do you get sun burns?””, “”why do you have such curly hair?”” etc. Many of these comments would stun Indians who have never experienced them. For example, this girl has the loveliest hair, was very pretty and had a gorgeous smile. I must admit, I did have a little crush on her when I first met her. Coming from an all-boy school, this was indeed refreshing. On a side note, most of the other classes did not have any Indians. I guess most Indians preferred to head to the other top JC where diversity was not much of an issue (if only I’d known this sooner).
I digress. So, I admired her tenacity and grit as she acted nonchalant, and occasionally defended herself. I mean when 18 students gang up against you, there’s only so much you can say and do. While I never partook in calling her names, I regret not having done more to defend, not just her, but Indians and minorities in general.
Part of the reason I did not was because I did not understand the issues at play. We are taught that there were race riots and that we live in a perfect utopia now, but that utopia cannot be tarnished by discourse. I now know that what she went through (and I) was more than just verbal abuse. It is a systemic bullying that is institutionalised and readily passed on from grandparents to parents, and now their children.
We do not have open and frank conversations about racism and discrimination. For starters, what is racism? Is it just about hating a particular race? I daresay, no! Sadly, many Singaporeans still think that their ignorance is not racism, their lack of trust, stereotypes of other races, are harmless. It is not. These very thought processes have led to the systemic marginalisation, prejudice, discrimination that Indians face later on in their lives (I’m sure Malays face these problems too, if not worse).
So when are we really gonna sit up and get real with ourselves? I watched Viola Davis’ Emmy acceptance speech and was wow-ed. In Singapore though, an Indian person could not have said that, and even if s/he did, s/he would not have gotten away with it.
I see everything much clearer now, and I hope more minorities, and the majority (sorry, but I have very low expectations of the majority), would stand up and make our voices heard.
Thank you for creating this platform. I apologise if I’ve touched on many issues (labels, diversity, SAP schools, ignorance, lack of discourse etc.), I just have too much I would like to say. Hope I have brought up some thought provoking points! ”
Also keep the posts coming, the entire point to this platform is to touch on touchy issues, we’ll never be able to deal with them if we can’t talk about them!
Source: I’m Not Racist, But