Sangeetha Thanapal: Chinese Allies Must Be Clear – Any Racism Is Unacceptable

I want to say a little about Chinese allies in Singapore, given some recent events and experiences.

By and large, I find myself deeply disappointed with them. I see a lot of Chinese allies like and share my work, but who do not actually call out Chinese racists. It does not escape my attention then when I am attacked, it is minorities who come to my aid, i.e. the people who are already disenfranchised.

Chinese people are mostly unwilling to use their privilege and power to make clear to other racists that racism is unacceptable. That task inevitably falls back onto my shoulders, and other minorities.

Still, many Chinese people I know (yes, many of you on reading this now) consider yourself allies.

Firstly, ally is not a term you give yourself. It is not a calling card. It has to be given to you by minority communities, and only when you have proven yourself to be one; meaning when you have earned this by actually doing something, not just by talking a good game and posting anti-racist things on your social media once in a while.

Chinese allies in Singapore really need to step up their game, because to a lot of you, not being racist or not saying racist things is enough. It is not. It will never be.

Meeting the minimum standards of decency is not enough to be seen as not racist, let alone be considered an ally.

Until you are actively giving money, access to power and opportunity to minorities, do not pat yourself on the back. Your Chinese allyship means nothing without the transfer of resources and structural power.

A lot of the ‘good’ Chinese people become incredibly defensive the moment you point out that something they might have said or done is problematic. Instead of thinking of it as an attack on your Good Chinese Ally status, Chinese people need to understand that they are socialized into this, that they will mess up every now and then, and to simply listen when minorities tell them something makes them uncomfortable.

In this climate, Cher Tan’s approach to writing about Chinese privilege was so refreshing. When she spoke to me, I told her that her ability to even write about it and be paid for it, is something no one has ever given me.This in itself is a function of her privilege.

She then offered to either not write it, or have me write it instead.

I want to point out how rare this is. I want to point out that a Chinese person willingly giving up access to opportunity to a minority, and a minority woman at that, is so extraordinarily uncommon, that even this most basic of gestures was appreciated tremendously by me, because it is more than most Chinese people have ever been capable of.

She went on to write a piece that addressed Chinese people, from the point of view of a Chinese person, and she made sure she included many minority voices speaking for themselves.

This was then referred to as Chinese guilt by some people, which is mind boggling to me. So a Chinese person doesn’t talk about racism and that’s not okay, but they do and that’s not okay as well? Here is a Chinese person using her privilege by centering minority voices and opinions, but that’s apparently just an issue of her exercising her guilt to you? Even if it was though, so what? Guilt as a position is useless to me, but using your Chinese guilt to address racism in Singapore is a valuable exercise of this guilt.

Chinese people ask me everywhere I go what they can do to combat Chinese privilege. This is an example. Visibility and access to opportunity are the main starting points of being an ally. Do you have the ability to vacate a space you have or have been given for a minority? You should do that. You should be constantly aware of how much of what you have is because of your privilege.

Use your privilege for good. Challenge the people around you. Remember that whatever repercussions you may face, you will never be on the receiving end of as much hatred and ignorance as those talking about this without the safety of their privilege.

Be suspicious of everyone who takes easy positions. Be wary of the people who speak out against racism when it is easy and convenient, when it costs them nothing and nets them social capital. Be especially careful of those who perpetuate racism on a regular basis by stealing our words and ideas, passing it off as theirs and then being invited to write and speak about that which they have no understanding or experience of.

“Allyship is active. Discomfort is necessary.” — Kat Blaque

Are you uncomfortable? Good. That’s a start. Now go do something about it.

Sangeetha Thanapal


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