When Chinese Singaporeans say there is no racism in Singapore and that Indians and especially Malays should not be asking for affirmative action, aka ‘special privileges’ because we live in a meritocratic society.
“According to a well-known philosophical maxim, the last thing a fish notices is the water. Things that are unproblematic seem natural and tend to go unnoticed. Fish take the water they swim in for granted, just as Chinese Singaporeans take their race as a given, as normal. Chinese Singaporeans may face difficulties in life-problems having to do with money, religion, or family-but race is not one of them. Chinese Singaporeans can be sanguine about racial matters because their race has not been (until recently) visible to the society in which they live. They cannot see how this society produces advantages for them because these benefits seem so natural that they are taken for granted, experienced as wholly legitimate.’ They literally do not see how race permeates Singapore’s institutions-the very rules of the game-and its distribution of opportunities and wealth.
Malays, Indians, and other people of colour in Singapore are racially visible, and everyone seems to notice their race. For them, the same culture, law, economy, institutions, and rules of the game are not so automatically comfortable and legitimate. In a Chinese-dominated society, non-yellow colour brings problems. And if people of other colours cry foul, if they call attention to the way they are treated or to racial inequality, if they try to change the distribution of advantage, if they try to adjust the rules of the game, Chinese Singaporeans (whose race and racial advantage are invisible) see them as asking for special privileges. They are seen as troublemakers.”
|—(Adapted from)||Michael K. Brown et. al, Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society|