What is Singaporean Chinese Privilege?

Maybe some education is in order. People have been telling me that not everyone comes from the same critical thinking tradition and framework that I do. I understand that. I wasn’t always as awake as I am now. So sometimes, I gotta explain some stuff do you understand the meaning and context in which it is used.


So what is Singaporean Chinese Privilege?

Singaporean Chinese Privilege is not: About you. Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you’ve done, or thought, or said. It may have allowed you to do, or think, or say things, but it’s not those things, and it’s not because of those things. Privilege is not about taking advantage, or cheating, although privilege may make this easier. Privilege is not negated. You can’t balance your Chinese privilege against my female disadvantage and come out neutral. Privilege is not something you can be exempt from by having had a difficult life.

Singaporean Chinese Privilege is: About how Singapore society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.

Almost everyone who is reading this had some form of privilege. If you are a member of three marginalized groups, in ill health, and poor, you’re still able to access and use the internet, both demonstrating and conferring privilege that many people do not have. As a girl, Indian and curvy, I am disadvantaged in three ways, but I have the privilege of having had an education that affords me to be able to think about this stuff. That’s something many people in Singapore don’t have.

Some privileges are easy to demonstrate: Can you go into a random restaurant and order food? That’s not something that those with food allergies, diabetics, celiacs, or a range of other conditions can count on.

Some privileges are harder to demonstrate: If you get a job, to what extent was that based on the way you look, your gender, your accent, your connections? How can you tell?

And this is the point. Indians and Malays by and large cannot walk into a place and get a job based on their qualifications alone. They need to know someone, or be better than everyone else to get that job. While for Chinese Singaporeans they just have to meet the minimum qualifications (sometimes they don’t even need to do that) and they will get it just for being Chinese. And the fact that many Chinese people who read this will get angry and swear up and down that they got their jobs or opportunities because they are qualified, the fact that you don’t even see the racism behind the hiring process is EXACTLY WHAT PRIVILEGE IS. Go ask who else interviewed for the job. Check out their qualifications. I will bet you money that an Indian or Malay person who is just as qualified or more qualified than you applied and didn’t get it. Go ask the few minorities in your workplace. I will bet you more money that in some way or other (ability to speak more languages, higher education, previous experience in a similar job that you don’t have) they are more qualified than you.

Adapted and modified from http://brown-betty.livejournal.com/305643.html

I have never seen it therefore there is no racism!

 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.

You say…

“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

Singaporean Chinese Privilege

When a Chinese Singaporean says that they understand (they usually don’t) your grievances but they should not be held responsible because they didn’t choose to be born Chinese.

You say…

“Privilege is not something I take and which I therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and egalitarian my intentions.”

Harry Brod, “Privilege, Power, and Difference”