Local women break silence on ‘Chinese privilege’

On Aug. 31, Singapore-born-and-bred Surekha A. Yadav’s commentary titled “Is Singapore a racist country?” ran in The Malay Mail. 

In it, Yadav talks about a “persistent and pervasive Chinese chauvinism” that often underlies Singapore as a nation, which she calls the “Chinese identity”. Basically, Yadav illustrates, “if you aren’t Chinese you need to justify your Singaporeaness, and even so you’ll never be quite as Singaporean as a Singaporean Chinese.”

A similar piece turned up on Medium, a current online platform for writers, this time by literature professor Adeline Koh. Both Yadav’s and Koh’s works — the latter rather brazenly titled “To My Dear Fellow Singaporean Chinese: Shut Up When a Minority is Talking About Race” — got passed around the internets at about the same time.

And it was completely coincidental, as we later found out.

Koh’s work is actually a contribution to a collection of essays edited by independent scholar Sangeetha Thanapal.

32-year-old Sangeetha had been thinking and writing critically about the concept of ‘Chinese privilege’ since the days she was pursuing her Masters degree in Social and Political Thought in the United Kingdom (UK), but it was several unpleasant encounters on Twitter, following her tweets on the topic, that drove her to start the compendium.

“I was trolled, threatened, attacked verbally, had my picture tweeted…,” she revealed. “At this point, my dear friend Adeline Koh stepped in to use her Chinese privilege to shield me.”

From the experience, the two saw a need to have other voices involved in the discussion, and that was how the Medium initiative — the platform was chosen because, in Sangeetha’s words, “it divests itself of the encumbrances of other social media platforms” and is “great for opinion pieces” — was born.

That there are articles about the topic of ‘Chinese privilege’ means it’s one that provokes discussion, yet there’s only a handful of publicly active conversations about it. This doesn’t surprise Sangeetha: “I think there are many reasons for this. A general culture of fear, sedition laws, the lack of language or a frame for people to express themselves due to a lack of scholarship on race in Singapore, the silencing tactics that denialists engage in (are some of them).”

Response toward the recruitment of essays for Sangeetha’s compendium has been mixed, the online activist revealed.

“There’s been an outpouring of support from minorities thanking me for my courage… I’ve already gotten submissions in two days that I am in the process of publishing.”

Writers interested to contribute can contact Sangeetha in various ways, including via Facebook.

And what does Sangeetha say about Yadav’s column? “We were just as surprised as everyone else, but we’re really happy that other people are writing and talking about it as well.”

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