Category Archives: Racism

For your reading pleasure: comments from folks who JUST DON’T GET IT

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So I haven’t been writing on this thing for…hm let’s see…3 months?

I decided to stop blogging some time ago because I was sick of it. But then, something surprising happened. People started commenting on my blog! Hoorah!

But wait…it’s actually some fairly disturbing and racist comments for this post I have up called ‘Proud to be white? You’re a racist.‘ …which is actually an excerpt I cross-posted from the wonderful ladies from the Africana (I tried getting to their blog but it’s currently unavailable). I started getting said dubious comments that filtered into my email in November of last year and I just ignored them. But the more I ignored them, the more regularly I got them. So now, my ‘Comment’ inbox has about 27 comments from various readers who felt the need to ‘express their opinions’ on my blog. I wasn’t sure what to do with these comments at first but after much thought, decided that it would be best to showcase the best of the best in one blog post.

Before I expose said dubious comments for the world to see, let me be clear on a couple of things:

1. This wasn’t even an original post I wrote. So these people are commenting on a piece of writing I found to be powerful and true… on the wrong website. People, if you’re going to hate and be racist, why not try doing it on the right website and giving your feedback to the original authors?

2. I have re-read the excerpt. I do not regret putting it up and I still find it to be very true and powerful. I understand that white folk who have not yet interrogated their white privilege may find it difficult and painful to read and stomach but I am still not apologizing for something I find to be true.

3. TRIGGER WARNING. Some of the comments I’ve received below are very racist and may bring up strong emotions. Not to mention, potential wall punching, ranting, crying to the person next to you, puking and maybe even feelings of despair. If you do not want to read this post for fear of inviting negative energy into your day, please don’t do it. Otherwise, the comments can be fairly entertaining.

So here it goes. Because I’m only a semi-asshole, I have decided to remove the names of these people who have decided to ‘comment’ on this post and replace them with my own stand-in names for them instead.

Mr ‘Reverse KKK’ said:

Submitted on 2012/11/11 at 4:54 am

So your saying that because people who are white are all descended from the same stock. I am proud of my nordic heritage not only because of the strength and honour of my warrior ancestors but because of the great state of my home country. Thus I am proud of being white nordic. Are you proud of the Rwandan genocide, the fact that not only were blacks enslaved by whites in the slave trade but african tribes enslaved their own people and sold them to white british slave traders.

The attitude of those days was different in all people including blacks, if africa and the native americans got gunpowder and technology before britain, france, Germany etc then they would have done the same because LIFE WAS CHEAP for all cultures.

Why should all white people feel guilty just because of what ancestors that have slightly the same skin colour did? Also not all white people are rich. My family and the predominitaly white british familys around us struggle at the bottom of the income ladder same as anyone.

You say white people, just plain white people. You see no individuals in us. By taking away our individuality and calling us all white people and telling us to hate our culture and vye with each other for who can be most tolerant your no better than the KKK or the neo nazis

Yes. I am akin to the KKK and Neo-Nazis. I have always been taken with their effective ways of campaigning and the relative successes of their endeavors. Reverse-KKK anyone? Join the club!

Mr ‘Change Your Attitude Or Else’ said:

Submitted on 2012/11/15 at 7:50 pm

This is so ridiculously bias, but you might not be able to see it behind all of your ignorance and self-indulgence. Colored people are given the same amount of oppurtunity if not more oppurtunity than white people, I mean heaven forbid there be a white scholarship fund. Just because white people have found the way to be successful in the past and do anything to put themselves on top doesn’t mean that we are a HORRIBLE people. You’ve just found yourself being unsuccessful so you’re going to find anyway to blame that on something other than your lack of effort and abilities. I’m sorry that you may have been misled to believe all of this nonsense, but you really need to be educated on things before you go and make such an accusation at the white race. Good luck with this attitude when you get into the work force out of highschool. This type of attitude won’t get you far, especially since the last I checked, the white race is still the majority in the U.S. why don’t you show your boss this rant when you go into a job interview…
-Jesse Zwick,
Glendale AZ

Gee, thanks for telling me I have an attitude problem. I guess THAT explains why my life sucks SOOOO much. Oh darn. It’s nothing to do with me living in a capitalist, male-dominated, racist, homophobic, ableist world. It’s just my attitude! *life changed*

Ms. ‘We Gave you Rights Now Shut Up and Let Me Call You the N-Word’ said:

Submitted on 2012/12/30 at 3:29 am |

In reply to Syahidah.

I’m not white I’m european American is what I like to be called news flash everybody is getting sick of the racism bullshit. As individuals we did nothing wrong and every time a black person cries racism I just gouge my eyes out…. I was bullied and got my ass kicked everyday since 1st grade but I wasn’t allowed to say anything and the principal told me that he wouldn’t do anything because they were black….. I’ve been to a place where black people do get killed okay but everywhere is not that way 99% or black people don’t know how hard that life could be okay your equal to everyone else now what more do you want is that not good enoughBecause nobody really owes you…. And hey we even gave you your own appreciation month! But skin color doesn’t change the ignorance. Everybody will fukin tiptoe around the situation because they are scared of saying the wrong thing too close to a black person. So some people of similar skin color treated people in Africa badly but it doesn’t just give “black birth rights” to just be better than everyone but say there the victim cuz it’s long past bein the victim it’s really just sick yeah modern world here everyone gets it that no race is better than another but for. Example the stereotype that all white people are stuck up rich and educated or that all black people are on welfare or hood rats or criminals………a lot of black rich celebrities…….. As a personal example I’m white I did drugs I’m on welfare I had a child as a teen and I run the streets breaking into houses TRYNA make money and guess what…. I’m white….. It pisses me off so much that people can’t just let go of it ……. Black people aren’t victims….. Hey I’m scared to death of insulting a black person because that’s “prohibited ….fuq there’s no white appreciation month but hey it’s just all kewl and funny when it’s “black power”

By the way, I’m not Black.

Ms. Disappointed said:

Submitted on 2013/01/06 at 1:09 pm

So you’re telling me I have to be ashamed of being a certain race?

I never put much stock into all the “white guilt” garbage, but this post is really disappointing.

You know what, if it helps you feel better, I’m disappointed with lots of my posts too.

Mr Unsympathetic said:

Submitted on 2013/01/13 at 1:18 amOh god, another crying loser.

Get over yourself. Im proud to be white. Why? Because we’ve done lots of good things too. Like giving 660 billion dollars in aid to africa and curing diseases n shit. What have you done lately? Oh thats right, Nothing.

You’re totally right. I’ve done nothing with my life. I can’t even latch onto the successes of  a community that proudly claim it is helping destroy a whole continent by looting its natural resources. I am such a failure.

Mr ‘I Don’t Buy your bullshit just my own’ said: 

Submitted on 2013/01/22 at 5:24 am |

In reply to Syahidah.

Im proud to be white and dont buy your bullshit.White people have done awesome good in the world.Just one example is feeding aficans who are too damn stupid to feed themselves but keep breeding………

There were lots more of these comments but for the sake of time and at the risk of putting people to sleep with the same ol’ reverse-racism arguments, I’ll stop.

Poor whitey. Poor, poor whitey. Don’t you see? You are never going to get it if you keep denying it. But hey, it’s ok. According to Star Trek, ‘you people’ get better at this in the 23rd century! Yay!

I’m a skin-whitening, body-griping, anti-racist feminist. Yup.

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I might as well come right out and say it.

I have and continue to engage in skin-whitening practices.

Things I do include staying indoors when it’s too sunny out, worrying about my skin when I forget to put on sunscreen, carrying an umbrella or a hat around with me and yes, using skin-whitening facial products.

I have had to sort through many feelings of guilt and shame for engaging in these practices so I recognize that for me to ‘admit’ this in a public forum – on my blog, today- is an act of personal resistance.

I refuse to accept the shaming that happens to me and so many other women of color who most will label ‘race traitors’, women who hate our brown skin, women with low-self-esteem or women who have been victimized by the ‘system’. I reject the narrow interpretations and judgments of my actions. I reject the shaming of black and brown women who engage in skin-whitening practices.

What exactly is the point of shaming women for pursuing beauty when it is one of the few sites of power available to us while ignoring the sexist and racist systems that set up this situation in the first place???  It is unproductive. It robs us of our voices. It denies us the luxury of being contradictory and imperfect – like everybody else.

Skin-whitening has been a long running interest for me, both personally and professionally. Intellectually, I started engaging with this material in 2011 as a capstone paper for my Women Studies undergrad degree. Since then, I have presented my thoughts at several conferences including the F-Word conference at UBC on April 28, 2011 and the 12th International Conference on Diversity in June 2012. Un-intellectually speaking, I started skin-whitening much, much earlier.

As I did more academic research into this issue, I became increasingly upset. I would read tons and tons of articles written by self-identified feminists who would judge, shame, poke fun and generally caution women against skin-whitening. After talking it over with a good friend (shoutout to Jennifer!), I realized I was actually reacting to the massive shaming that was directed at women who chose to engage in skin-whitening practices. This type of ‘holier-than-thou’ critique typically comes from white women or lighter skinned brown women towards their darker-skinned counterparts. Some examples are Jezebel’s Lindy West who did this with her piece on groin-whitening feminine wash in India and Tyra Banks’ 2008 episode on skin-whitening among Black women from the Tyra Banks show. Just type ‘skin whitening feminist’ into Google and you’ll find more articles that tell you how bad it is to whiten your skin, how you are such a sellout/victim if you do it etc etc. Enough guilt and shame all around, really. Fun.

So I did what I usually do when I get angry – I wrote. And as I wrote, I came to realize my own stand on this issue. It is important I write this and put this out there for people to read. I want people to know that the issue of beauty, health and women’s self-esteem deserves more complex treatment than we have been giving it so far.

I feel it is important to shift the discussions around skin-whitening AWAY from the shaming and veiled policing of brown and black women and TOWARDS acknowledging that the issue is much more complex.

Skin-whitening practices are embedded in systems of capitalism, colonialism and male dominance. We need to acknowledge that women of color have to navigate through this ‘triple threat’ daily. We receive contradictory messages about how we should look and how we should be every fucking day of our lives and we are the ones who have to live with the imperfect choices we make. If we start to try to complicate this matter, we can start to do some justice to this issue.

First, we need to understand that the skin whitening phenomenon has a long history spanning Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the African continent. White women were actually the target of skin whitening from the Greco-Roman period up into the mid-20th century. Marketing for skin-whitening products towards women of color only started in the 1950s when the press began to notice use of skin whiteners among African-Americans.  Today, the skin-whitening market is estimated to be worth $5.6 billion in Asia alone.

It’s no secret that historical and ongoing colonization sustains the ‘white is right’ ideals of beauty. One of the most obvious ways that this ideal of whiteness has stubbornly persisted throughout the centuries are the systems of pigmentocracy that developed globally across many communities of color. A pigmentocracy is ‘a social hierarchical structure based on favoritism of white skin and European-looking features’ (thanks to Hernandez-Ramdwar at Ryerson University for this).  Basically, the less white and European looking you were, the lower you are on the social ladder.  Different pigmentocracies developed across the world – specific to the histories of colonialism, capitalism and male dominance of each location – although the underlying idea of ‘white is right’ is the same. The pigmentocracy in Brazil is different from India, which is different from Jamaica, which is different from the Philippines which is different from Singapore. You get my drift.

It is also important that we understand the pursuit of skin-whitening is not an aspiration to become white or ‘look like a white girl’. It is a quest to separate yourself from the Indigenous Black and Brown ‘look’. In insular South East Asia for example, rising through the pigmentocracy means separating yourself from the working-class, dark-skinned, Indigenous Malay look to an upper-class, lighter-skinned, Eurasian beauty. This is fundamental to understand because it adds more complexity to the issue versus simply thinking that all black and brown women want to become white. In a sense, we do want to ‘become white’ but it’s not the blonde hair, blue eyes or pale skin we covet…rather the gifts that come with whiteness. Its multiple and unyielding privileges.

Skin-whitening practices should be considered an “active strategy used by some groups to claim power over others in the same society’ (Lipsitz, 1998).  People who can ‘compete’ for the privileges of whiteness are those who can afford to participate. High-end skin-whitening products can cost anywhere between $20 – $500 a bottle and the ‘full range’ of products (facial wash, toner, moisturizer, day essence, night serum and spot-on correctors) can easily go up to $1000. Ironically, those who can afford expensive skin-whitening products are constantly reminded that we have to ‘keep this up’ because skin-whitening is rarely permanent. It takes money, time, dedication and constant vigilance to achieve and maintain fair skin and its privileges. A harsh reminder to folks of color that whiteness is not something that is earned, it is a privilege some are born with and others aspire and work towards.

If we start to look at skin-whitening as an ACTIVE strategy employed by black and brown women, we can start to move away from thinking that these women are PASSIVE victims of the systems who need ‘help’ and ‘advice’ from those of us who ‘know better’. Let’s be honest here – giving unsolicited advice, however well-intentioned and shaming women who choose to engage in skin-whitening is patronizing. I know, deep down, that I am fine the way I am. I know I shouldn’t fret over my freckles. I know I shouldn’t fret over my double A cup size. I know I shouldn’t think about the acne scars on my back. I KNOW all this. You don’t have to keep telling me.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the choices we make with our beauty routine have everything to do with the pressures we receive about it. For me, this angst comes from my mother who still frets over her freckles. To me, she will always be my beautiful mother but now I know that telling her to stop fretting or that she is ‘pretty no matter what’ denies her own experiences of living in this shitty world which insisted on telling her otherwise. Telling her to stop fretting would also mean that I am myself, in denial about my own gripes with my body.  I grew up not only watching my mother fret but my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins and my friends fretting. If it was not their dark skin, it would be something else about their bodies.

Does this mean that I blame the people around me for ‘making me’ think this way? NO. By choosing to go through with my weekly ritual of skin-whitening, does it mean that I don’t love my Brownness, or that I’m not thinking of the examples I am setting for the young girls watching me? NO. Does it mean I wholly blame colonialism and capitalism for making this world the way it is and abdicating my personal responsibility for continuing to practice skin-whitening? NO.

Women make hundreds of choices everyday, and unless we are walking around in their heads, we have no idea what led them to the decisions they make. (many grateful thanks to Renee from Womanist Musings for this nugget of wisdom).

So yes, I am a skin-whitening feminist. And I am also an anti-racist activist.  My world is not a binary. I do not have to choose one or the other or be put into categories. This is how I choose to see the world. Because of this, I can embrace the complex, the complicated, the messy, things that don’t make any fucking ‘sense’ and things that don’t fit into the colonial viewpoint of right and wrong, black and white, skin-whitening sellout or staunch anti-racist feminist. I can be both because I choose to be both.I can learn to live with my contradictions.

One day, I want to be able to stop griping about the freckles on my face, my flat chest, and my acne scarred back (among other things). Until then, spare me the guilt and shaming. PLEASE.

As long as we live in a society that experiences ongoing colonization, capitalism and male dominance, the skin-whitening industry will always exist. We need to start complicating the notion of choice while also recognizing the need to access it. When we can begin and continue to complicate, decolonize our concept of beauty and disrupt its connection to the value of a person, we will allow ourselves to imagine a world that is far different than the one we inhabit today.

When women of color talk back

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Rush to arms

Beat us down

Tell us we’re the racist ones.

Spit on us

Threaten our lives

Tell us we’re the oppressive ones.

 

When women of color talk back

What did you think we would say?

Did you expect us to give thanks at the altar

of White Supremacy?

of Widespread Misogyny?

Thank you oppressors for giving us the right to speak.

 

You didn’t give us the right to speak.

Our mothers did. Our grandmothers did. Our great-grandmothers did.

They spoke to each other, they resisted together and they went underground.

Deep underground where you forced them to go.

Some of them never came back.

 

Your ancestors were deaf

and blinded by greed and ignorance

They built nations on the backs of poor brown women,

And then waged wars in their name.

 

LISTEN TO US.

We are asking you to remove your noise cancelling headphones

We are asking you to

LISTEN TO US.

 

You are still deaf.

Your eyes glaze over and then…

they burn with self-defense.

Deaf and stubborn.

Your ancestors would have been proud.

 

Go away.

Go whine to your friends

Go tell everyone how you were ‘attacked’

Go tell them you’ve been hurt

Go bask in loving commiseration and lick your wounds

Go. Go away.

Make it about you.

It’s always been about you anyway right?

 

Warn your friends. Tell them about us.

Yes, tell them about us!

Tell them to watch out for those brown women who refuse to be silenced.

Those uncontrollable savage women who just won’t shut up.

 

Gone are the good ol’ days

When you could trample on our heads and spit on our bodies

We freed ourselves. We removed our shackles and our mufflers.

We smashed your noiseless headphones

We rose above ground .

 

We are strong

With strength you can never understand.

Strength from generations of broken and beaten women who refused to give up.

Strength from humility

Strength from hope

From our bodies, the next generation of super human babies

It’s beyond genetic…

it’s authentic.

 

We will continue to rise

You can try to

Rush to arms

Beat us down

Spit on us

Threaten our lives

But we know better.

Our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers

They taught us better.

Indigenous women and women of color RESIST

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I am featured in a blog post as part of blog series titled ‘ How Does She Resist?’ – Resisting Media Representations to End Violence Against Girls and Women’ hosted by the Battered Women’s Support System . The blog series commemorates Prevention of Violence Against Women Week (April 15 -April 21) and aims to engage the online community to resist media representations as a way to prevent violence against girls and women.

The author of the blog post is the co-founder of WAM! Vancouver, Joanna Chiu. She interviewed me for the piece entitled  ‘Indigenous women and Women of Color Media Makers Resist: How to Create the Media you Want to See in the World’. I talk about media representations of women of color and queer and/or trans women.

Here is an excerpt:

Today, as I was walking down the street to write at my favorite coffee shop, I received the usual afternoon greetings from my neighbours: “Hey baby!” “Konichiwa!” “Ni hao! “Look at that ass!!”

As all Indigenous women and women of colour know, if sexism wasn’t bad enough, we encounter racism on a daily basis as well—on the street, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the media. (See the theory of intersectionality on how oppressions like racism, ageism and classism intersect.)

In media, women of colour are often hyper-sexualized, and depicted in racial caricatures: Kung Fu ladies, geishas, sexy Latina sirens, Pocahontas types, etc. That is, if we see ourselves represented in the media at all. According to Journalism.com’s State of the Media report, race and gender issues only accounted for 1% of overall news coverage. And how many women of colour lead actresses can you name in Hollywood, or who have graced the covers of glossy magazines?

Continue reading here!

Day Off campaign success!

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I’m a little slow on the uptake but I just found out that as of 2013, a new law has passed requiring all employers to give their foreign domestic workers a day off per week in Singapore.

I’ve written about the connection between women’s reproductive rights, immigration and the need for ‘exporting’ countries to create sustainable economies and ‘importing’ economies to stop building their nation-state on the broken backs of poor, brown women here.

I was following the opposition that came from many Singaporeans when the Day-Off campaign started and I must say that I was really ashamed to be Singaporean. How can I profess citizenship to a nation and to a people who think that it’s ok to treat women who take care of your own bloody children for God’s sakes…like shit?

Most opposition came from people who said a day off would mean their ‘maids’ (I fucking hate this word by the way) would have more of a chance to ‘engage in inappropiate activities’ i.e. HAVING A LIFE besides taking care of your snot-nosed children.  Yea…because it’s ok to keep people in your house like they’re animals.

I am especially upset at those in the Malay community who opposed the Day-Off campaign because SHAME ON YOU. Our own people were enslaved in various colonies like South Africa in the late 19th century/early 20th century…where Malay women were exported as slaves to work for Dutch families. They were raped and abused and today, there is a legacy of half-Malay, half-Dutch people living in South Africa who carry these painful histories with them. How can you stand by and support the same system of exploitation of other brown people today? Shame on you astagrifullah.

My annoyance at select members of the Malay community and the general Singaporean public who were too dense to see beyond their own selfish worldly needs was overshadowed by the joy I had after watching the video below. I was estatic that came out in support for the Day-Off campaign -  it made me smile and happy to know that there are young Malay people in the community who recognize the importance of allying themselves with FDW rights. If you skip to the end, you will see that the staff behind the video are mostly Malay and this makes me proud.

Although I did have some problems with the video especially with the lack of actual FDW voices and the ‘hermaphrodite’ comment at the beginning, I thought the video was great otherwise especially in showing its support for the Day-Off campaign.

I am so glad that the new law has passed -  Singaporeans who are opposed to it can sulk in the corner and lick their wounds. I atually don’t give a shit what they do because as far as I’m concerned, this law is one (very very) small step towards a more just world.

In solidarity.

Read my other post on the issue of foreign domestic workers:

Getting to the root of the Foreign Domestic Worker issue

The search for the history of my people

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In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful…

Last night, before I went to sleep, I was lying awake in bed thinking about my paternal grandfather, Arwah Tok Iswan.

I didn’t know him. My paternal grandfather. He died when my dad was a kid.

I didn’t know how he looked like because no one in my family had taken or kept a picture of him.

One day when I was 10 years old and at the museum in Singapura for a family outing, I saw his face.

I found out how my grandfather looked like by accident. I found out who he was by accident.

His photo was in the exhibition focusing on the history of Singapura, pre-independence years (1960 – 1965).

I still remember that photo – his passionate face, his fist in the air, the banner he was carrying. I try to remember every detail.

He looks like my dad.

I remember calling out to my mom who was a few steps behind and she was equally shocked to see the face of Arwah Totok Iswan. My late grandfather.

Last summer, my mother and I tried to secure a copy of that photograph but since it was nearly a decade ago, the Museum exhibits have changed.

It was a long and trying process. In the end, we didn’t manage to get the picture.

We did manage to get a clearer shot of what is pictured below but as you can see, his face is slightly out of focus. He’s the second guy from the right – with the songkok on his head.

This picture was taken on 23 September 1963 – at an event attended by UMNO supporters in Singapura welcoming Syed Albar – then Foreign Minister of Malaya who were visiting Singapura and its local UMNO (United Malays National Organization) branch members.

For those of you unfamiliar with Singaporean history, I’ll give you a brief rundown. Basically, after the British split and left Singapura at the mercy of the Japanese during WWII, people started demanding independence. Singapura and Malaysia merged briefly from 1963 – 1965 and then split. It’s no secret – we didn’t get along and it partly, if not largely, was because of racial politics. Singapura’s then (and now) Chinese-dominated political party and ideology (People’s Action Party – PAP) did not mesh well with Malaysia’s (then and now) Malay-dominated political party (The United Malays National Organization – UMNO)  and ‘bumiputera’ ideology which recognizes the Malays as Indigenous and accords them special privileges.

At the event on 23 September 1963 – where my grandfather is pictured above – Syed Albar accused the Malay candidates of the PAP to be ‘race traitors’. His comments are seen by many historians today as the catalyst for the 1964 Race Riots in Singapura. It was tough, turbulent times.

Before I stumbled onto that picture in the museum, I didn’t know a thing about my grandfather except that he died when my dad was a child.

I find it ironic that I started the search for my personal history and the history of the Malays as a kid in a museum. Museums are widely contested spaces especially for Indigenous peoples all over the world….and yet, that is where it all started.

In later conversations, my dad told me that my grandfather used to write for Utusan Melayu and was an active member of UMNO in Singapura.

My grandfather was a writer and an activist.

Like me.

Today.

If he was alive today, I wonder what he would have said to me?

Would he have told me that he took to the streets and marched so that I wouldn’t have to? Would he have told me that the battle is no longer to be fought on the streets, through rallies and speeches but in the classrooms, in academia, in the halls of ‘higher learning’?

What would I have told him?

In some ways, my search for my grandfather’s picture is similar to my search for my Indigenous,  Malay identity. Trying, long, arduous and emotionally taxing.

I did not believe I was Indigenous until I was 20 years old. I’m nearly 23 now.

It took me 20 years to believe that I was who I was, that my skin had a reason, that my language had a reason, that the stories my mothers and my grandmothers told me had a reason.

I’ve gotten into several arguments with Malay and non-Malay friends alike over this topic. It usually starts with them asking me to convince and/or prove to them my ‘Indigeneity’ as a Malay person.

For the record, I think this need to prove anything to anyone who doesn’t believe me when I say I am what I am is ridiculous. It reminds me of Americans asking Obama to prove that he was born in America. He finally showed them his birth certificate after being elected into the Oval Office, proving once and for all that he was born in the US. And even then, people don’t believe him. Since I don’t have a card that reads ‘I am Bugis/Boyanese/Malay/Indigenous, believe me!’ (like First Nations in Canada with their ‘status’ cards to ‘prove’ their Indigeneity) – I cannot pull an ‘Obama’. This obviously doesn’t stop people from trying to ask me to prove to them that I am indigenous as a Malay.

I do try anyway (sometimes).

The Malays are listed in the Singaporean constitution as ‘Indigenous’.

Article 152, part ii Minorities and Special Position of Malays

(ii) The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognize the special position of the Malays, who are the Indigenous people of Singapore, and accordingly it shall be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.

Political designation not enough for you?

Alright – what about ‘scientific’ evidence?

In 2009, a comprehensive study of genetic diversity and history of Asian populations was carried out by HUGO (Human Genome Organization) involving almost 2000 people across Asia. The HUGO found genetic similarities between populations throughout Asia and an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes. These findings indicates the origin of Asia’s population and support the hypothesis that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event from the south, entering South East Asian first. The South East Asian civilizations including the Malays, are possibly much older compared to East Asian civilizations.

I can argue on and on and try to prove just how ‘Indigenous’ the Malays really are but in the end, it is like asking a grain of sand on the beach to prove that it used to be part of a mountain. It is both ludicrous and offensive – I, nor any other Malay person who claims ‘indigeneity’ because of their Malay identity, have nothing to prove to anyone. Just because our history have not been taught in schools, have not been neatly written in books, have not been written in a language or expressed in forms you can consider ‘legitimate’ doesn’t mean we are not Indigenous. It is not our problem that you refuse to understand that.

As with many other Malay kids in Singapura (and arguably many Indigenous communities across this planet), I was not taught my history in school. We were, all of us, led to believe that we are ‘immigrants’ to the land. I agree – we are all immigrants. Nobody can be Indigenous to a country that is only 47 years old this year.

When I say that the Malays are Indigenous, I mean that we are Indigenous to “Malayadvipa” – Sanskrit meaning ‘insular mountain continent’ which refers to insular South East Asian continent. Our people existed throughout the peninsula before borders were drawn and therefore, we are Indigenous to the peninsula, not to any specific country.

Our experiences with national borders (which are arbitrary and temporary) are similar to the experiences of First Nations and Native peoples who live on Turtle Island (present day Canada and USA) , the Mayans in Territorios Maya (present day Guatemala, Hondura, Mexico etc) and the Hmong who live across present-day China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Indigenous peoples all over the world existed in lands before borders were drawn by colonial forces or otherwise. This does not de-legitimize that we are Indigenous – borders being drawn were not of our doing but that of governments and people in power who did not understand that our ancestors did not see the world like they did.

So many of us have been fed the ‘we are all immigrants’ rhetoric by the majority-Chinese government in Singapore. While I do understand some of the motivations behind this discourse (a big one being preserving ‘racial harmony’ to avoid the horrific and violent race riots of the 1960s), I cannot stand by and support this rhetoric any longer. Not after taking the time to do painstaking research into my own history and the history of my people. Not after crying for many days and nights in a country 8000 miles away from home over the sheer frustration of only finding out about and believing my indigeneity at 20 years old. Not after feeling robbed from learning about my own identity and our rich and diverse history. Not after feeling ashamed for so many years about my brown skin and my flat nose. Not after writing fictional stories when I was a kid, imagining I was someone else…anything else but a Malay kid. Not after all of that. I cannot stand by this rhetoric any longer.

Indigenous communities all over the world are not taught to be proud of ourselves, our histories and our people. We are taught what governments want us to think, what border-makers want us to believe, what the ‘winners of history’ want us to buy into.

So many of us have been fed the ‘we are all immigrants’ myth so I understand how many of us feel alienated from the label ‘Indigenous’. I’m just starting to reclaim my Indigenous Malay identity so I understand how it might be difficult for others because it’s been a long and ongoing process for me.

This has not been easy to write. As I sit here and write, I ruminate over whether I am sharing too much ‘personal information’ or whether I will be considered ‘traitorous’ to Singaporeans who insist on erasing our painful history for the ‘greater good’.

I am experiencing many conflicted feelings.

Does acknowledging the fact that Malays are Indigenous make me less Singaporean? Does it make me a national traitor? Does it mean I am ‘not proud to be Singaporean’? Will I now put on my baju kurung and join UMNO thus denouncing the PAP? Will I immigrate to Malaysia where Malays are ‘treated better’? Why do I give a crap about any of this anyway?!

This is the eternal/internal debate for the Indigenous person who has been told that they belong within certain national borders when their Indigeneity clearly transcends the very borders that were not drawn by them. UMNO and PAP are two sides of the same coin to me – both are responsible for creating the arbitrary border that exists between our two countries. To me, these questions are for the narrow-minded, for those who do not understand Indigenous history and for those who insist on pledging patriotism to imaginary nation-states without first understanding the meaning and repercussions of creating borders. Borders alienate, they do not unite. Borders oppress, they do not free.

I write this with the hope of reaching out to other young Malay people who are interested in finding out more about your personal history and the history of our community. It was a long and hard road for me but let me tell you, it was worth every drop of sweat and trickle of tears. I am not done and not satisfied with what I have learned. I still have many questions.  When I get tired or downtrodden, I pause to catch my breath and then, resume the search again.

My personal history is a shared history. It is the history of our community.

…Last night, I lay awake thinking about what my grandfather would say to me if he was alive today.

I wish I knew him.

Humility, Resilience and Connection: What I learned from First Nations communities in Vancouver

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 I’m a featured contributor at the Dialogues Youth Vancouver blog today. Here is an excerpt from my piece:

“I was born in this skin for a reason.” – Lynda Gray, First Nations activist and author

“O mankind! We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).”  – 49:13, The Quran

I’ve been asked to share my story. My story is not unlike many others – my voice is one of many, one in a chorus.

I want to start my story by situating myself. I’m currently writing on unceded Indigenous land in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. On this land, I am a visitor….

To continue reading, click here.

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