Singapore has been gripped in the brownface and subsequent video slamming the Chinese privilege issue in the past week, with even the Minister for Law himself speaking out against the video creators, and a few of his fellow PAP MPs also slamming the video, while nicely opined the brownface ad, that started this race discussion in SG was done in bad taste. Activist Sangeetha Thanapal, who now based herself overseas, has now waded into the issue. After all, how could she not be involved in the online discussions, she was the one that coined the term ‘Chinese Privilege’.
But herein lies the problem. While Sangeetha has every right to speak out against the perceived Chinese Privilege, she might have hit some raw nerve, when she wrote “I’m the only person who gets to decide what Chinese privilege is or isn’t.” Which drove one reader to write in, indicating while he believe in Sangeetha’s cause against racism, we all need to see her for what she really is – an imperfect human unable to look past your own ego. Here is the full letter:
“I believe in your cause against racism. It’s a fact that this world isn’t perfect; there are systematic inequalities and imperfect individuals have been brought up with biased impressions that may last the better half of their lifetimes. I see the anger, disappointment, sadness and unfairness felt by minorities; through my friends, through my family and others’ sharings, and simply through widened perspectives, I am still learning to be a better human, a better cog in the society we are all in. I’ve seen your works, and I applaud you for not being silenced, for pushing through with your work on racial discrimination against the ‘brown skins’. You are a pioneer who fought to put the spotlight onto the racial grievances previously hidden and suppressed. But that’s where the compliments end. Beneath your efforts and sharp, vulgar rebukes, we need to see Sangeetha Thanapal for what you are – an imperfect human unable to look past your own ego.
You don’t want to spread awareness about the racism that exists in Singapore; You want to shape the movement in your image. You need to be remembered for your heroic struggles. You wants ownership of the definitions. You want credit for the vocabulary. You want acknowledgements for the insights others have gained from your words. If anybody’s learnt and shared anything about racism that was derived from your works, verbatim or not, value-added or not; as long as you’re not credited, your legacy is being ‘erased’, ‘diluted”. Your constant self-victimization hurts your credibility. If this isn’t ego, what is? If this isn’t self-serving, what is? I don’t think whoever coined the term ‘White Privilege’ ever demanded to be always credited, or complained about the movement taking off without him/her. After all your efforts to make Chinese privilege’ a thing, you’re simply furious that it’s taken off – mostly without you. It’s not a matter of ‘academic integrity’ which you’ve linked with citation on several occasions; You can’t stand the thought of a successful anti-racism movement that’s separate from your name. Again, if this isn’t ego and self-serving, then what is? It’s simple. Sangeetha Thanapal wants some ‘damn respect’ when anybody talk about ‘her baby’. The baby isn’t a lifelong quest against racism, where the reward is to succeed; the baby is your ownership of the concept, and your reward is to be able to live on as it’s mother. You don’t truly want Singapore or the world to be free from racism, you want Singapore to be free from racism because of you.
If they’re Chinese or White, they will never be an ally. It’s not enough for that people reflect and work on themselves. Even if they stop themselves from projecting micro-aggression. Even if they introspect and share their reflections and learnings to others. Even if they advance the cause by spreading awareness in their words. It doesn’t matter; they are self-flagellating. They are making it palatable to the Chinese. As long as they are not doing enough by Sangeetha Thanapal’s own standards, they are part of the problem. And heck, if they’re a minority advancing the cause in their own ways (without crediting you), they are part of the jealous minority that can’t bear to see a dark-skinned, plus-size, working-class Indian girl succeed. And heck, if they didn’t go out of their way and risk their reputation, their career, or everything as you did back when you were working to push this term, they are the Chinese’s ‘lapdog minority’ or the ‘petty and jealous minorities’ that were simply upset that you ‘got there first’. As a person, it is inconceivable for Sangeetha Thanapal that they might havegrown, expanded their worldviews since, or that life experiences or even your works might have changed their inactivity – to you, they must be one of the people who simply turned up to take credit and conspired to push you from your work.
In addition, you might have used sweeping statements and half-truths to invoke white-hot rage in a bid to garner emotion and support. Your half-truth commentary about representation in governance could have led to larger social repercussions for the lives of many in Singapore, while you are hiding it out in Australia to escape legal consequences. While effective, it is much more sustainable to learn from BOTH our successes and failures grounded on objective truths. It’s true that Singapore is home to our own brands of racism. But it’s also true that we have fared better in our management of race compared to other countries. In our never ending quest to battle institutionalized discrimination, we must not forget to look back from time to time to see how far we’ve come. Yet, we must continue to improve.
At this point, I think it’s clear that anything else from you is self-serving and selfish in nature. Your early efforts in the movement were probably your crowning moments in this movement, but unless you change your attitude on this matter I am doubtful that you will contribute much more to the progress of anti-racism. I am not discrediting any of your work against racism; I am disappointed and angry at your attempts to thwart the very movement you inspired, simply because you are not the captain of the ship. The movement against racism must be bigger than one ‘dark-skinned, plus-size, working-class Indian girl’ and her ego. Racism has been present throughout the history of humanity and will continue to exist for a long time coming. It is an ongoing fight. And generations to come will continue facing different discrimination in their own forms, hopefully on increasingly shrinking scales compared to today. Instead of trying to fight all the Chinese, ‘petty and jealous minorities’ and ‘lapdog minorities’, maybe it is time to take a look in the mirror and check if you are the jealous one all along.
P.S. There really is nothing wrong about having an ego and wanting to be recognized. We all do. But using the fight against racism to do so undermines the many people of minority who are being marginalized on a daily basis. When you begin to attack the very people you are trying to stand up for, take a moment to reflect on yourself.”