Internal Structures in Malaysian Multiculturalism

When a country “achieves” the status of assimilating and effectively fitting into society’s expectations and ideals, they may receive contrasting reactions. In their chapter

Elephant walking

“Postcoloniality, Race and Multiculturalism” from the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore published in 2009, Daniel Goh and Philip Holden point to the consequences of praising Singapore and Malaysia as “success stories of modernization” (Goh, Holden 1). Additionally, the authors propose a rather contradictory idea, stating that these countries may be moving away from the more traditional principles of liberal democracy. This is achieved through a claim that demonstrates how this shift causes the countries to exhibit a more conservative, unprogressive demeanor.


An idea that I found to be thought provoking in this text, was around a potential setback that state multiculturalism in Malaysia faced. The authors specifically indicated that the country had “institutionalized colonial racial identities,” which they used to construct “political and social life” (2-3). They emphasize this argument, by explaining how Malaysia seems to “constitute a common sense through which people conceive identities of themselves and others” (3). I found this argument to be particularly interesting because a country, in attempting to reach the ideals which are expected by neighboring countries, can actually do just the opposite and create hegemonic expectations within their own social atmosphere. This can most certainly be detrimental, as having a “conventional” identity throughout a social atmosphere, may have an impact on diversity and the ability of a person to discover their true identity.

multicultural society in malaysia

In comparison to Goh and Holden, in her paper from 1984 entitled “Age Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde discusses the issues of identity in a world which looks down upon creative expression. In her work, she is concerned primarily with modern society’s tendency to categorize groups of people. In particular, in discussing self-definition, she states that “restrictions of externally imposed definition” are problematic and halter one’s ability to express themselves (Lorde 5). She explains this through a personal viewpoint, disclosing that she is able to achieve “[her] fullest concentration of energy”, only when [she] integrate[s] all the parts of who [she is]” (5). In essence, all aspects of one’s identity must be accounted for in attempting to define oneself.

Lorde’s essay connects deeply with Goh and Holden’s text in that both works are fixated on identity, and the consequences for not altering one’s self as time and standards progress. Moreover, both works end on a note which deals with change, the contemporary present, and paths for survival. Although ending on slightly disparate notes, both authors are concerned with the mechanisms of identifying and the consequences which lie under the surface and are only brought up when these identities are analyzed and questioned critically.


Works Cited

Goh, Daniel and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism.” Race and        Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-9.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider,           Crossing Press, California, 1984.



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