Is it possible to create a post colonial cultural identity?

Although I agree with the common phrase “knowledge is power”, it does not account for those whose only source of knowledge came from people who have power over them. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden’s introductory chapter “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism” in the 2009 Routledge publication, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore which address the issues, often racial, that arise when a entire society is based on a colonized foundation. Throughout the chapter Goh and Holden break down Malaysian and Singaporean history which has lead being viewed as one of “the most successful of postcolonial states in managing ethnic differences and conflicts”(Goh and Holden 1). This belief of a successful postcolonial state covers up what Goh and Holden see as a central issue in Malaysia and Singapore, defining their identity because it is complicated by the “instatutionalized colonial racial identities”(Goh and Holden 3).

This ideal of a successful post colonial nation is also challenged by the “tendency to read

multiculturalism [is a] purely Western phenomenon”(Goh and Holden 2). The western lens challenges the value of success in a non-Western society and parallels the corruption in colonization. British colonization placed Chinese as “commercial middleman aliens, Malays and Indonesian migrants confirmed to the fields as indigenous peasant smallholders and the Indians imported as municipal and plantation labourers” (Goh and Holden 3). These placements and divisions of peoples based on race and appearace have lead to the bigger issues in Malaysia, that “the values [of Malays] is already made”(Goh and Holden 3). There is a lacking of a sense of a national collective culture in Malaysia makes it impossible for Malaysia to be a thriving multicultural society as many claim it to be. If it is difficult to perceive or have a cultural identity, like it is difficult in Malaysia, then it is impossible to claim to be a multicultural society.

Goh and Holden’s attention to the lack of cultural identity in Malaysia work in conjunction with Tatum’s statement that “the dominant group has the greatest influence in determining the structure of the society”(Tatum 3). Where Goh and Holden’s beliefs diverge from Tatum is when Tatum states that “when a subordinate demonstrates positive qualities believed to be more characteristic of dominants, the individual is defined by dominants as an anomaly”(Tatum 3). According to Goh and Holden, those who have qualities of the dominant are everywhere, they are everyone in Malaysian postcolonial society. Unlike Tatum’s beliefs, sharing beliefs with the dominent or once dominating power is common and in fact embedded in Malay contemporary life.

It is interesting to question the identity of a postcolonial country. Is it ever possible for these countries to have their own identity, can they rebuild their cultural identity from before colonization? In a place like America there is a completely different set of challenges to a multicultural society that people in Malaysia will never face and visa versa.

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”. April 1980

One thought on “Is it possible to create a post colonial cultural identity?

  1. Julia,
    You raise some very though-provoking interpretations regarding the struggle of a nation to find itself arising from a storm of colonial practices. Your explanation of colonization as a means to set Native peoples apart reinforces the burden of finding oneself in a place where one may not feel one’s culture can flourish.

    I think your reference to Tatum’s view on the power of dominant groups to alter society extends far beyond the realm of colonization in Malaysia to include the global tension between Western and non-Western societies. As both try to implement their own form of multiculturalism, who adopts the dominant role in a position to judge the effectiveness of the other? Why? In my post, I also focused on the idea of multiculturalism as belonging only to Western societies (Mishra qtd. in Goh and Holden 2). Yet, the more I think about how these notions connect to other countries – especially Canada and the U.S. – that we have discussed, the more I realize the universality of the issues surrounding multiculturalism, regardless of geography, and how said issues are depicted in specific ways for specific communities.

    Additionally, I think your claim that all people in Malaysian society possess attributes normally associated with the superior group challenges the question of how unique cultures would ever distinguish themselves. Now in the present day, what does it mean for the perpetuation of precolonial cultures if traits of colonizers have become normalized? If the edges between dominant and inferior have become blurred, how does this change our understanding of what it means to be Malaysian?

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