Daniel Goh and Philip Holden, in “Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore” (2009) unpacks and theorizes about multiculturalism, from a non-western perspective. They are attentive to postcolonial scholarship to understand a former colonial state’s ability to effectively manifest multiculturalism. They actively tug at the rigid western conception of multiculturalism, in hope of expanding dominate narratives about multicultural states.http://
Whereas the title implies a positive reading of Malaysian and Singaporian multiculturalism, some of the offered critiques challenge such reading. Goh and Holden argues that “in postcolonial societies such as Singapore and Malaysia race itself is a category openly made use of by the state apparatus” (2). Race is signaled as having an intrinsic function to the government; it is an explicitly hegemonic tool. Unlike in the U.S where its workings are more clandestine. In states implementing “postcolonial multiculturalism” consider racial categories differently than some western nations due in part, according to Goh and Holden, to their relation with a colonial power.
These nations have “institutionalized colonial racial identities and woven them into the fabric of political and social life to the extent that they constitute…[how] people conceived identities of themselves and others” (3). Inhere in the imaginations of these nation-states is eurocentric understanding. While they are independent, such existence is nominal; the stench of colonialism still roams their streets, linger in their homes, and hide within their clothes. Therefore, like Beverly Tatum argues, the postcolonial multicultural nation-state understands themselves only in relation to whiteness—a scale they were never intended to be considered on.
This differs from certain western societies and overlaps with others. For instance, Canada holds itself as a multicultural nation. However, similar to Malaysia and Singapore, it has “institutionalized” specific cultural identities thus marking them superior. In Malaysia and Singapore, it was the Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, and Others; while in Canada, it was the English and the French. Canada has two Official Languages, both connected to two historically recognized cultural groups. Does this not contradict the mission of multiculturalism?
Conversely there is the united states. Not an explicitly multicultural nation, but certain legislation and founding agreements marks it a nation for all people, regardless of cultural upbringings. Therefore, the united states have no official language or religion. But this is solely de jure. Because the quotidian of illegible Others, those read as threatening to the American Way, are denied citizenship. The multicultural rhetoric fades and hypocrisy is revealed.
Goh, Daniel P.S and Phillip Holden. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, London: Routledge, 2009.