Institutionalized Stereotypes

Daniel P.S Goh and Philip Holden’s chapter “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism” in the 2009 Routledge publication, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore addresses the controversy regarding race in both Singapore and Malaysia. Both Goh and Holden analyzes how the colonial British perceived both races and cultures are embedded in the roots of Malaysian and Singaporean multiculturalism and ethnonationalism.


Goh and Holden emphasize that “in Singapore and Malaysia [the British have] institutionalized colonial racial identities and woven them into the fabric of political and social life to the extent that they constitute a common sense through which people conceive identities of themselves and others” (2-3). British colonialism internalized race so much so that one’s social and political that the British practically assigned ‘suitable’ roles for every race in Malaysia and Singapore. Within the political economy, the labor industry was extremely divided. The “Chinese were placed as commercial middlemen aliens, Malays and Indonesian migrants confined to the fields as indigenous peasant smallholders, and the Indians imported as municipal and plantation labourers” (5).


Through segregation, everyone is forced to not only generalize the intersectionality of their identity but are also forced to take on the stereotypes that are rooted so deeply in their social and political culture. The hindering of racial stereotypes can also be found in Lelia Aboulela’s “The Ostrich”. In this context, Sundanese immigrants Sumra and her husband Majdy are abroad in the where Sumra’s husband forces her to abandon certain cultural aspects of herself given the stereotypical thoughts of the people of the United Kingdom. This is evident on page 5 when Majdy tells Sumra that she’ll be perceived more openly by the people of London if she were to no longer cloth herself in her religious garb.

The stereotypes forced onto one’s race and culture can they heavily impact someone’s identity. Not only societal and political stereotypical ideals limit people’s belief of what ‘can’ do, but tell them what they certainly can not.


Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997,, pp. 1-9. Accessed 12 April 2018.

Goh, Daniel P.S and Phillip Holden. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, London: Routledge, 2009.

2 thoughts on “Institutionalized Stereotypes

  1. I really like your blog post. You do a great job highlighting how different stereotypes were implemented during colonialism. My blog is similar in that it also highlights stereotypes and how stereotypes complicate peoples’ ideas of their self-identity. It’s really interesting that you compare this to The Ostrich. I also compared it to British multiculturalism, but I used Rattansi’s “The Muslim Question.” In the Rattansi chapter, he highlights how a country’s culture and core values can help or hinder people from identifying as citizens. I think this connects to The Ostrich because you highlight the great point that Sumra feels like her culture cannot be incorporated into English culture because Majdy tells her she has to choose between the two cultures. This segregation of cultures completely conflicts with the idealized version of multiculturalism. Furthermore, this relates to Malaysian multiculturalism because in England (one of Malaysia’s former colonizers) there were similar ideas of segregation and that certain people acted certain ways. This stereotyping is now highlighted in Goh and Holden’s piece about Malaysia and Singapore.

  2. Jamirah, in an interesting, and I’m not sure if intentional, way you frame “The Ostrich” in postcolonial multiculturalism or ethnopluralism. Similar to Malaysia and Singapore, Sudan was under the British crown; it was a colonial state. Therefore, as illustrated in your post, citizens from both nations may hold linked sentiments about race relations and racial identity categories. Your mention of the “hindrance” of stereotypes illuminates the difficulty post-colonial nation’s sometimes with understanding themselves, and their people, not in relation to an Other. What do you think Beverly Tatum would suggest about identity making in a post-colonial nation?

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