Ethnic Identity and Human Identity

What’s better: recognition as a human being or recognition as part of the ethnic group that shaped you? What’s worse? In post-colonial societies like Malaysia and Singapore, official racial categories are openly used, whereas in the West, “race” is such a hot topic that it has been supplanted by “culture” and “life choices” — at least that’s how Daniel P.S. Goh and Philip Holden describe it in their introduction of Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Both men are professors at the National University of Singapore, Goh in Sociology and Holden in English Literature, and edited the collection in 2009 (University of Singapore, Holden). Their chapter focuses on introducing the reader to the post-colonial multiculturalism of the East as opposed to the West in two sections, one focusing on racial governmentality, which is what I’ll be looking at, and the other on Asian capitalism and neoliberal multiculturalism.

The official Malaysian and Singapore categories are Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) and I find it interesting that Goh and Holden argue on page four that these categories, which are a remnant of British colonialism, cannot be wished and should instead be studied and worked with. Race-blind liberalism would not be effective after the trauma of colonization. This goes in conflict with Steven C. Rockefeller’s comment Image result for multiculturalism malaysiaon Taylor’s Multiculturalism. In his chapter, Rockefeller emphasizes the importance of our identity and human beings being put above anything else. He argues that putting our ethnic identity higher than, or even equal to, our identity as a human being weakens the foundation of liberalism and “opens the door to intolerance” (Rockefeller 88).

It can be hard to argue with Rockefeller’s point, seeing people as inherently different is what lead to “separate, but equal” policies in the United States, that is the balance multiculturalism strives to achieve. Recognition that we are all equal and recognition that our different cultures and histories make us different. Rockefeller’s view seems to apply to a perfect society, not a real ones like Malaysia and Singapore that have already been dealt the blow of colonization. So what’s better and what’s worse?

Blog Post 6

Works Cited

“Associate Professor Daniel P.S. Goh.” FASS Staff Profile – Staff Access, National University of Singapore,

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

Holden, Phillip. “Curriculum Vitae.” Philip Holden | National University of Singapore –,

Rockefeller, Steven C, and Charles Taylor. “Comment.” Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 87-98.

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