Multiple Cultures, Multiple Understandings

Just as cultures vary widely across the world, so do approaches to multiculturalism. Not every multiethnic or multicultural society operates in exactly the same way, so multiple frameworks are required to understand multiculturalism in various societies.

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In “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism,” the introduction to Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), Daniel P. S. Goh and Philip Holden argue that the race-based models of multiculturalism that currently predominate in Singapore and Malaysia derive from colonial systems of racial categorization that have become entrenched in the societies and politics of the nations (3, 6-8). In order to understand how multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia differs from Western multiculturalism, Goh and Holden define it as postcolonial multiculturalism, and the citizens of Singapore and Malaysia as postcolonial actors (2, 4). The authors define postcolonial actors as those who “have no choice but to negotiate the colonial legacies of racialization and transform them into postcolonial multiculturalisms” (4). They understand multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia as different from multiculturalism in many Western nations because of their continuous grappling with a colonial legacy.

I am intrigued by the fact that multiculturalism in Malaysia is based on ethnic categories that were imposed during colonial rule. Goh and Holden point out that the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others (CMIO) were originally implemented by the British, who believed that people in Malaysia had “‘no clear conception of race’” (4-5). All of these ethnic groups were present in Malaysia and Singapore when British colonization began. This contrasts with the way multiculturalism is represented in the U.K., where immigration, primarily from formerly-colonized nations, has changed the ethnic makeup of the nation. Anti-immigration groups depict England as an ethnically homogenous place being “invaded” by “other” ethnicities, while those who support multiculturalism still expect those who are not white and ethnically English to culturally assimilate. Interestingly, the ethnic categories considered in both national contexts derive from British ideas about what constitutes race and ethnicity and how people should be categorized. British colonialism has played a large role in the way multiculturalism is conceived and practiced around the world.

Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P. S. and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism.” Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-8.

 

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One thought on “Multiple Cultures, Multiple Understandings

  1. I am intrigued by the connection you made, you mentioned that the British made categories for the Chinese, Malay, Indian and others to make race more prominent. You then explain the matter of race in Britain and that people against immigration perceive people of other ethnicities as invaders but that there are other people that are okay with having people of other ethnicities but they just want them to assimilate.

    And it reminded me of the connection I made between America, Singapore and Malaysia about the similarities of the tactics they use to categorize people based on their race to regulate them more strictly. It relates to the strategic way America has kept certain groups of people such as African Americans down in society to control and limit them such as Jim Crow Laws and segregation laws. And the way certain groups are limited in Malaysia and Singapore by categorizing them into certain labor jobs based on their race and not their skills.

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