Ethnic Identity and Human Identity

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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.

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.

Multicultural Hypocrisy

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.

Work Cited

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

Internal Structures in Malaysian Multiculturalism

When a country “achieves” the status of assimilating and effectively fitting into society’s expectations and ideals, they may receive contrasting reactions. In their chapter

Elephant walking

“Postcoloniality, Race and Multiculturalism” from the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore published in 2009, Daniel Goh and Philip Holden point to the consequences of praising Singapore and Malaysia as “success stories of modernization” (Goh, Holden 1). Additionally, the authors propose a rather contradictory idea, stating that these countries may be moving away from the more traditional principles of liberal democracy. This is achieved through a claim that demonstrates how this shift causes the countries to exhibit a more conservative, unprogressive demeanor.


An idea that I found to be thought provoking in this text, was around a potential setback that state multiculturalism in Malaysia faced. The authors specifically indicated that the country had “institutionalized colonial racial identities,” which they used to construct “political and social life” (2-3). They emphasize this argument, by explaining how Malaysia seems to “constitute a common sense through which people conceive identities of themselves and others” (3). I found this argument to be particularly interesting because a country, in attempting to reach the ideals which are expected by neighboring countries, can actually do just the opposite and create hegemonic expectations within their own social atmosphere. This can most certainly be detrimental, as having a “conventional” identity throughout a social atmosphere, may have an impact on diversity and the ability of a person to discover their true identity.

multicultural society in malaysia

In comparison to Goh and Holden, in her paper from 1984 entitled “Age Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde discusses the issues of identity in a world which looks down upon creative expression. In her work, she is concerned primarily with modern society’s tendency to categorize groups of people. In particular, in discussing self-definition, she states that “restrictions of externally imposed definition” are problematic and halter one’s ability to express themselves (Lorde 5). She explains this through a personal viewpoint, disclosing that she is able to achieve “[her] fullest concentration of energy”, only when [she] integrate[s] all the parts of who [she is]” (5). In essence, all aspects of one’s identity must be accounted for in attempting to define oneself.

Lorde’s essay connects deeply with Goh and Holden’s text in that both works are fixated on identity, and the consequences for not altering one’s self as time and standards progress. Moreover, both works end on a note which deals with change, the contemporary present, and paths for survival. Although ending on slightly disparate notes, both authors are concerned with the mechanisms of identifying and the consequences which lie under the surface and are only brought up when these identities are analyzed and questioned critically.


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.” Sister Outsider,           Crossing Press, California, 1984.



Overshadowing Non-Western Multiculturalism

If every story, person, word, object, etc. could only be defined in one way, that would surely make for an awfully boring world and society. As we have discovered, multiculturalism is one of these increasingly dynamic concepts, molded in different ways by separate parts of the globe through various policies and histories. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden, in their chapter “Postcoloniality, Race and Multiculturalism” from the broader work Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore published in 2009, seek to address the differences between multiculturalism in the Western and non-Western/postcolonial sense amongst countries (1). Additionally, Goh and Holden unpack the function of race in categorizing and defining peoples, in identity, in government, and in colonization (3, 5-7).


One of the most compelling arguments presented in this piece is the critique of the general interpretation of multiculturalism as being a construct specific to Western societies, focused on gathering individual cultures under the umbrella of Western (white) populations (Mishra qtd. in Goh and Holden 2). I believe this is somewhat ironic – and quite intriguing – considering that “with regards to multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia…these two countries have been touted as the most successful of postcolonial states in managing ethnic differences and conflicts” (Goh and Holden 2). This prompts readers to question exactly how success is interpreted and to what extent these elements of tension influence that interpretation. Further, Goh and Holden justify their claim by contending that the issue is not from a lack of multiculturalism in non-Western societies, but rather by the inherent disparities that exist between the types of multiculturalism across the globe (2). This stems from an understanding that no two countries can possibly execute multicultural principles in the same capacity.

The argument described in this chapter not only diverges, but it is completely lacking from Erna Paris’s article “Canadians Must Never Take Multiculturalism for Granted.” In her writing, Paris claims that Canada is “the world’s most successful multicultural society,” while highlighting the faults of multiculturalism in the U.S. and Europe and conveniently neglecting to mention any non-Western societies (Paris). In my opinion, it is important to acknowledge this subtle distancing of places like Canada from countries like Malaysia. Whether or not Paris did this intentionally, her assertion detracts from the proclaimed successes of Malaysia and Singapore (Goh and Holden 2). Is Paris implying that countries like Canada and the U.S. are on a separate, more elevated playing field in the game of multiculturalism than are non-Western societies?


Works Cited

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

Paris, Erna. “Canadians Must Never Take Multiculturalism for Granted.” The Globe and 
     Mail, 7 July 2016, first ed.,            must-nevertakemulticulturalism-for-granted/article30773630/. Accessed 11 Apr.              2018.

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

Stereotypes Prevent Multiculturalism

Today, the word “race” makes people tense. It is not properly understood and complicates how people perceive others’ and create their own identities. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden’s introductory chapter “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism” is part of the 2009 Routledge publication, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore.

In the middle of their introduction, Goh and Holden highlight how British colonialism left a lasting influence on the post-colonial social structure of Malaysia today. For instance, the chapter states, “[British] racializations were articulated in the political economy of the division of labour.” The process of putting certain groups of people into certain jobs segregated the country. This segregation assisted in the creation of the idea of “racial differences.”

Goh and Holden state, “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.”Zootopia Stereotypes By separating people into specific groups, classifications developed, and stereotypes were created. In fact, the chapter goes on, “many cultural stereotypes of ethnic populations now firmly embedded in the public imagination prove to have their roots in the colonial order of things.” Through this segregation, stereotypes were created and complicated peoples’ sense of identity. Identity is a key part of multiculturalism because it is through peoples’ sense of identity that they learn how to interact with other cultures that may or may not be different than their own.

Furthermore, multiculturalism incorporates a balancing of peoples’ individual backgrounds, and equal treatment. Current Malaysian multiculturalism still has roots in postcolonialism because it was through British colonialism’s illumination of peoples’ differences that people now struggle to unite. Equal means Equal GIPHYThis multicultural balance between the individual’s identity and the appreciation of others’ differences was complicated by colonial segregation which signaled that only certain peoples were supposed to do certain jobs. Jobs can create class status, and status affects how people view each other.

In conclusion, struggles for people to see from each others’ perspectives/relate to each other in Malaysia originated by the British colonial efforts. People have been taught that certain types of people do certain jobs which are only fitting for their race/ethnic group. This segregation destroys the concept of individual freedom but also complicates how ethnicities should be viewed by attaching certain statuses to them.

This connects to our in-class analysis of Rattansi’s chapter, “National Identity, Belonging, & the ‘Muslim Question,’” from Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. In his chapter, Rattansi addresses how certain peoples view themselves as more British than Muslim because they relate to core values of a country or a country’s culture. It is these core values that unite people in England together (Nevertheless it is worth mentioning other sources which highlight how other groups of people in England do feel separated and ununited from the rest of the country). Whereas in Malaysia, Goh and Holden point to the underlying feeling of separateness because of the stigmas around which type of people do what work. It is interesting to consider that Rattansi’s analysis is based in England, which is the country that colonized Malaysia.


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

Rattansi, Ali. “National Identity, Belonging and the ‘Muslim Question.'” Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford U P, 2011, pp. 119-142.

Blog Prompt #6: Race & Multiculturalism in Malaysia

Blog Post #6 Due: Tues, 4/12 (by 9am) // Comment #5 Due: Fri, 4/13 (by 9am) 

  • Introduce the excerpt from Daniel Goh & Philip Holden’s chapter on “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism.” Be sure to provide key publication information and a brief summary.

Cover of the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore

  • Identify one argument they make about multiculturalism in Malaysia that you find particularly interesting. Summarize and outline this argument using a combination of paraphrasing and quotations.


  • Explain how this point about multiculturalism connects, overlaps, or diverges from any other argument about multiculturalism that we’ve discussed in our class thus far. Be sure to quote/cite a particular source (e.g. Bourne from our US unit, Paris from our Canada unit, etc.) to illustrate this comparison. Illustrate what it is about this comparison that you find interesting or important.

“They won’t believe it’s what you want.”

“You look beautiful in blue,” the Ostrich says to Sumra in Leila Aboulela’s 1997 short story named after him (Aboulela 5). Sumra is remembering her schooldays with him while she lives isolated in London. She walks away from his compliment, not needing or seeking his admiration. She remembers that it must have been evening classes because in the morning was white and in the evening the tobes were colored. She walks remembers the relaxed routine of evening lectures and walking in groups of other girls tobes “snapping chewing gum and kohl in [their] eyes” (Aboulela 5). In London,

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Sudanese girls in tobes in Dongola, Sudan

however, her husband doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe that was so part of her life before, and so she imagines it as she walks.

I keep coming back to this page five section of the story because it seems such a simple representation of Sumra’s life in Khartoum and how it directly affects her life in London. Her husband, Majdy doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe on the ground that people in London would think he was forcing her to wear it and they wouldn’t believe it’s what Sumra wanted, but we see in her memories the freedom she felt walking with her friends on leisurely days. They were not exceedingly modest girls with their heads down and kept cloistered away from men at all times. They wore jewelry and makeup, snapped gum. They styled their hair and their tobes sometimes slipped right off of it as the passed boys in the street. She looked and felt beautiful, which is something in the previous paragraph she struggles with in London. London, which is where everyone wants to go and is supposed to be so much freer and lovelier. In this scene we see the

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London women dress and live very differently

ordinary paradise of Khartoum.

Aboulela uses hyperbole to describe how Sumra feel walking without her tobe on the London streets. She feels naked. “Unclothed” (Aboulela 5). In a run on sentence that seems to imitate Sumra’s nervousness, she imagines the feeling of the tobe on her hair and skin and she adjusts her posture and movements to accommodate. This reflects how exposed and unprotected Sumra feels in London. She knows there are enemies in the city, but she doesn’t know who they and feels she has nothing to hide behind or protect her. She has nothing familiar to grasp onto, so she imagines one. This is a foreshadowing of sorts to when her husband admits his jealousy of her ability to keep home withe her while he loses his ties to Sudan. Even when denied the tactile fact of her heritage, Sumra is able to keep a bit of home in her thoughts.



Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997,, pp. 1-9. Accessed 29 March 2018.


Blog Post 5

Memory is Migratory

Migration is always a trip. Regardless of the affecting reasons, migration is traditionally understood as physical movement. People board a transportation vessel–plane, boat, train, or they walk– and they leave. Some to never return.

However, Leila Aboulela’s character Sumra, in “The Ostrich,” disrupts the orthodox corporeal comprehension of migration. Through Sumra migration is revealed to be a mental trip too. A journey that is made difficult by physically arbitrary boundaries. Those borders whose lines often maintain injustice and delays fairness. Sumra exposes how the mind—the imagination—troubles these borders. Her ability to readily transport back to Sudan, underscores the porousness of national borders.

After disembarking the plane and being met by her self-hating Sudanese husband, Majdy, Sumra and him take the bus back to their flat. And it was on this journey where migration’s resistance to geography first appeared. On this ride back to the flat Sumra reflects on the old friend she met on the plane, and from there readers are transported to Sudan and are face-to-face with The Ostrich.

Once Sumra arrives back to not only London, but also the present, she has reached the “small…flat” with “thin…walls” (4). She paints the image of her being disoriented by the weather and the strangers walking by. Nevertheless, it is those strangers, according to Majdy, whom she “must respect” (5): “[S]trangers who were better than me…Every one of them is better than us…[T]he man who is collecting the rubbish, he is not ravaged by malaria, anaemia, bilharzia, he can read the newspaper, write a letter, he has a television in his house and his children go to school where they get taught from glossy books” (5). This scene illuminates Majdy’s self-hatred; he is repulsed by the material conditions of his native people. But Majdy ignores how colonialism has influenced these material conditions. He blames the oppressed. On another note, this passage too signifies a mental migration in the form of an allusion.

Majdy’s racist statement is in reference to his native people. African people have problematically been, solely, imagined as being afflicted with “malaria, anaemia, [and] bilharzia.” These images reinforce the primitive African trope, thus furthering the legacy of colonialism. Though not explicitly said, Majdy’s reference of these illnesses in conjunction with his earlier display of repugnance for “dimwitted students who memorized their way into university, [and] who never held a calculator in their hands before (3),” implies the people of Sudan are the subjects . Mentioning of the people of Sudan by Majdy does not only reinforce stifling stereotypes, but it too migrates the Sudanese people. They are brought to London. Here national and social boundaries are collapsed. And those whom Majdy despised and sought to distant himself from, becomes materialized.

Majdy’s attempts at dissonance fails. Though negatively, he is too connected to the people of Sudan to every let them go. Because of the migratory nature of memory he will never achieve his desired assimilation.

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, 1997.