As an American Studies major, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the histories that contributed to much of the United States’ diversity including the genocide of indigenous people, slavery, and various waves of migration and immigration. Not often, however, do I consider the ways in which other, non-Western countries have become the way they are currently. In an introduction written by Daniel P.S. Goh and Philip Holden of the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), the state of multiculturalism in both Malaysia and Singapore is explained as a direct result of colonization. At one point more specifically, the authors argue that colonial legacies have left a racialized version of multiculturalism. Malaysians and Singaporeans then were left to create a “medley” of different cultural communities from the remaining racialized groups (Goh and Holden 4).
Goh and Holden expressed how the governments of Malaysia and Singapore had to “negotiate the colonial legacies of racialization and transform them into postcolonial multiculturalisms” which led to the “creation of a colonial plural society” (4). Such a society is one in which racial and ethnic identities are put ahead of national identity. European colonizers’ left-behind system of racial classification is one that ignites different cultural communities to cling on to their separate religious and ideological identities within their respective groups. I find this idea interesting because contrastingly, in the U.S. groups tend to form sub-cultures only after they’ve been locked out of equal opportunities within larger structures and institutions. Many different ethnic groups in the U.S. wish to claim themselves to be thought of as full American citizens, but their race, religion, or cultural group is often forced into their identity.
Comparing Malaysian and Singaporean multiculturalism to the myth of the U.S. “melting pot” brings into question how best societies in general should integrate many different kinds of people into one functioning nation. How do communities preserve their ethnic heritage while still tagging part of their identity to the representation of their holistic country?
Goh, Daniel P. S. and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism.” Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-8.