To be honest, I’m a huge fan of the word “multiculturalism” because it encompasses people of different cultures, rather than different races (which is solely based off of phenotypic characteristics). Different cultures in one country can lead to a range of discussion. In the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), Daniel Goh and Philip Holden the pre- and post-colonial context of multiculturalism and its role in Malaysia and Singapore.
Goh and Holden challenge the idea of multiculturalism and question whether we can understand multiculturalism from a basis other than “terms and categories set by white colonialists” (3). They argue that because it is a Western concept, it is used as the grounds for multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Multiculturalism is understood in juxtaposition to what white colonialist have defined it as. Additionally, they argue that the state apparatuses weave multiculturalism into the fabric of political and social life to the extent that they are seen as common sense (3). In weaving it into daily life, this understanding of multiculturalism thus becomes normalized, which is what Goh and Holden asks readers to challenge.
Something I found interesting was that the concept of race had the same purpose in Malaysia and Singapore as it does in the U.S. In the U.S., the concept of race is to categorize different groups of people. This categorization thus leads to a hierarchy of races, cultures, and ideas. In the reading, it seems like race is also used to for categorization in Malaysia and Singapore. This highlights that race is not just a concept in the U.S., but in other countries as well, and that it is a concept that is used to categorize bodies and generate a hierarchy. Because philosopher Charles Taylor argues that one should approach multiculturalism with equal value that we hold to our own identities, this proves that race in Malaysia and Singapore is manipulated towards some sort of ranking. One can’t argue against something that isn’t already there.
While multiculturalism encompasses different cultures, it is still derived from a white, settler colonialist ideology that different countries manipulate.
Goh, Daniel P.S. and Holden, Philip. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009.