Institutionalized Identities in Malaysia & Singapore

Organizing people into groups fitting their race and culture has been a struggle for centuries. Not so much a struggle for the people themselves, but for the colonizers who come to their land and become tasked with forming a new
hierarchy of races. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden address these issues of “institutionalized identities”(3) in their book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), by demonstrating how devastating it is for groups excluded from those categories. 

Goh and Holden first credit Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylors argument regarding state imposition. He claims a state giving support to “selected cultures
can be justified only as long as the fundamental rights of citizens within commitments to other cultures or no commitments are protected” (3). Taylor’s ideas for a fair acknowledgment of all races is contradicted in the forms of state multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia imposed by the British. The creation of “official categories” of race create a category know as “other” who do not identify as Chinese, Malay, or Indian. Goh and Holden argue that this system makes it impossible not to “commit”(3) to one of the 4 groups. The groups hierarchal position in society reflects how citizens are treated.

I find this interesting considering it has similar parallels of how America views race. We live in a multicultural society and yet it is evident races are treated different. But even before society decides how to treat them, the government must first decide which racial box everyone belongs in. As in Malaysia and Singapore, some races are excluded. Latinos for example are not considered a race despite us being the second largest ethnicity in the United States. Filling out forms leaves many of us confused since we are either given our own “race section” or “other”. If there is no “other” option we are left with the confusing task of categorizing ourselves into races we may not feel accurately represent us. As discussed in class today, similar issues regarding declaration of race on documents appear in Malaysia. 

It is important to understand that the definition of multiculturalism includes supporting a diverse number of racial and cultural backgrounds. But a problem arises when we have foreign powers imposing their pre-colonial views of race on ethnic people. It creates a huge confusing and unfair mess we are still trying to figure out to this day. 

B5

Works Cited:

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Holden, Philip. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009. 

One thought on “Institutionalized Identities in Malaysia & Singapore

  1. I find your blog post compelling as you bring up an important point of how race is “overseen” by institutions to create groups, regardless if they are exclusive or not. I think the concept of race is so controversial because of the way in which it is being utilized. To group/categorize people is one thing; to categorize and exclude certain races is another. As you stated in your post, Latinos are not considered a race, despite being the second largest. Excluding Latinos from racial categories proves that institutions manipulate race in ways that benefit them and not those who are actually of those races. Additionally, I think an alternative to the conversation of racial categories would maybe be implementing the idea of ethnic origin. While both concepts still categorize people, ethnic origins are more accurate and acknowledge more than just the phenotype features of groups.

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