What Gets Left Behind

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.Image result for multiculturalism

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?

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.



2 thoughts on “What Gets Left Behind

  1. I find your personal take on the reading as an American Studies major to be very insightful. So often we find ourselves in the middle of a western context that we don’t always think about what happens outside of it. When it comes to race, I feel this difficulty can be heightened for an already confusing topic. So when learning about different cultures, I find it important to discover the ways in which they intersect and diverge from our own.

    At one point, Goh and Holden focus on the shift to racial governmentality and the New Economic Policy. “Affirmative action” it is brought up, which I see as a way to step outside of our United States context and compare it with that of another country. What I think the authors try to say in regards to affirmative action in Malaysia, is that the problems do not lie in ideals of favoring one group over another, but the structure of the policies that have allowed this favoring to be institutionalized.

    I think about the debate concerning affirmative action in the United States and how I’m seeing our policy as an opposite to what is unfolding in Malaysia. In your post, you bring up the postcolonial multiculturalism and colonial plural society in Singapore and Malaysia and you go on to say how “racial and ethnic identities are put ahead of national identity.” When I read “affirmative action” I can’t help but think of the United States context of college admissions and the good it can do for underrepresented groups. So when I take a look at affirmative action in a country such as Malaysia, I am able to use my existing knowledge to better understand the difference and issues that arise from institutional injustice that is propelled by a larger system of inequality in policy.

  2. Both of our posts share the idea of Singapore and Malaysia being having to struggle through the colonial ideas being ingrained into their culture and society. We both included the idea that racial identities and the way in which society is structured and organized by race is implemented from colonial times. Interestingly the reason why these structures are prevalent in post colonial societies is because colonizers organized the labor system by race and ethnicities. For instance in the book portion is included that Chinese people were indigenous aliens while Malays and Indonesian are categorized as field workers, and Indians were imported as municipal and plantation laborers (5). This structure of labor then translated to social structure which then impacted the way multiculturalism played out in society. The question that you asked at the end of your blog is very thought provoking given that it’s a very complex question to decipher. As humans I think that it is difficult to preserve ones heritage given that generations after generations of people are each adapting to the ever changing world, cultures change and adolescents are usually the representors of the new cultures because they are part of the developing society.

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