Multiculturalism vs. “Post-racial”

Upon reading the introduction to Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009) by Daniel Goh and Philip Holden, I realized that I know nothing on “multiculturalism”. I assumed that the word in some sense valued cultural fluidity and tolerance. But then again…what does “cultural fluidity” really mean either? My point is, previous to this informative excerpt, I recognized “multiculturalism” on a similar playing field to “diversity”, as a vague buzz word which no one in the general public truly acknowledges the layers, history, or politics of.

In relation to how multiculturalism functions in Malaysian or Singapore government, Daniel Goh and Philip Holden make the argument that “multiculturalism imposes limits upon the recognition and interrogation of cultural difference”, because of its roots which are embedded within Western ideology. Goh and Holden press question the reality of how a postcolonial society can conceive of and redefine racial categorization which was founded upon white colonialism? Charles Taylor argues that achieving this sort of multiculturalism in a postcolonial society such as Malaysia required “non-ethnocentric” judgement, which entails the “presumption of equal value and worth” among all racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Taylor also argues that state must also reflect equal sentiments towards conserving the rights of all citizens.

Considering the politics of Malaysia’s pursuit of multiculturalism in the postcolonial framework, I am curious to further investigate how “multiculturalism” functions within the United States since we too are a postcolonial society. I am interested to understand the argument of scholars and writers who claim the United States is in a post-racial society. Based off my understanding of Goh and Holden’s definition of multiculturalism, the claim or boast of reaching a “post-racial” society implies a failure to acknowledge equality and distinguish between racial and ethnic groups. In reflection of what multiculturalism symbolizes, I find it strange how American culture applauds the ideology of the “mixing pot” which realistically encourages the active devaluing of cultures outside what is western or classically “American”.

Racial Governmentality in Singapore and Malaysia as Enforced by Colonization

In the case of multicultural relations in Singapore and Malaysia, the age-old adage holds true: history repeats itself. In the introduction to Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, Goh and Holden argue that the post-colonial racial governmentality in Southeast Asia continued to exist following independence (2009). Additionally, the frameworks that shaped colonial racial governmentality were set in place by pre-existing racialization. The social constructs that form post-colonial racial governmentality are both influenced by pre-colonial racial constructs and the aftershocks of colonial rule, and continue to exist into the present.

This evolution of racial governmentality is interesting because it illuminates how European colonizers have historically enforced racial systematization in their colonies. However, this systematization was also sometimes pre-existent in colonized nations. Racial governmentality is defined as a governmental system in a multicultural society that primarily focuses on the needs of a specific racial group. Goh and Holden state that the enforcement of racial separation in colonized societies was “not invented by colonial powers […] but rather built on and radically transformed pre-existent social imaginaries” (5). Here, Goh and Holden define racial governmentality as a system enforced by colonialism. However, the framework for this system was laid in place my pre-existing racial systems.

Additionally, racial governmentality has continued to exist post-colonialism in Singapore and Malaysia. Goh and Holden state that “colonialism’s racial governmentality was something that could not easily be left behind by the new national state” (6). Goh and Holden continue to describe the state of the People’s Action Party in Singapore and the United Malays National Organization in Malasyia (6). These organizations sought to reinforce racial primacy in their respective countries through civilian effort (6). In the 1970s and 1980s, similar movements took root as the Malaysian government enacted policies favoring “sons of the soil” (7). The fact that racial separation was often in place before colonization, however, should not be taken to dispel the role that colonization played in racial governmentality in Singapore and Malaysia. Both foreign and domestic influences have played a role in shaping racial governmentality in Singapore and Malaysia.

In conclusion, racial governmentality has roots that extend back to pre-colonial times in Singapore and Malaysia. However, colonial powers amplified these roots, and following colonization, Singapore and Malaysia continued to foster policies and movements that favored racial governmentality. As Goh and Holden state, “historical consciousness plays a major part in the formation of our identities and the definition of multicultural possibilities” (8). The histories of Singapore and Malaysia in terms of multicultural relations shape the present. These histories, furthermore, have influenced the presence of racial governmentality in these nations.


Works Cited

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




Making Sense of a Census

I officially learned about race while sitting in my elementary school classroom years ago when I was taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a state test that begins in third grade. Before then, color and ethnicity was how I distinguished myself from my siblings and friends. But in that moment I was given 5 categories of races to choose from. A look into the way the question of race is approached in a non western perspective is presented in the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009) by Daniel Goh and Philip Holden. The authors point us to new views of the construction of race in these countries but also allow us to see how they are similar to the wider world through institutionalization.

         The authors clearly show how the current “state multiculturalism” that exists in both countries are rooted in the colonial past that has framed them (2). It is not just present in a political sphere, but also has a significant effect in the way people see and interact with one another. The authors discuss how this influence creates a “common sense” among the people in a multicultural nation. In critiques of this institutionalization, people see “limits” in “the recognition and interrogation of cultural difference,” which questions how people today can escape a colonial legacy that perpetuates a narrow view of the demographics of the nation (3).  The authors say, “the institutionalizations of identities has foreclosed commitments to cultures other than the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) inherited from the British colonial administration.” (3) This shows  how the decisions of colonizers can directly influence the prioritization of groups in the distributing of resources. It lives on in the forms that people complete, and in turn informs the lives they get to live in their multicultural state.

         I find it interesting how the categories seem so fixed and known to be referred to as the CMIO acronym. I think about my experience as a young kid having to choose between the categories of White, Black, American Indian, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. I don’t believe there was even an ‘other’ option my first time taking the PSSA, as I remember having to choose a race I have never identified with on several occasions over the years. But even if and when I had the chance to chose other, I knew I still didn’t belong. Even when I answer yes to the ‘Hispanic or Latino’ question today, I still feel out of place when it comes down to race. And so I wonder what it must be like for a child, adult or anyone being a descendent from immigrants having to choose between CMIO. I wonder how my experience gives me a different world view from someone my age in Malaysia or Singapore trying to make sense of their place in institutionalized multiculturalism.


Works Cited

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

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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.



New Racism in Malaysia and Singapore

Historian often say history repeats itself until we learn the lesson that is meant to be learned, and we make the necessary changes to become a more globally accepting, equal, and interconnected society and world. One way history has been repeating itself for centuries is with the way in which we categorize people.Daniel Goh and Philip Holden show the continuance of racial structures that promote “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) which turns into a different form or “new racism” (2) in our society decades after a country established its freedom from their colonizers in their book, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009).Goh and Holden also acknowledge the damaging effects of this continuance and of the “new racism” it forms.

  To start of, Goh and Holden states that these two countries government are, “shaped by a racial governmentality” (1). Racial govermentiality first started when British assigned labor systems in the countries that they colonized such as Malaysia and Singapore. The British recognized any progress socially, economically, or culturally as being tied to your race. Therefore, racial structures were created that positioned a person’s race and ethnic identity ahead of their Singaporean or Malaysian identity. This created “institutionalized colonial identities’ (3), because years after these colonized countries such as Malaysia and Singapore fought for their freedom, the effects and racial structures stemming from a racial governmentality that the British practiced in these countries remained. Goh and Holden essentially make the argument that race and multiculturalism function as a continuance of “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) that creates “new racism” (2) in countries like Malaysia and Singapore whom were colonized and later established their freedom.This means that the act of freedom from colonizers is not enough, there has to be more actions taken to rectify the structures they left. Malaysia and Singapore are examples that a colonized country still relies on the established government by British colonizers even in a postcolonial and multicultural state.

One way we see this argument shown as accurate is through the use of Robert Hefner’s collection of essays (2001). Hefner’s works showcases the, “investigation of multiculturalism in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in the production and reproduction of precolonial, colonial and postcolonial pluralism”(2). This goes to show how “new racism” stems from the precolonial and colonial decades of history, because the “institutionalized colonial identities” established by the British are still present today in countries that have postcolonial pluralism. I found this to be revealing because often when people think of a postcolonial or multicultural/pluralistic country, they think of it as a melting pot such as with the United States. The terms or view point of multicultural or melting pot often gives of the impression that the country and its citizens are equal, diverse, and legally understanding of everyone. However, that is not true because we see the effects of the race systems from colonial days that still show face in the legal, social, and cultural aspects of our society today. For example, in Malaysia, the “politics of recognition” (3) shows how one must navigate race to have access to resources because it is not evenly distributed among citizens. This is similar to America where the race you are born into already has serious stereotypes accompanied with it. For Blacks, this is often shown through the wealth and economic gap that shows how minorities like blacks are more likely to live in poorer segmented neighbors.

History repeats itself as we learn it, until we understand it enough to change it. The understanding that one has control of their own fate is then seen as only possible if we as a society decide that we want to change our fate and take another route not tied to our colonizers. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden are taking the necessary steps in learning the colonial history of Malaysia and Singapore, and exposing the recurring effects British colonizers have had on the land. They are also arguing for the necessary change in the ways we use “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) because it is creating a system for “new racism” as seen in other countries like America who went from slavery to Jim Crow laws. It is interesting how history has been repeating itself, but it is also revealing because Goh and Holden are revealing to us how to change the continuance of a racially charged and oppressive history.

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Works Cited

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



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. 


Works Cited:

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

Multiple Cultures, Multiple Understandings

Just as cultures vary widely across the world, so do approaches to multiculturalism. Not every multiethnic or multicultural society operates in exactly the same way, so multiple frameworks are required to understand multiculturalism in various societies.

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In “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism,” the introduction to Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), Daniel P. S. Goh and Philip Holden argue that the race-based models of multiculturalism that currently predominate in Singapore and Malaysia derive from colonial systems of racial categorization that have become entrenched in the societies and politics of the nations (3, 6-8). In order to understand how multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia differs from Western multiculturalism, Goh and Holden define it as postcolonial multiculturalism, and the citizens of Singapore and Malaysia as postcolonial actors (2, 4). The authors define postcolonial actors as those who “have no choice but to negotiate the colonial legacies of racialization and transform them into postcolonial multiculturalisms” (4). They understand multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia as different from multiculturalism in many Western nations because of their continuous grappling with a colonial legacy.

I am intrigued by the fact that multiculturalism in Malaysia is based on ethnic categories that were imposed during colonial rule. Goh and Holden point out that the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others (CMIO) were originally implemented by the British, who believed that people in Malaysia had “‘no clear conception of race’” (4-5). All of these ethnic groups were present in Malaysia and Singapore when British colonization began. This contrasts with the way multiculturalism is represented in the U.K., where immigration, primarily from formerly-colonized nations, has changed the ethnic makeup of the nation. Anti-immigration groups depict England as an ethnically homogenous place being “invaded” by “other” ethnicities, while those who support multiculturalism still expect those who are not white and ethnically English to culturally assimilate. Interestingly, the ethnic categories considered in both national contexts derive from British ideas about what constitutes race and ethnicity and how people should be categorized. British colonialism has played a large role in the way multiculturalism is conceived and practiced around the world.

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.



Race isn’t exclusive to the U.S.?

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.


Works Cited

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