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.




Lenses Of Multiculturalism


Multiculturalism is defined as cultural pluralism and diversity by the Merriam Webster dictionary. Diversity of different cultures is handled and talked about differently in various countries, for instance western multiculturalism is different than post-colonial multiculturalism. In the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), authors Daniel P.S Goh and Philip Holden set out to examine postcolonial multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore compared to western multiculturalism.

Goh and Holden argue that in order to be able to better understand a countries ability to sustain multiculturalism its history of postcolonialism and position in postcolonialism must be analyzed. In regard to Malaysia and Singapore, both countries state and position after colonialism needs to be studied from “the theoretical angles of cultural studies and postcolonial theory” (2). When this viewpoint is studied when discussing Malaysia and Singapore’s multicultural position it can be seen that racial identities from colonial times are still implemented onto political and social life of Singapore and Malaysia lifestyle (3).

I am captivated by the different angles that western multiculturalism and post-colonial multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore are viewed through. In the United States multiculturalism simply stands for the existence of different races, though many races are not given equal significance in the overall culture of the United States. For instance, when an immigrant arrives in this country their first task is to learn English, the primary language of this country, which simply neglects the other languages spoken in this country. The second task of an immigrant is to learn the “American” culture as quickly as possible in order to fit into society. In other words, less is required in the American view in order to be multicultural. In Singapore and Malaysia, the cast and social system of colonialism are still implemented and therefore it in my opinion seems harder to achieve multiculturalism in a country where culture is an uncertainty. In this way the statement, “historical consciousness plays a major part in the formation of our identities and the definition of multicultural possibilities” (8), emphasizes Malaysia’s and Singapore’s approach to addressing multiculturalism, and I can easily understand the historic importance.



Works Cited

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


Equality of Racial & Cultural Identities


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In the text, “Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore,” (2009) Daniel Goh and Philip Holden discuss multiple main ideas but the one I want focus on is, “institutionalized colonial racial identities” (3). According to Goh and Holden, “institutionalized colonial racial identities” (3) was imbedded in social political aspects of Singapore and Malaysia because it influenced how people understood identities of others and themselves. Unfortunately it influenced favoritism of certain cultural groups over another, so depending on a person’s culture, they received favoritism or were disregarded.

The objective Goh and Holden make, is that different cultural identities should have “equal value and worth,” (3). And to do that there needs to be a rearrangement of, “colonial and postcolonial cultures” (4) through the government. The government is categorized into, “civil groups, citizens and residents as postcolonial actors”, (4) but the way the cultural racial groups are set up makes it difficult to change things so they have to settle for compromising, “institutionalized colonial racialization,” (3) until they can reform it to a new multiculturalism where one race is not ranked higher or lower than another.

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This led to the grouping of labor for people based on the racial and cultural group they belonged to in Malaysia under British rule, “Thus Chinese were placed as commercial middlemen aliens, Malays and Indonesian migrants confined to the fields as indigenous peasant smallholders, and the Indians imported as municipal and plantation labourers,” (5) depending on the rank a racial group has the labor can be bad.

Racial categories relates to America too because both America, Malaysia and Singapore incorporated the same tactics, which are grouping specific racial groups in categories to solely control and regulate their lives, for example in Malaysia, “new immigrant communities were segregated geographically, socially and economically from the local population,” (5). America is perceived as a melting pot of cultures that are so diverse and live in harmony but in reality, America was built on racist fundamentals, is not what it was made out to be which is a country that is accepting and welcoming of everyone no matter how different they are in regard to race and culture. America has strategically done things to keep certain racial groups more controlled such as, segregation in schools and the busing system. Overall, these countries have done everything in their power to put certain racial groups above others.

Works Cited

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