The Vietnam War: The Contrasting Politics of Representations & History

The most accessible narrative of the Vietnam War portrays the American solider heroically fighting the communist super powers of Northern Vietnam. These depictions are drawn predominantly from perspectives of American soldiers and circulate within American popular culture. The Vietnam War, which lasted from 1957 through 1975, followed the aftermath of World War II (Ferry 2). In this period, the French reestablished colonialism in southern Vietnam while communist leader Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the north (Ferry 2). Meanwhile 1960s McCarthy age of postwar America sustained a culture of conformity and anxiety towards communism in the United States. In this age of McCarthyism, the U.S. government deemed any act which challenged the preservation of American culture as untrustworthy or inherently communist. Fear in the spread of communism from Southeast Asia prompted U.S. military involvement (Ferry 3). Antiwar movements followed in the late 1960s when a recorded 500,000 plus American soldiers were documented fighting in Vietnam (Ferry 3).

Cartoonist Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do (2017), is a 329 page graphic memoir which documents the detailed history of her family’s escape from Southern Vietnam in the 1970s to their new lives in America. Published by Abrams ComicArt in New York City, Bui narrates the text of the graphic memoir in a poetic fashion alongside engaging illustration. Bui titled the memoir The Best We Could Do, from her perspective as an aging mother and in recognition of the two paternal generations which the timeline of her memoir follows. The structure of the memoir begins from the birth of her first born son, backwards through memories of the war. These memories are shared through the eyes of her siblings being raised in the United States, temporarily displaced in a refugee camp off the shores of Pulau Besar, to Bui’s birthplace in Vietnam. In this timeless story of immigration and the Vietnamese diaspora, Thi Bui examines the importance of identity and the meaning of home.

On the theme of representation, NPR host Mallory Yu’s article “Cartoonist Thi Bui Weaves Together Personal and Political History” (2018) offers a biographical framework for examining how the personal, historical, and political amplify the significance in representation of various Vietnam War narratives. Yu’s report which was aired on All Things Considered offers insight into how Bui found closure in her traumatic past after realizing that she is not responsible for representing all Vietnamese diasporic voices of the war. Published by World Literature Today, scholar and professor Alison Mandaville offers a similar framework for examining the politics of representation within American popular culture in her review of “The Best We Could Do/Saigon Calling: London 1963-75” (2018). Mandaville offers the underrepresented narratives of Vietnamese Americans Thi Bui and Marcelino Truong, who share intimate family and political histories which contrast stereotypes of Vietnamese people illustrated in film, pop culture, and American scholarship. By acknowledging the difference between Bui and Truong’s stories, Mandaville demonstrates the politics behind the absence of contrasting representations of the Vietnam War.

In “Chapter 2: Refugees from War” of the book Vietnamese Immigration (2003), Joe Ferry provides a comprehensive political history of the Vietnam War starting at the end of World War II in the 1940s through the 1990s. In doing so, Ferry successfully outlines and draws connections between the politics of how dominant portrayals of the Vietnam war has potentially impacted U.S. immigration policy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ferry’s book was published by Mason Crest Publishers in 2003. Mandaville’s analysis of how Bui and Truong’s distinct and intimate narrations of the Vietnam war illuminates the erasure of Vietnamese diasporic voices and histories in mainstream media. Yu’s interview with Bui, which argues that a singular perspective can never accurately reveal the entire truth of the Vietnam War overlaps with Mandaville’s argument of representation politics. Both of these points inform Joe Ferry’s argument of how poor depictions of Vietnamese people in mass media predicted bias immigration policy of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Throughout her graphic memoir, Bui weaves U.S. anti-immigration rhetoric in scenes of tension to highlight the influence in which discriminatory language inhibits freedom of cultural expression and racial, ethnic, and minority acceptance in the United States. After hastily escaping Sai Gon in an evening on the March of 1987, Bui’s family meets a refugee boat docked in Can Tho. After landing on the shores of Pulau Besar, Bui’s family joins a refugee camp holding “hundreds of thousands…flooding into neighboring countries, seeking asylum” (283). Bui’s family waits in line for their name and picture identification to be registered into the refugee camp before Bui’s mother, who is pregnant, returns from the local Hospital Kuala Terengganu. Central to page 267, Bui inserts photocopied passport-sized images of herself and each of her family members holding plaques which function to generically identify her family among thousands of others by “name, boat number, date of birth, and date of access” (267). While Bui is depicted unintrigued, staring blankly beyond the focus of the camera, Bui’s father also appears unamused with a weathered look in his eyes. Bui’s mother is captured supporting the weight of the youngest of Bui’s sisters on her hip. Surrounding the four images, Bui illustrates rough, impersonal sketches of nineteen other Vietnamese refugees also holding their identity plaques which detail their significance. In cursive print, the center of page 267 reads “We were now BOAT PEOPLE-” with an undertone of defeat simultaneous with acceptance and solidarity (267). Although the text is presented in a style similar to a handwritten letter, the font is in fact computer generated. The personalized appearance of this text resembles traces of official documentation through Bui’s artistic choice to present the text deceivingly hand-written. Bui’s unclear presentation of how she wants this page to be observed is constructed intentionally to provoke the audience to inquire their understanding of what “boat people” connotes. Additionally, which context and sources have informed their preconceived notion of “boat people”.

Located in the bottom right corner of the page, is a textbox which reads “—five among hundreds of refugees flooding into neighboring countries seeking asylum.” (267). The sketches of these faces in the background of the text further suggest how policy and news coverage mutes these individual stories. The most easily accessible narratives of the Vietnam War often portray from the American perspective. These perspectives, which circulate within American popular culture insufficiently document the Vietnamese diaspora. Similarly to the discourse which supports anti-immigration policy, Bui argues even the resources of authority such as the news also part takes in minimizing detailed family histories into simple numbered statistics.

The intimate photographs of Bui’s family in contrast to the rough outlines of other underrepresented Vietnamese personal and political histories work to exemplify the subtle ways in which cultural outlets, such as the news, promote and sustain the dehumanization of immigrant and diasporic communities. In critique of the function of anti-immigration rhetoric, which is to dehumanize, Bui intentionally utilizes the common metaphor of refugees ‘flooding’ into the United States. Similar to the language surrounding disease control and epidemics, ‘flooding’ suggests threatening undertones of what can not be contained and is therefore negative or deviant. In the context of the Vietnamese refugee crisis, ‘flooding’ also works to create an effect of negating the human experience while emphasizing the animalistic. Finally, Bui purposefully juxtaposes the individual portraits of Bui and her family to a common example of anti-immigration terminology such as ‘flooding’ to reveal the ruthless way in which anti-immigration language disregards the countless, undocumented voices within Vietnamese diasporic communities. Through this work, Yu’s argument emphasizes the significance inherent within how representation is narrated. While she asserts that Bui’s voice should not forcefully bear the responsibility of retelling the entire Vietnamese diasporic narrative, the intimate photographs Bui shares at this point on her memoir validates the individual in each recount of their lived experience in the diaspora (2). The narration of Bui’s family properly exemplifies how the voices and lived experiences anyone within the diaspora should have been depicted.

Mandaville’s critique of the media’s role in supporting the erasure of the voices directly relates to Yu’s report, which criticizes the lack of recognition which mainstream American cultures gives to the muted voices of Vietnamese diasporic communities. Before beginning her talk at the San Diego Comic-Con convention, Bui shares with her audience that her narrative represents a singular representation of a national narrative which extends beyond herself (Yu 1-2). Until recognizing this truth, Bui was unable to begin the process towards reconciliation of her family’s traumatic past (2). Both of these scholars indirectly acknowledge the damaging ways in which media simplifies the histories surrounding the Vietnam war. Ferry’s critique in the lack of footage documenting the destruction of “once-lush green countryside” now damaged with “land mines; chemical sprays [which] stripped foliage and vegetation” diverges from the fabricated narrative of the American soldier sacrificing himself for the betterment of Vietnam’s deeply entrenched communist society (4). The enhanced representation of the heroic American soldier in the wake of the degradation of Vietnamese ecology validates Bui’s frustration with the political bias inherent within media representations.

Toward the end of her memoir, Bui introduces a painful memory exemplifying how anti-immigration rhetoric has effectively manifested within the Vietnamese diasporic communities into a dangerous competition of who can deviate farthest from their cultural baggage. Upon arrival into the United States, Bui’s family moves into a two bedroom house with her aunt, her husband, their five children and one dog in Hammond, Indiana. From an impressionable age, Bui sensed the societal pressure to assimilate into American culture. Bui’s older cousins, who “had been in America for three years already”, often scolded Bui for behaving like “such a REFUGEE!” when, for example, she ate cereal out of the box (285). In response, Bui blamed herself for “probably embarrassing” her cousins for their “fresh-off-the-boat appearance” (285). Bui illustrates this page into a set of two larger frames stacked on top of one another. The top half of the page distinctly separates into two smaller frames which portray, Bui and her siblings in contrast to her more experienced and assimilated “American” cousins. Bui and her siblings are illustrated barefoot, in simplistic clothing which does not serve beyond the functional use as a protective layer. In contrast, Bui portrays her older cousins, aunt, and uncle, standing confidently united in the aesthetic appearance of 1970s American fashion.

The metaphor of appearing “fresh-off-the-boat” threatens Bui’s cousin, who has already gauged the sacrifice she is expected to make in order to find comfort in the contrasting binds of American culture. Vietnamese people have historically named themselvesat people”. This title reclaims aspects of the shared refugees experience of escaping Vietnam in boats. The boats provided the Vietnamese refugees a means of survival and an opportunity for escape. Floating for weeks at a time in a wide expanse of ocean water, most families were split apart or never had the opportunity to reach land. Bui foreshadows themes of assimilation and the model minority in this scene when her cousin threatens her for her dress and mannerisms which don’t align with American culture. Boats which were once sought-after for protecting refugees, now represent a discarded narrative as an foreigner subject to alienation. Assimilation now dictates how Bui will craft a home for herself in the United States. Although the boat represents a concrete Vietnamese identity distinguished through war history, the drifting boat also connotes an emotional and physical sense of unidentifiable weightlessness. Despite actions of assimilation, the boat in “boat people” is symbolic of the American identity which Vietnamese refugees will never claim.

While the parallel alignment of these frames appear to highlight difference between Bui and her cousins, the arrangement also foreshadows the insecurity which Bui’s cousin feels towards her threatened “American” identity. After dismissing Bui, Bui’s cousin asks, “at least don’t eat like that in front of my house where everyone can see you!” (285). In this bottom frame, Bui’s cousin projects her insecurities onto Bui in the form of unwarranted aggression. The words of her cousin invoke the fragility in their identities as Vietnamese-American immigrants (285). Similar interactions at school inform self-consciousness in her identity. Bui’s cousin reveals the precarious nature of her American identity when she reprimands Bui for harmless mannerisms such as eating cereal out of the box.

In connection to the work of Bui’s memoir, Mandaville’s critique of the media’s role in supporting the erasure of the voices directly relates to Yu’s report, which criticizes the lack of recognition which mainstream American cultures gives to the muted voices of Vietnamese diasporic communities. Before beginning her talk at the San Diego Comic-Con convention, Bui shares with her audience that her narrative represents a singular representation of a national narrative which extends beyond herself (Yu 1-2). Until recognizing this truth, Bui was unable to begin the process towards reconciliation of her family’s traumatic past (2). Both of these scholars indirectly acknowledge the damaging ways in which media simplifies the histories surrounding the Vietnam war. Ferry’s critique in the lack of footage documenting the destruction of “once-lush green countryside” now damaged with “land mines; chemical sprays [which] stripped foliage and vegetation” diverges from the fabricated narrative of the American soldier sacrificing himself for the betterment of Vietnam’s deeply entrenched communist society (4). The enhanced representation of the heroic American soldier in the wake of the degradation of Vietnamese ecology validates Bui’s frustration with the political bias inherent within media representations.

In reflection of how poor depictions of Vietnamese people in mass media influenced bias immigration policy, Ferry demonstrates the influence of pop culture and wider socio-political movements on U.S. policy. He acknowledges President Lyndon Johnson’s conscious shift to “not seek re-election as president” in response to U.S. antiwar campaigns (3). Ferry’s critique of how poor documentation, or a lack thereof, overlaps with Yu’s critique of how an absence in representation obscures some parts of history while exaggerating others. In the latter half of chapter 2, Ferry recounts the suffering which refugees experienced through generations following the war (5-7). Although Ferry does not outright state how mass media has directly influenced the discriminatory immigration laws of the late 1970s and early 80s, he point out the revealing significance and politics of not documenting history of the “bombs [which] destroyed infrastructure that had delivered electricity, clean drinking water, and sanitary sewage disposal to the population” following the aftermath of the Vietnam war (4). Through this point, Ferry correlates how the removal or leaving out of certain histories reflects a stylized prejudice in documentation.

Through his book, Ferry’s analysis of documentation aligns with Mandaville and Yu’s arguments which highlight the politics and responsibility of representation. Through entertaining Bui’s personal inflictions and “academic grumpiness” toward deconstructing offensive and stereotypical cultural representations of Vietnamese people in graduate school at NYU, Yu discusses how Bui intentionally “weaves the personal, historical, and political” in form of a graphic memoir (4). Yu discusses how Bui consciously decided to promote her voice through the frame work of a graphic memoir, which is the most accessible to a wide audience. The singular narrative of the Vietnam War which the Vietnamese people are bound to by Hollywood blockbusters consistently document the Vietnamese in stigmatized representations. The demonization of the Vietnamese aligns symbolically to the negligence of their continued suffering following the aftermath of the war.

The context of Bui’s memoir in conjunction with the connections between Yu, Ferry, and Mandaville arguments advocate and pioneer for the significance and politics of representation within the sphere of multiculturalism. The connection between how Yu illustrates the specific biographical context of how the process of writing this novel while raising her child supported Bui’s reconciliation of her layered identity relationship with her parents, Ferry, outlines the objective political history of the Vietnam War in contrast to mainstream documentation, and Mandaville outlines major debates of how blind American patriotism sustains ignorant representation of non-American perspectives, provides access points of deeper analysis into the role and responsibility of media in representing history. Points of overlap between Yu and Ferry’s arguments have had the effect of further illustrate the extent to which mass media can impact culture and history. Drawing from the overlap in these three source, the essence of how, which, and what narratives are portrayed in the media carries importance. Mandaville’s point of distributing the knowledge of oral histories draws stronger ties of connection between Yu and Ferry’s argument which both indirectly highlight the importance of documenting history in accessible modes of communication. These congruent points of connection broaden the definition of “false representation” to include also a lack in representation. Additionally, on the point of representation, these sources raise the question of how will media continue to impact history moving forward. How will this influx in influence be monitored? Should it be monitored?

Work Cited

Bui, Thi. The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir. Abrams ComicArts, 2018.

Ferry, Joe. “Chapter 2: Refugees from War.” Vietnamese Immigration, Mason Crest Publishers,   2003, pp. 8-14.

Mandaville, Alison. “The Best We Could Do/Saigon Calling: London 1963-75.” Review of The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. World Literature Today, March-April 2018.

Yu, Mallory. “Cartoonist Thi Bui Weaves Together Personal and Political History.” All Things    Considered from NPR, 1 August 2018,     and-political-history


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”.

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.



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. 


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.

Image result for malaysia

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. 

Defining Race and the Role of Human Equality in a Multicultural Society

Image credit: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The changing face of racism makes it an elusive concept to address in modern conversations. While outright racism exists, it is the system of institutional racism that is the most insidious. The photo above depicts Irish protesters. Their protest signs demonstrate their disapproval of the Irish police force and its reluctance to address black victims of violence.

Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race frames racial oppression in the context of society and describes conversational tools to address the topic of race. Published in 2018, the book provides instruction for genuine alliance with people of color. Oluo states that racism is rarely an individual attribute, but rather an institutional force that continues to oppress people of color (27). This idea is useful, as, I believe, it diverges from the average white person’s perception of racism. When a white person hears the word “racist,” images of “unabashed racism,” such as swastikas or the Ku Klux Klan, may come to mind (Oluo, 27). Framing race as a societal problem, however, points the finger at institutional support in terms of allowing racism to flourish. This idea also permits the opportunity to fight these oppressive systems (Oluo, 36).

Multiculturalism, written Ali Rattansi and published in 2011, is a short introduction to conversations surrounding multiculturalism. Rattansi outlines the role that the strive for human equality has played in the origins of multiculturalism. Following World War II, Rattansi explains, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sparked societal changes towards the idea of race (15). These changes are significant as they set the stage for the progressive social movements of the 1960’s and beyond. These historical moments illustrate that policy changes and social changes are key in changing racist systems.

Image credit: United Nations

Both Oluo’s definition of race as a societal, rather than an individual, issue and Rattansi’s explanation of post-WWII reversals of racist policies reinforce racism as an institutional system of oppression. Just as racism is a “systemic machine,” policy changes and social movements can function to address the injustices of this institutional problem (Oluo, 28). Oluo and Rattansi’s ideas therefore synergize to explain the societal changes that must take place to address institutional racism. These chances include the recognition of the existence of racist systems by white people and the enactment of policy changes that establish human equality.

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.


Kindergarten Culture Day

Remember culture day at school? When people would bring in different food as a means of representing and educating others on their nationality. It was honestly a beautiful time, celebrating our different heritages through food. But the problem is, we’ve never grown out of this tradition. It seems that today, our conversations about race as a nation, never penetrate deeper than what you would expect at a kindergarten culture day. Seeing White, by John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika, and So You Want To Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo comment on our nations inability to talk about the real issues regarding race in the United States. Together the podcast and the book bring to light the reasons why people are afraid to have these conversations, and together they create a discourse about how we dress race, and how we should be addressing race.

I’ve included this image just to bring us all back to that time in our lives when we all ate delicious foods made lovingly by our friends mothers, only to touch upon the superficial beauty of multiculturalism.

Isn’t it beautiful how we all coexist together under this glorious flag that represents us all and unites us in freedom. But isn’t it also beautifully naive that we value this faux sense of togetherness in order to coexist but allow racial formations and projects to continue to create a gaping divide in society.

Both Oluo and Biewen ease the readers and listeners into their discourses, as both stress the significance of race as a difficult subject to talk openly about. Both create a relaxed and comfortable dialogue between the readers, and listeners, and the content. By creating this casual yet serious tone, listeners and readers feel invited and welcomed to discuss these taboo subjects. I think that these conversations are essential in todays social climate, but people are too afraid to have them. This is why our nation is stuck in the mind set that we can educate ourselves through superficial activities like culture day. Oluo and Biewen package the information they are sharing to make it more “user friendly” but without diluting the potency of the discourse.

When listening to the first episode of the podcast, Turning the Lens, I took note of the fact that Biewen mentioned his own whiteness several times, and eased himself into the topic of discussion with the help of his co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika. Through easing himself – as a white man – into this conversation highlights the err of caution around conversations about race for white people. Biewen’s enlistment of Kumanyika as a co-host to help “check” him, highlights a fear white people have of talking about race. The fear of talking openly about race, I think, (as a white woman) stems from the fear of getting it wrong, or being labeled as a racist.

Which is honestly a valid fear. Why? Because as a white woman living in America in 2019 I know that I am in a position of privilege, and many people like to pretend that everyone living in America is equal, but this isn’t the case. This is why Oluo teaches her readers in steps on how to have these conversations. People don’t know how to talk about race because there has never been an open dialogue about the divide between the people of this Nation because we live within a system that perceives events like culture day as sufficient. Biewen’s awareness of his own whiteness and the impact of his perspective highlights the err of caution taken around the subject, but also the simple acknowledgement of the truth that it is time we remove our blindfolds and look at our nation in a light that we have never been exposed to before.

The conversations that Oluo urges her readers to partake in are necessary in order to understand how the United States functions, and also to open up the eyes of those who have been too afraid to delve into the reality of  the role of race within society and the government. Similarly, Biewen’s podcast unpacks the meaning of whiteness in this nation but also the meaning of whiteness for people that identify as white. Biewen’s podcast highlights why white people, and all people need to engage in conversations about race in this nation – to inform themselves on the truth of what the U.S. was founded upon and what it continues to run on. Like the old familiar kindergarten culture day, we need to take our conversations deeper, and we need to learn how to do so. Oluo and Biewen create an environment that teaches and allows people to have these vital conversations, in order to bring to light the truth about race in this nation and in all aspects.

Written By Caroline Berezin

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Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York, NY : Seal Press, 2018., 2018. EBSCOhost,

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017.