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.