Tackling Chinese privilege in Singapore

#MinahWork addresses the yellow elephant in the room.

Marie Tan

Published: 24 May 2016, 6:26 PM

Rihanna’s catchy and addictive song ‘Work’ has been playing almost everywhere. But have you watched MunahHirziOfficial’s version, featuring Benjamin Kheng, ShiGGa Shay, Nathan Hartono and numerous other local YouTubers and artistes, which generated substantial buzz online?

The parody of Rihanna’s ‘Work’ music video by local YouTube duo Munah and Hirzi, broached the more sensitive topics of racism and Chinese privilege at an important time. In recent months, the topic of racism has come up several times, and the video addressed some of these instances.

Remember how a staff member from Tampines 1 had turned down Diana Hairul’s request to set up a Hari Raya fair in the mall by blatantly saying that their “target audience was mainly Chinese”?

The screenshot of the email was circulated extensively after it was published on Facebook, and it highlighted the internalised racism that still plagues our society today.

Munah and Hirzi also featured local model Nadia Rahmat. Not only was she handpicked by the creative director of Marc Jacobs to model in his international campaign, she was chosen more recently to represent Singapore in Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc’s ongoing project, The Atlas of Beauty.

However, the rising young model faced fierce judgement from fellow Singaporeans. She was called “ugly” and made fun of online for being an inaccurate representation of Singaporean beauty. One of the Facebook comments summed up the general (negative) sentiment: “Hmmm may I know why Singapore(‘s representative) is like that?”

Facebook users’ offensive comments about Nadia’s looks.
As a Chinese Singaporean, a characterization I find unnecessary, I felt incredibly embarrassed and uncomfortable while watching Munah and Hirzi’s video. Sure, it was funny and entertaining, but the comical value alone could not soften the gravity of the issues that were brought up.

From a young age, it is common to hear others make jokes about their “friends” of different ethnicities, often using offensive terms to describe their looks or behaviours. I cannot understand how anyone can consider themselves to be friends with someone but yet make offensive comments about them at the same time.

Although said non-Chinese person may verbalise that they are “okay with it”, that still does not give us the right to make such jokes. When someone from the Chinese majority makes a joke about a minority group, without considering that minorities do not have the choice to speak out and say that they are not at all comfortable, we see Chinese privilege at work.

How can we, as a nation, proudly declare how multicultural and racially diverse we are, having repeated the phrase countless of times since our first Racial Harmony Day celebration, if we are still failing to treat others with basic respect and continue to engage in such blatant discrimination against other ethnicities?

Just because the Chinese population makes up the majority here in Singapore, it does not give us any excuse to not check our own internalized racism and Chinese privilege, which works the same way as White privilege does.

Being part of the majority only reiterates the responsibility we have: to be even more aware of how our behavior can be discriminatory to everyone else.

#staywoke, Singapore.

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