I was chatting up a good friend for some ideas on what I should write about next. Common topics were thrown up such as the recent by election, LGBT issues, and feminism, all of which I feel have been covered if not in depth then in scope, everywhere online. He then spoke about “Chinese Privilege” in Singapore. At first, I felt slightly puzzled and confused. As far as I can recall or am aware of, legally there are no privileges accorded to the Chinese so to speak. Singaporean Chinese all have to work hard as well, given the meritocratic system here in Singapore. In addition, the social support structure here in Singapore, which is organized along racial, ethnic and religious lines are hardly able to help most of the Chinese that are in need, mostly due to a lack of resources to effectively deal with the high numbers. I was entirely convinced that ‘Chinese Privilege’ is just a myth; if I were to be very harsh, insensitive and ignorant, I would classify that as an excuse.
After taking some time to mull over this issue, I can slowly start to pick out and appreciate what my apparent ‘privileges’ are. It is usually the cumulative effect of tiny things over a long period of time that makes a huge impact, and if you broaden your perspective a little my Chinese friends, you can surely start to feel very blessed indeed that we can live comfortably in our own skin pretty much anywhere in this country. And by living comfortably, I mean really comfortably; we do not need to worry when applying for a job, we do not need to check if the schools nearby offer our Mother Tongue as a subject, we are spoiled for choice for where the next meal can be, and the list goes on. These have become so embedded in our society that we feel that there is nothing wrong, and perhaps the worst part is that we do not even feel privileged at all. That is probably the epitome of what it means to be privileged; that it becomes a part and parcel of everyday life.
This would certainly be something that would be very difficult to change; in some instances you may argue that this is something that would probably never change in Singapore society. Despite being a Singaporean Chinese, the mere thought of this makes me feel uncomfortable. Something just feels wrong, and the more aware I am of my own ‘privileges’ the more I can empathize with my non-Chinese friends. It is like being the least favored child in your own home; you still feel the love and affection from your family, but you receive lesser than your siblings. And this is probably what most of the non-Chinese in Singapore feel strongly about, the fact that they too are Singaporean, but do not really feel like this is a place that they can really call a home at times.
So what can those enjoying the Chinese privilege do going ahead? For a start, let us be more aware and sensitive. We can never know or imagine the feeling of being a minority, but we can certainly try our best to be more inclusive and understanding. And perhaps over time, when such sentiment is widespread, it would definitely create the kind of environment where the time is right to press for more concrete changes in our society. Being an idealist, I believe that this is highly possible. We already have a good starting base to begin with, where we are at least tolerant with one another and are able to accommodate each other and live peacefully. Let us take that step further to make this a place where truly every Singaporean, regardless of race, language or religion, can enjoy the same privileges.
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