Singapore has a majority ethnic Chinese population. I grew up in a family which is predominantly female. Throughout my life, I have been in the majority as a Chinese in Singapore, and as a female within my own family. I lived in a sea of ignorance about the subtle and overt discrimination a minority faces.
The first shock I had to being treated as a minority was when I was walking along Melbourne streets in 2002. I was studying together there. That winter evening in May, the streets were dark at 8pm on a Friday. I was walking back to my rented apartment from the pub with another Singaporean Chinese lady when a car full of teenage white males drove by, tossed a beer bottle at us and shouted “Go back to where you belong, chink!” That was the first time ever in my life I had been called a name based on my race. Mind you, this is a very mild incident compared to what others have encountered based on race.
The second shock was when I joined the Company. The archetype in the Company is an ESTJ white able-bodied heterosexual male. That meant that the INFP Asian able-bodied hetereosexual female like me is different from the majority on 2 counts that is visible on first sight – gender and race/ethnicity. Suddenly I am no longer just an individual. Everything I did or said was filtered through the lens of gender and race…. The feeling of somehow representing women or Chinese/Singaporean is stifling. I find that I watch myself in the presence of a white male.
The Company had a very senior Asian man C based in Singapore 2 steps below the CEO. C was the highest ranked Asian ever to climb to that height on the corporate ladder. 2 years ago, he quit and is now the CEO of a Singaporean MNC. The grapevine had it that another white male was slated to take over C’s boss’ job, and really there is no point to sticking around if C was not going to take his boss’ position, isn’t it? Well the grapevine was correct…. 1 Jan 2013, another white male did ascend to the CEO minus 1 level. I guess being the token Asian at that level got to C …..
The Company recognizes that diversity and inclusiveness is important. To tap into a wider customer base and to retain talented people. Policies are in mind to remove overt discrimination. We are sent for diversity training like this. One of my white male ex-bosses is a homosexual. He took pains to hide his family photos away….. because he was not sure how that part of his life is accepted.
Being different means that one carries the burden of representing that minority in words and actions….. and is not free to be an individual in his own right.
Coming back to Singapore. Social media has led to the proliferation of ugliness that used to be said only within 4 walls come out to roost. Amy Cheong incident. Sun Wu incident. I have a Malay friend on Facebook whom I am acquainted with because her daughter is born in the same month as Small Boy. She used to be a teacher at Rulang Primary before she left the job to became a SAHM. When a girl with a Malay name from Rulang Primary topped the 2011 PSLE, she posted a status update “Congrats to XXX! You deserve it from all the hard work”. One of the comments from her Malay friend was …. “now the yellow skinned people are surprised”. Yes racism exists in Singapore. It is only because I am Chinese that I do not feel its sting.