Many are confused as to my position on Sangeetha Thanapal, the outspoken Unconscious Privilege activist in Singapore who advocates against Chinese Privilege which refers to the unearned position of privilege where those who are not fortunate enough to be of the same colour are ignored or belittled – which may not manifest in outright discrimination but in less obvious forms of microaggression or behaviour so normalised that it is often overlooked.
As I have asserted before, I may not agree with her methods insofar as emulating them myself, but what she is doing is very, very important and extremely necessary in order for the next stage of societal evolution to ever happen in Singapore.
Sangeetha obviously shoots from the hip every time and is equally prone to making wildly inaccurate statements as she is to hitting the nail right on the head. The typical rebuttal to the latter is example after example of how the isolated experiences of a select few individuals ‘prove’ that her assertion is an isolated experience of a select few individuals (circular logic, much?). And when it is a case of the former – where she is factually wrong – it is the proverbial ejaculation party where thoroughly-researched critique is thrown left, right and centre, to paint a portrait of how and where exactly Sangeetha is absolutely wrong, followed by how she is an ungracious self-proclaimed intellectual who cannot be trusted.
But the beauty is that, regardless of what Sangeetha is saying (i.e. accurate or wildly off), the methodology she uses – of being in-your-face about how you are inherently a racist (if Chinese) or an apologist (if a person of minority ethnicity disagrees with her) – is actually surfacing the very Unconscious Privilege she harps about day and night. In every discussion and in every comment thread, there will be at least one (and usually many) comment that is borderline offensive or a bona fide instance of discrimination, prejudice or racism.
Football is Malay so cannot be Chinese Privilege
Look at the most recent instance where Sangeetha wildly speculated that if Hassan Sunny (who was included in a list of the world’s twenty best goalkeepers) was a Chinese player, the fact would have been celebrated extensively. Detractors were quick to point out that she was simply incorrect because all the mainstream media channels had mentioned it and there was indeed a lot of buzz of this strange development. But in their excitement to comprehensively deconstruct how wrong Sangeetha was on the matter, the invariable ‘proof’ that since the majority of local footballers are Malay Chinese Privilege cannot possibly exist comes up.
And that’s where the entire argument crumbles and validates what Sangeetha does. You see, there is a multitude of reasons why the majority of footballers are Malay – and pinning it on just cultural nuance is naïve, to say the least. While it may be a cultural norm for a Malay individual to pick up football, the distribution of coaches is less prominent. A cursory search of the registered football coaches on ActiveSG shows that out of 79 listed, 45 are likely Malay and 24 are possibly Chinese – that’s a 56% proportion vs 30% and doesn’t really match up to the anecdotal assertion that football is dominated by Malays.
And while so many from the Malay community ply their trade as professional footballers, the management of professional football clubs is primarily made up of Chinese. It appears that the Malay community which lives and breathes football “as a cultural nuance of their ethnic group”, apparently do not have the competency to be in football club management. Perhaps it is because “the Chinese are good at business” but it is nevertheless hard to fathom that the sizeable group of Malay football players cannot produce enough individuals with strong business acumen and leadership.
|Balestier Khalsa FC||Ø Thavaneson, Chairman|
Ø Ng Hong Chua, Vice-Chairman
Ø Jagjit Singh, Treasurer
Ø Cheng Tim Nee, General Manager
|Geylang International FC||Ø Tin Pei Ling, Advisor|
Ø Ben Teng, Chairman
Ø Jeremy Chan, Vice-Chairman,
Ø Paul Fernandez, Honorary Secretary
Ø Lim Yiak Tiam, Honorary Treasurer
|Hougang United FC||Ø Bill Ng, Chairman|
Ø Eric Koh, Vice-Chairman
Ø Jeffrey Sim, Vice-Chairman
Ø Matthew Tay, General Manager
Ø Robert Eziakor, Prime League Manager
Ø Nicholas Low, Marketing & Media Manager
|Tampines Rovers FC||Ø Murali Krishna Ramachandra, Chairman|
Ø Pek Hock Beng, Honorary Secretary
Ø Philip Beng Kian Phee, Honorary Treasurer
|Home United FC||Ø Anselm Lopez, Chairman|
Ø Muhammad Azni, Honorary Secretary
Ø Phuah Chye Wah, Honorary Treasurer
Ø Chris Chong, Honorary Legal Advisor
|Warriors FC||Ø Lam Shiu Tong, Chairman|
Ø Philip Lam Tin Sing, Co-chairman
Ø Lim Teck Keong, Vice-Chairman
Ø Donald Tan, Vice-Chairman
Ø Paul, Poh, Honorary Secretary
Ø Lester Wong, Treasurer
Ø Laurence Goh, Club Advisor
Ø Paul Poh, General Manager
Table 1: Management staff of local football clubs competing in the S.League
Convenience of easy conclusions IS privilege
But the point here is not whether the state of football in Singapore is a result of Chinese Privilege. It is rather, this “obvious conclusion” of some Singaporeans that “since football is part of Malay culture”, Chinese Privilege cannot possibly exist. The irony is that this very conclusion stems from such an unconscious privilege – it demonstrates the lack of any real understanding as to how cultural nuances can indeed exist alongside institutionalised racism.
And since proper discussion on such gaps in understanding cannot occur under normal circumstances, it is through such instances where the “insane ways” of Sangeetha Thanapal are being dismissed, that opportunities are created to reveal and address this issue.