An Indian girl shares her experience of alleged racism in the Business School in National University of Singapore (NUS) on her blog.
In her blog, she wrote that she had had the unpleasant happenings all through her childhood of being a minority person in the country. However, though she expected to have better atmosphere when she joined NUS from polytechnic, it turned out she didn’t even have a ‘minority’ friend at all.
She was told that to make friends, she needs to go for orientation week and so she did. A particular Indian professor came up to her and in Tamil asked her name and where she was from.
The professor whispered to her in Tamil, “We are the minority here. You have to work extra hard if you want to succeed here.” She smiled and said that she would.
They had a lot of games in the orientation event and one of the orientation games required everyone to say some ‘phrases’ in Mandarin. She couldn’t speak Mandarin so she struggled to remember the phrases and said it properly.
Noticing this, her group’s leader came up and asked her how come she didn’t know Chinese? She was taken aback because no one has asked her that before, like it was an expectation that everyone in Singapore is supposed to know Chinese.
She told him that she didn’t take Chinese in school. He got very confused then asked her if she was a Singaporean and if she was born in Singapore.
She wrote, “That was a slap on my face. My nationality was questioned because I didn’t speak Chinese.”
She said, “I can’t remember what I said after that or if I even said anything at all. I was just stunned.”
“Since primary school, I have been on the receiving end of Appunehneh jokes and jokes on my skin color. It doesn’t help that you’re a girl...,” she wrote.
“I had foolishly hoped that when I go to university, it would all stop because people would be less ignorant. I realized that it had just taken another form,” she lamented.
While the previous incident was bad, it is not bad as the one as the one she experienced later. To commemorate NUS Business School’s 50th Anniversary, there was a Special notebook giveaway at the BBA office. "There were limited number of books and being the Kiasu Singaporean who loves freebies, I went to the NUS BBA office to collect it," she wrote.
While the people before her were allowed to just take it and leave, when it came to her turn, the staff told her that they were only for NUS BBA students. She said that she was one.
He then asked her to show her matriculation card but seeing that she was going to take it out, he said never mind and giggled. She stared at him. In a vain attempt of lightening up the situation, he said that he was a racist and giggled again. She just took the book and left immediately.
She wrote, “I was disgusted by the entire event. That was just another reminder that I would have to forever be explaining and earning my rights. It would just never come easy.”
“Why am I crying today? I am usually fine with racist jokes,” she said.
“Maybe the jokes that I heard today were just really bad. Maybe I had tolerated this for so long that today I just broke down. Maybe today there were some personal insults as well. Maybe it’s because I am PMSing. Maybe I just feel so lonely. Maybe I am just tired."
"I don’t know. I think I am the only Indian girl in my course. It hasn’t been easy,” she stated.
A self-professing NUS BAC Student commented to her post:
Just wanted to share my two cents, having just recently graduated from NUS BAC too.
The career office guy deserves a knock on the head, and that’s just downright unprofessional (maybe he was just some aloof kid? he should know better).
But I don’t see how conversing in mandarin with each other is racist? I’m a Chinese and usually converse in english with my friends (really bad mandarin haha), so I can relate because I can’t converse normally in mandarin without being made fun of… but maybe you just need to be patient, and find the right group of English speaking friends to hang out with (from my first-hand experience, they do exist in NUS! took me three semesters before finding this bunch of cool dudes haha).
Enjoy yourself! And stop thinking that you’re being oppressed or anything because you might really just be thinking too much into this. I wish you all the best for your remaining time at NUS!
Kas, another netizen wrote a comment:
I don’t think she’s labeling the fact they spoke in Mandarin as racist, everyone is obviously entitled to speak in their respective mother tongues.
The fact that they spoke in Mandarin, WHILE our (non-mandarin-speaking) author was seated with them, would have led to her feeling excluded from the entire conversation.
Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that they don’t know any conversational English so it would have been more considerate if they had put themselves in the author’s shoes and try to be more inclusive when making conversation!
Imagine if you were hanging out with a group of people who don’t speak your language who, despite knowing you don’t speak their language, continue to do, instead of speaking in a language that all of you understand. Would make you feel pretty left out, wouldn’t it?
Thank you for airing your concerns. Unfortunately, as a minority in Singapore we are often subjected to casual racism. The sad truth is the majority do not even realise they are being racist. I have 2 young kids and I hope they do not face such racism as they are growing up. It is necessary to create awareness. Everyone, minority or majority need to be responsible and sensitive to someone from another race. I have forwarded your message to my Friend who is a lecturer at NUS business school. They need to be aware! I hope that more and more Singaporeans will stand up against racist behaviour.
And deathlymockingj threw a comment:
It’s really great that you’re trying to help, but telling someone who is being discriminated (like previous replies have said: implicit/casual racism is a thing. Just because people are not leaving someone out on purpose does not change the fact that that person still feels left out) to ‘stop thinking like that’ just comes off as insensitive and like you’re invalidating their experience.
It did happen and she does feel that way. And that is completely fine because her feelings are her own (additionally, other replies below shows how this resonates with their own experiences as well so it really is something minorities can identify with).
What you can do, seeing as you’re part of the majority group, is to understand where she is coming from, offer support and check yourself/the people you hang out with. Please don’t tell someone who is bravely speaking up about such a controversial issue that their feelings and thoughts might be a result of ‘thinking too much’. If us minorities don’t speak up about such experiences, who will?
This cycle of soft racism has been going on for so long in Singapore and has pretty much become expected/part of our culture — so much so that even you can’t see how hurtful it can be. It’s about time that we become more conscious about how minorities are being treated; and posts like this will definitely help if readers try to show a bit more empathy instead of rejecting their points of view.
You could read the NUS Indian lady student’s full post on her website. And you can follow the worthy discussion on the issue below the post.