Indian Muslims in Singapore

When I was younger, I had the makings of a diva—I thought I was hella cute, charming and had the confidence of a rock star. In fact, my signature move to aptly display my disinterest was to dramatically flip my hair/veil over my shoulder before making my exit.

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However, this self-esteem gave way the moment I entered primary school. At the impressionable age of seven, I was taught that as an Indian, my hairy arms made me less appealing than my Chinese or even Malay counterparts.

One incident that stuck with me was when two of my group mates loudly whispered to themselves about how “ugly” I was. Although it seemed like an insignificant event, that comment embedded the seed of insecurity and inferiority in me.

Fast forward to my teenage years, I started to obsess over my atypical looks, only to be reminded of how different I was through mainstream media. Beauty advertisements babbled on about whitening creams while and local TV shows mainly featured Chinese actresses. I felt displaced and under-represented.

If the epitome of ‘Asian beauty’ somehow became synonymous with ‘oriental beauty’ at large, where did that leave the rest of us?

Racial slurs/stereotypes 

Being told that you’re ‘black’ every so often is not much fun, even if it’s just a joke—especially if it’s a joke. More importantly, unless you’re colour blind, you should know that I’m brown. What I’m bothered about is the use of ‘black’ as a derogatory term. I don’t get why every slightly tanned Chinese person is nicknamed ‘Indian’ and ‘Black’.

Once, I told my Chinese friends that I’ll only let them call me ‘Black’ if I could call them ‘Yellow’. The fairest of them all vehemently rejected my proposition, saying, “NooOooO I’m not yellow, I’m fair,” to which I replied, “Okay then, we’ll settle for a compromise; you’re pale yellow.” That shut her up all right.

I do admit that stereotypes stem from certain truths but it isn’t nice for people to use it as an insult or to generalise an entire race by it.

More than just a beauty competition

But when I grew older, the illusion that Singapore is a truly racially harmonious country gave way when I realised that racism exists beyond skin deep.

There’s racism present in our housing market where landlords explicitly state their preference for, “No Indians, No PRCs.” There’s even racism in some of our third generation Singaporeans being denied their nationality just because they come from a minority racial group.

Job prospects

Once, I submitted a passport-sized photo of myself after being selected for a job but the employer completely ghosted me after receiving the picture.

I understand that certain jobs require the employees to speak Mandarin. But when the employers confirm me for an English-speaking role, only to ghost on me after they see a picture of me with a piece of fabric over my head? Tell me it was my “skill set” that didn’t make the cut.

The worst part is when the majority won’t even acknowledge the underlying prejudice as they’ve probably never been discriminated against before.

The need to classify/compartmentalise

Despite the number of times I explain that I’m both an Indian and a Muslim, most people seem uncomfortable when they’re unable to ‘classify’ my ethnicity. In fact, many of them don’t even know that being Malay =/= being a Muslim.

As a Hijabi, I’ve been mistaken to be Malay to even Punjabi (what even?!) and although such an issue may seem like a micro-aggression, let us be reminded that it’s 2017 and such issues shouldn’t exist.

So let me explain the difference: Ethnicity is inherited from one’s ancestors and encompasses the cultural aspect of one’s life. Religion, on the other hand, is a belief in God/Gods and is something one chooses to subscribe to.

With that definition, it’s possible for someone to be a person of Indian ancestry and subscribe to Islamic principles. I’ve met Christian Malays, Hindu Chinese, and atheist Indians so it’s not all that hard to figure out if you understand the intricacies with regards to race and religion.

More importantly, it’s okay if someone comes from an ambiguous background. We don’t always have to staunchly hold on to our cultural identities and deny the authenticity of another person’s identity just because we don’t understand it.

Mixed race relationships

When it comes to B/G relationships, if a girl of a minority race gets together with someone of a majority race, sometimes it’s negatively viewed as her “climbing up the social ladder”. This brings about prejudice-fuelled exclamations of, “OMG your boyfriend is Chinese?!”, as though it’s supposed to be an #achievementunlocked.

And it works both ways. Some of my family members who married outside our racial group were labelled  ‘betrayers’ for abandoning their own kind.

Every time I attend an interracial wedding, my mother makes me promise that I’d never do such a thing. Although I respect my mother’s wishes, I believe that love is blind to discrimination and we shouldn’t impose unnecessary judgement on others.

Unacknowledged majority privilege

My favourite quote of late has been,“Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

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I’m not saying that we should abolish “majority privilege”, but we should make an effort to empathise with people who are in a less advantaged state than us.

My journey to take charge of my self-esteem was a difficult one but I learnt that I don’t need external validation to feel confident or beautiful. I based my self-confidence on what my inherent strengths and weaknesses were, and not by looks.

Nonetheless, I’m thankful for how progressive feminists are in Singapore. In order for our society to cohesively progress, certain societal ills must be acknowledged through open discussion.

Be a #Woke Singaporean

Singaporeans have racial harmony ingrained in our DNA since young. Although we’re taught to get along and to ignore the undercurrent tensions, recent incidents have made me a more #woke member of society.

Sweeping such issues under the rug won’t help for long ‘cause over time, maintaining the status quo will only lead to minority people’s dissent. Instead, we should all be more #woke Singaporeans.