(This post was originally written as a submission to Medieval POC,)
Last week was Fiction Week at Medieval POC, and I submitted a little post about Singapore-published speculative fiction, and how it usually (but not always) contains Asian characters as its protagonists.
A Tumblr user named dorothyparkerwashere criticised the hell out of my post, telling everyone not to buy the books because it would be tantamount to supporting Singapore’s racist society. Medieval POC reblogged her criticism. And though I know it was done out of a sense of genuine concern for world issues, it depressed the hell out of me.
Well, I’m not supposed to be blogging - I’ve stories of my own to write - but I’ve gotta respond to the charges.
1) He/She conveniently forgets to mention that they’re all written by Chinese Singaporeans, about Chinese people…
Actually, three of the books I posted about - Fish Eats Lion, Eastern Heathens and Lontar Vol #1 are full of works by writers of different races in Singapore, as well as different nationalities. (Check out the border of the Eastern Heathens cover - you can see the names of the contributors.) Plus, many of these authors wrote stories with very multiethnic casts.
But I didn’t post any books that were fronted by non-Chinese and non-white writers/editors, so here’s my attempt to remedy that. If you want to boycott the works of Chinese Singaporeans, then please buy these books by Malay, Indian and Eurasian authors instead:
by Isa Kamari
A novel about an attempt to clone the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),
Govinda: The Aryavarta Chronicles Book I
by Krishna Udayasankar
A reinterpretation of the Hindu epic of the Mahabharata,
by Shamini Flint
A story of a mixed-race Malaysian girl who’s obsessed with soccer,
Body Boundaries: The EtiquetteSG Anthologies Volume I
ed. Tania De Rozario, Zarina Muhammad and Krishna Udayasankar
A feminist anthology of fiction, poetry and essays.
The Wayang at Eight Milestone
by Gregory Nalpon
A collection of “Singapore Gothic” stories about crime and the supernatural, written in the fifties, sixties and seventies by a deceased but recently rediscovered author.
by Alfian Sa’at
A collection of microfictions about Malay life,
2) Amanda Lee is a piece of shit who wrote a piece of shit set of short stories where she basically perpetuates every stereotype possible against Malays, especially Malay women.
Since Amanda Lee Koe is my friend, I’ve gotta stick up for her. The book dorothyparkerwashere is talking about is this:
The Ministry of Moral Panic
by Amanda Lee Koe
I think it’s a really good book. In fact, it was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Prize.
Yes, there are Malay stereotypes in it. Amanda was a Chinese person writing about a multiethnic set of characters. She should’ve run it by more Malay readers before finishing her final draft.
Malay author Alfian Sa’at at first criticised the book for this, but on finishing it called it "[p]ossibly the most exciting debut collection of stories by a Singapore writer I’ve ever read".
3) And Ng Yi Sheng is the oh so tolerant liberal shit who frequently tries to shut down and derail conversations on racism in Singapore by acing as if us minorities should shut up and band together in solidarity with them in their fight against the dictatorship in Singapore.
I’m the Ng Yi-Sheng she’s talking about, actually. Which means I should’ve come clean at the beginning and said I was involved in two of the books I was pushing - I have a story in Fish Eats Lion and I co-edited Eastern Heathens, though it doesn’t contain any of my stories. Sorry about that.
Yes, I am an oh so tolerant liberal shit. I’m an LGBT activist and I’ve been trying to do some anti-racist activism to change my society. And god, I know I make mistakes.
But I don’t know why dorothyparkerwashere claims I’m silencing non-Chinese voices. Maybe because I told a Muslim anti-LGBTs crusader that I really hoped that LGBTs and Malays could one day fight against discrimination together. Or something else. I’m curious to know. Do I really do it frequently?
4) Chinese Singaporeans hold all political, social and economic power here. They use this to limit our opportunities, deny us representation and even engage in terror against us. An Indian kid was killed in jail by his Chinese guards. Nothing happened to them. An Indian construction worker had his head cut off by a bus that ran over him. Again, the justice system did nothing. The name of the murderer wasn’t even released. The Malay community is denied everything in their own homeland.
If all this sounds familiar to POC in the West, it’s cos it should. White people in the West are what Chinese people are in Singapore. They terrorize us and ruin our lives while acting as if they built a colour blind post racial state.
Yes, Singapore is racist. (See also here. And here.) But while the Chinese majority does marginalise minority Malays, Indians and Eurasians, there isn’t a system of apartheid going on - there’s a consciously PC program of multiethnic representation in politics, and surveys show that about half of citizens have close friends of different races.
This really is a situation like white people in the West, in that most of the oppression takes the form of bad policies, unconscious prejudice and exploitation of the poor. So the use of the word terror is really weird, given that there is genuine terror being executed in Burma against the Muslims, in Israel against the Palestinians.
We do have a fucked up human rights situation, though.
Like in the case of the Indian guy killed in jail - Dinesh Raman - the issue everyone was talking about was accountability of our massive prison system, not race. (The officer got fined, by the way.) Also, everyone freaked out because this kind of thing doesn’t usually happen.
In the case of the Indian guy decapitated by a bus - Sakthivel Kumaravelu - the much bigger issue was that it sparked off a riot by Indian foreign workers , resulting in deportations without trial and restrictions on public mobility, which is an atrocity of foreign workers’ rights more than racial justice. And again, everyone was freaking out because this doesn’t usually happen. More info here.
What’s much more problematic than our racism is our xenophobia - see here, here, here. It cuts across racial lines. There’s this interesting article pointing out how landlords discriminate against migrant workers from both China and India.
Basically, if you wanna boycott us, boycott us for the right reasons. Did I mention we still have a law against gay sex? Boycott us for that.
5) Please don’t buy these books… Support this if you want, but realise you are supporting Asians who oppress other Asians. Ask yourself if that’s something you can live with, all in the name of solidarity.
This is pretty much like telling people not to buy books by white Americans - or any Americans! - because white Americans oppress POC. It’s a huge blanket condemnation, because white Americans are the majority (for now), and if you want to find out about the culture, it’s kind of necessary to read some of their work.
By the way, there’ll be a Singapore Literature Festival in New York City from October 10 to 12 this year. Singaporean writers from lotsa different races will be present, including Alvin Pang, Alfian Sa’at, Haresh Sharma, Pooja Nansi, Tania De Rozario and Jason Erik Lundberg.
If you’re in the area, go talk to them - or scream at them, if you like.
We’re a small country. Mostly, we’re happy as long as you notice we exist.
There was just so much back slapping self-congratulation in this post, it’ll be criminal not to say something.
First off, good job in making a callout into a three FB post cry for support from your like-minded dudebros. Overreaction much? You needed three FB posts and thirty supporters calling me names, threatening me and constantly patting you on the back to make you feel better about me calling you out. I only called you out, but you had to call in your posse. Do I even need to tell u as a writer what that probably means?
You ask in your response above where you derail by silencing non-Chinese voices. The only answer is, EVERYWHERE. Where don’t you derail? I think you can’t see it cos you’re like fish asking where water is. The entire FB posts, this response right here, it’s all derailment central. Homeboy, you parked your train and never got off.
You constantly refer to the racism in Singapore as “not as bad” and “not as violent”, both here and in your FB posts. This is what we in the actual work of social justice (instead of just using it for cred like u apparently do) call the fallacy of relative privation, which is a fancy term for an ‘appeal to worse problems’ fallacy. The “not as bad as,” also known as the “but what about” argument, is a form of the moral equivalence fallacy that talks about the existence of things that are worse than what is actually being talked about. It is, not surprisingly, popular with people who know quite well they’re doing something wrong; and knowing it, feel compelled to attempt to justify it by pointing to other, usually worse, situations.
By your logic, people cannot complain if they don’t have it as bad. In fact, following that to its logical end, that means only one person in the whole world can complain, cos they’re the person who has it worse, more than anybody else out there. (If you find that person, lemme know. I know you’re probably thinking right now that it’s you.)
But this applies to you as well, you know. Homophobia is just not as bad in Singapore. It’s just not as violent. It’s much worse in Russia where they actually kill queer people, unlike here. Queer people here should immediately stop talking about LGBTQA issues and making a big deal about it. I mean; I know it exists, but it’s much worse elsewhere you know.
Clearly this does not make sense because that means no one will be able to complain about anything, ever. Good and evil may be on a sliding scale, but the baseline of what makes something wrong shouldn’t, and in the interest of facilitating discussions about oppression, cannot be set at the worst possible atrocity. So you going on about other places and other races, is guess what, complete and utter derailment.
Every time you say that racism is worse out there, what you’re really saying is “You mean to tell me I as a Chinese person can’t tell you about your own history and experience? That’s pretty mean. It’s oppressive to me that you don’t take my opinions on racism seriously just because I’m Chinese.”
Remember how at the beginning of this I called your FB reaction an overreaction? You probably got upset thinking I couldn’t possibly know how attacked you felt. (You poor oppressed child.) But, if you didn’t like me trivializing how you felt, then why do you think you have the right to trivialize my oppression? Supporting and writing about an oppressed group doesn’t magically make you exempt from all criticism when you act in an oppressive manner. Neither does the idea of having close friends of a different race or being in an interracial relationship. Cos misogynists never sleep with women, right?
There are people who do anti-racism work who mess up every now and then cos that’s how privilege works. Privilege means that you will mess up when you speak of the experience of an oppressed group you do not identify with, because you have to imagine it, as you don’t experience it. You sure haven’t been examining your own privilege if you don’t understand this. I’m straight and will never think that my experience in a marginalized ethnic group means I can understand how queer people feel. I have to imagine it cos race and sexual orientation are different axes of oppression. Which is why I don’t talk for them, or over them, or tell them that their experiences aren’t that bad cos I have no way of actually knowing.
You, however, continue to speak for me and other minorities when you say I cannot use the word ‘terror.’ Do you know what terrorism sometimes manifests itself as? It is the abuse perpetrated on me by being told my experience not only doesn’t matter, but doesn’t exist in the first place —because of course, privileged people like you who don’t have that kind of experience “know better.”
Even if you disagree with that, what about economical terror? The kind that comes from knowing that no matter how hard you work, your race and skin colour will mean you will be economically disadvantaged compared to a Chinese person of similar ability. What about sociological terror? Of having your culture become a costume that Chinese girls wear to Laneway festivals while at the same time turning up their noses at the smelly Indians. What about spiritual terror? Of Indians made to feel unwanted and unwelcome in Yoga classes full of Chinese people taught by Chinese instructors. What about psychological terror? Of everyday, everywhere, being the victim of micro-aggressions so cutting that walking into a space that is predominantly Chinese takes an act of courage.
You know nothing about the terror of having to live out your existence in a country that barely acknowledges your humanity.
But what is really astounding in all this is that your whataboutery is only truly surpassed by your douchebaggery.
Because you then go on to compare the oppression of a whole different group of people to back up your supposed point. Xenophobia is apparently more problematic than racism. Do you mean xenophobia against rich white expats, or poor dark skinned construction workers? I cannot tell if you are able to discern the difference between them. In case you can’t, let me explain that there is a huge difference in the power they have relative to the system. Let’s talk about the second, powerless, group. You seem to think that the xenophobia against them has nothing to do with the existing racism in Singapore, as you have so neatly demarcated the two issues. Maybe you want to spend some time talking to TWC2 volunteers whose interviews with workers document how PRC construction workers get to travel in vans with covered tops, or even air conditioning, while the Indian and Bangladeshi ones travel in open air vans and trucks. Or how they allege that PRC workers are paid better while doing the same job.
But this has nothing to do with racism right? The fact that the Chinese supremacy reproduces itself in the same manner even amongst people from wildly differing classes and different countries, but of similar ethnicity to us, that to you is not about racism. You keep talking about xenophobia as if it’s so much worse than racism in Singapore, both here and in your FB posts, but where in the world do you think the roots of this xenophobia come from? You say it’s about more than race, which means race is encompassed within it, so then why deny the racial issue at its core? Could it be because you’re actually racist and just using it instead to derail my point and silence my voice?
And this is the truly despicable thing about what you did. It is that you don’t even truly care about it. If you had, you would have written an FB post about it before this, which you would have inevitably linked to in your response (like you did with your anti-racism work) to show what a stand-up guy you are. Instead, what you’re really doing is that you’re using the misery of thousands of people, just to derail my point. It is unconscionable for you to use another’s oppression as a tool to salvage your image. Hence, the douchebag alert.
Shall we now go back to your original post that started all this? You never addressed why you didn’t have a minority writer there in the first place. Could it because you’re, (gasp!) racist and didn’t even bother to think of one until you came to criticizing one? There are so many Chinese people writing with white protagonists or with white characters, but somehow the one writer you single out and accuse of doing so (and then passive aggressively ask people not to troll,) is an Indian girl. But you’re not racist we know, you and your dudebro friends said so, no matter what your actions say. So it must be true.
The essence of this is simple. You made a post talking about Singapore literature without any minorities. (White people don’t count cos of the power they have here. If you can’t understand how numbers alone don’t make you a marginalized minority, then there’s no help for you.) I called you out on it, and you realized it showed how racist you were. So then, you wrote three FB posts calling for support from your Chinese and White dude bros (and the token minorities whose internalized racism meant they were frothing at the bit to have an opportunity to throw their own people under the bus,) all in an effort to erase the fact that I pointed out how racist the literature scene is here, and how you participated in perpetrating that racism with this particular submission.
Mayhaps thou doth protest a little too much.
If anything, this has probably ensured you will think twice about ever presenting this kind of submission without minorities (and I don’t mean including them just for the sake of criticizing them). You did conveniently add them to your response above, however that again begs the question of why this was not the case in the original post.
But I think we’ve already answered that question definitively.
(Note: I had to reblog this cos this loser deleted my response from his post, so that people wouldn’t see it show up when they saw the notes section of it. That’s a very intellectually dishonest and cowardly thing to do. And says everything that needs to be said about what kind of person he is. Some people are so terrified of others finding out who they really are that they have to silence responses like the above.)