Friday, April 26, 2013

Singapore: I'm A Brown Person And I Live In A Racist Country

Burnt. Black skin. Dirty. I’ve been called the worst names from fellow Singaporeans.

image

Hi, xoJane. It is I, Brown Girl Faz.
 
The first time I experienced racism was in a classroom when I was nine years old. I didn’t know what was happening, but I understood that there was a lot of hate there while my teacher loomed over me and said, “You know why I didn’t call on you to answer my questions? Because your skin is black.”
 
She spat the word black like it gave her boils. 
 
I’m from Singapore. One of the richest nations in the world, touted as a cultural and religious melting pot with racially harmonious Rainbow Brites running around throwing glitter in the air. I’m calling bullshit. I have never felt like I belonged in this country a single day of my life.
 
Products that are supposed to whiten your vaginas may be new to the beauty market in Asia, but the correlation between dark skin and "dirtiness" is not anything new. You don’t even have to look further than the makeup counters and drugstores –- no colors exist after a certain shade of beige.
 
I should explain the racial make-up of Singapore: 
 
image
 
It is a country of 5 million people, with Chinese making up 74% of the population, Malays -13%, Indians - 9% and the rest are Eurasians and other minority ethnicities. Right from the time you are born, your ID tells you what race you are. Nobody identifies themselves as Singaporean first; your racial identity is what you are first and foremost.
 
I was already a cultural mess to begin with -– unlike most of Singapore whose first languages are their arterial languages (i.e., the Chinese speak Mandarin, the Malays speak Malay, Indians speak Tamil), I come from an English-speaking Indian family. 
 
So while kids hung out with other kids who spoke their mother tongue at recess, I spent my lunchtime solo with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Enid Blyton. 
 
In hindsight, what appalls me most is not how merciless my peers were in school, but how many of the educators were equally if not more vindictive. The teacher I mentioned earlier? She taught me English, Math and Science for two years and made me sit by myself right at the back of the class. The whole two years I was made to feel worthless and disgusting, and the entire time I thought it was my fault. 
 
I was to blame because I had skin that matches the earth. I deserved it all.
 
When I was 11, we were told to write poetry and present it in class. A boy wrote about me. Not a sappy puppy love letter, mind you –- it was a poem about how fat I was, how black I was and how I was a mess, I shouldn’t exist. Instead of doing anything about it, the teacher (a different one) laughed with him and with the rest of the class.
 
High school was no exception of course. People tend to think that just because I’m Indian, I couldn’t speak anything else other than Indian languages but my multi-lingual background allowed me into a world where people spoke about you in languages they thought you didn’t understand.
 
Let me tell you –- oblivion can be blissful. I can never erase the things people have said about me in front of me just because they thought I wouldn’t understand. 
 
image
 The only dark skinned girl in the room
 
At 15, when my self-esteem was probably at its lowest, I walked past a bunch of guys talking openly about me: “If Faz were fairer, she’d be pretty.”
 
Keling (the Indian equivalent of n*gger). Burnt. Black skin. Dirty. I’ve been called the worst names from fellow Singaporeans. 
 
It’s funny because one of the lines in the Singapore pledge is “We are the citizens of Singapore… Regardless of race, language or religion.” You’d recite this pledge every morning in school for at least 10 years of your life, but who actually means what they pledge?
 
Which is why I love being in the US –- there's  foundation that matches my skin, I see Indian, Chinese and African-American people on TV and I don’t feel like people are constantly judging me based on the color of my skin.
 
While I work and surround myself with people who never look at my skin color as something that defines me, I walked into an elevator just last week and had two guys talking about me in Malay. Of course I told them off as I stepped out, but it’s so disheartening.
 
I spent an hour looking through local magazines for a dark-skinned person and I couldn’t find any. What I could find were pages and pages of whitening products. Minority races on the main English TV channel are never main characters -– they are usually obese and made fun of (don’t get me started about how I’m a US Size 8 and “obese” in Asia).
 
image
Cross-racial elation going on here y’all
 
For now, as far as I’m concerned, I know it starts with me. I will call anybody out for racism, I will continue writing and featuring people of all colors and sizes in my work, I will teach my children that your skin is something you should be so proud of because skin itself is a miracle, no matter what shade of awesome you are.
 
One day maybe Singapore will follow suit.
 

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you sure no one judge skin color in USA?

Seelan Palay said...

I'm sure there is, but I believe the author of the article is trying to say that she "feels" it less in the states.

Anonymous said...

Dear Faz
Alamak! Loosen up, dont be uptight lah.
You are a Singaporean and do not let those words gets to you. All of us are racist to some extend.
Everybody stereotyped - The melayus are lazy, the indians are drunkard, the chinese are crooked and that the only straight thing is their hair. Dont take it to heart and laugh it out, you one of us. We are a nation and MM said 1st world too, whatever that means.

Our fathers and grandfathers built this nation. Wherever you go you are a Singaporean.

You dark skinned, so what. Did you not notice the sharp features, the height, the wholesome smile and bubbly disposition? I did and I'm the opposite of you. Light skinned, round n flat nosed, short (1.5m), very likeable and I know I'm a beautiful baby (at least to my mum n dad ...he he he)

Just turn the corner of your mouth up and face the world.
Cheerio.....





Panner said...

A Poem on Racism

Racism is in the air
You can never be free of it, anywhere

Racism is in colours
Colour of our skins
White, Yellow, Brown, Black

In the language of love
Yellow is wise and happy love
White is pure and clean love
Brown is order, and, earthy
Black is earthy, and, stability

How glorious to read, no matter the language we write them in

But, when it comes to the colours of our skin,
out goes the poetry,
and, in comes the bigotry

Willing to see wisdom and happiness in a yellow man?
How about pure and clean love in a white man?
Earth and stability in a Black man?
How about order and earth in a brown man?

No, Not by a long stretch of our imagination

History has enduring heroes
Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Mandela
We all admire them, even from afar


They are the best of yellow, white, brown and black
They are colossal figures in our shared history
Yet, how we cannot see pass them is a mystery

Racism is in cultures
Human cultures
Western, Eastern, the list is inexhaustible

Racism is in languages
Human languages
We seek refuge and pride in our languages, but, it can lead to bigotry
Yet, all our languages are the products of confluence of cultures, languages, civilizations over countless millenniums

Racism is in religions
Religions of humans
Religions teach love and compassion
and yet, the tenets have been lost on many of us

We adore achievements all over the world, no matter who
We applaud scientific achievements, sports prowess, the magic of poetry
Colour, religion, customs, languages play no part in such celebrations

And yet, deep within many of us,
the virus of racism lurks and thrives

Racism is born out of ignorance
Through the ages, it has been become our constant companion
Sadly, it has also become contagion

It spreads from people to people
Community to community
Community to country
Country to country

But, is there not more in common than differences in all of us?

Is it not time to take a stance?
A stance against bigotry?
A stance for our shared commonalities?

Let us teach the world to sing in perfect harmony
Let us keep seek each other in peace and keep them company
A company of human warmth, love, and, bliss

It is a journey worthy of humanity

helihiadison helissi said...

I live in Singapore , I am from africa
Something make me laugh, u r brown ?
Me I don't even know if my color is black or brown hahaha

Dunstant said...

Lovely lady, thanks for sharing your story