When I first saw this quoted on Twitter I assumed it was satire–someone had simply substituted “Chinese” for “White”.
One reason for that is I’ve found myself making this argument to SJW friends and family: “this white privilege business is silly. Go to China and you won’t see people arguing about ‘Han Chinese privilege’.” Well, almost there.
It turns out Ms. Thanapal is in fact an activist in Singapore (Muslim Malay, I think). Here she is teasing out of a Singaporean official’s sympathetic remarks the stuff of narrative outrage in language we’ll all find familiar:
When Mr Shanmugam first posted about Ms Thanapal’s remarks, he said the point he actually made at the event was that the Malaysian education system was not good for integration.
“The Chinese leadership in various local areas in Malaysia want to maintain control over the Chinese population. It suits them to have Chinese students go to Chinese schools instead of mainstream Malaysian schools. And the schools are more Chinese (because they are effectively single race),” he wrote.
“At the same time, many mainstream schools in Malaysia are becoming more Malay (because the students are largely Malay) and Islamic (e.g. through the way some principals and teachers handle matters) which discourages the Chinese from going into those schools. So you end up with having more Malays going to mainstream schools, and more Chinese going to Chinese schools. As a result, the different races are kept apart from a young age.”
Ms Thanapal’s Facebook post appeared to take issue with Mr Shanmugam saying that mainstream schools in Malaysia were “becoming more Malay and Islamic”.
She wrote: “The only reason you would consider this important enough to make statements about, is if you are an Islamaphobic bigot who thinks Malay-Muslims are a threat.”
And here she is hitting all the right notes in Chinese Privilege, Gender and Intersectionality in Singapore.
Chinese privilege in Singapore is unique because it occurs outside of mainland China and territories which it has historically controlled. In this manner, our interview is intended as the beginning of an examination of a larger Chinese privilege, with its own histories of colonialism and migratory communities. We note that in order to zero in on the current racial and political structures in Singapore, as well as specifically on the complex role of gender, our interview does not focus on the historical development of this privilege per se, or on the obviously important, historically motivated distinctions between different groups of Chinese in Singapore. In the nineteenth century, under British colonialism, southern Chinese immigrated from China to Singapore and Malaysia to escape famine and the effects of the Opium Wars back home, and arrived to a colony in which they were brutally subjugated: the majority of male Chinese immigrants experienced great abuse under a system of indentured labor (the “coolie” system), and many of the (comparatively few) female immigrants were forced into prostitution. While this interview is intended to open up a conversation about monolithic Singaporean Chinese privilege today, we plan a more comprehensive critical historical genealogy of comparative Chinese privilege in our future work in order to elaborate upon these distinctions and developments.
Somehow I don’t think the Chinese will endure much of this sort of thing in the Mainland, but one can hope.