(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.