Right off the bat, allow me to present my disclaimer: these views belong solely to the author, Jyot Bhalla, and not The Blue and Gold. The author realises and acknowledges the following incidents are only carried out by a small proportion of the SMU community, and she does not mean to offend any person(s) of any race(s). That would just be ironic.
If you haven’t already realised this, racial microaggressions are surprisingly plentiful across SMU – well, at least in my limited experience of approximately 415 days on campus. Microaggressions are the everyday snubs, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate negative messages to persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. Although Indians are recognised as one of the ‘official’ races in Singapore and we are not a ‘marginalized’ group per se, we are still a minority – especially when viewed through the lens of relativity.
I’ve been in Singapore for more than half my life, and given the number of Chinese friends I’ve made, I can speak enough Mandarin to order myself chicken rice from Sin Hoi. However, I would ascertain that it is reasonable to assume that most individuals do not speak languages that are not their mother tongue per se. So when I started attending certain project group meetings this semester that were conducted largely in Mandarin – despite a clear distinction of my ethnicity – I was shocked.
I generally don’t have an issue working in pre-assigned project groups, but I do have an issue when these groupmates are all from the majority race and tend to overlook me as a minority because that’s convenient, and because they simply can. Perhaps it was just the group of people that I had the pleasure to be working with. Perhaps it’s a microcosm of larger issues in our society. Either way, the refusal to cooperate to such an extent simply because of one’s own convenience is deeply disappointing to witness, and I honestly hope that such incidents don’t become part of SMU’s repertoire.
I don’t intend to sound presumptuous or defensive in any way, and I do acknowledge that only a small fraction of our student population would behave as such. Although let’s not pretend that everyone’s favourite Indian stereotype isn’t… Bollywood dancing around trees! Yes, that one’s a classic. I cannot count the number of times that has been said or done around me— and to be honest, when it’s done in good humour, it’s fine. We all know how to take jokes.
But what happens when someone gives a class presentation about specifically wanting to break such Bollywood-esque stereotypes, and then proceeds to mock it with a strange version of their own tree dance? Needless to say, they do not get a loud applause. Although my Indian professor did not say anything to them, I apparently wasn’t as big a person as she, and I did tell my classmates why their “funny skit” was considered offensive to my friends and I. My beef with the group wasn’t the quality of their performance – that’s a separate issue – but it was the fact that they recognised an evil, and then proceeded to propagate it. That, my friends, is how jokes evolve into microaggressions.
But enough about these one-off experiences; I’d like to publicly address something that has been a constant for some of my peers and I for quite some time. Those of you that know me would know how involved I am with the SMU Indian Cultural Society (ICS), and how much I love my CCA. As an Arts and Cultural Fraternity club, we do a lot with regards to the performing arts; from music to dance to theatre – the opportunities have been endless. But it’s always bothered me that the moment I mention I’m in ICS, I am confronted with questions such as “Ew, that Indian club?” and “Isn’t that only for people from India?”
Pardon me, but I don’t see what is wrong with either being part of an Indian club or being from India. I’m not here to defend ICS or to advocate for how great it is, but I do ask that as a population, we all try to get ourselves culturally educated before engaging in conversation with others. Although such conduct may seem normal or harmless to some, the truth is that when you are a minority, such issues tend to hit home harder. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with being different from your norm; we don’t need to be taunted for it as well.
I bring forward these personal anecdotes simply to raise awareness of a larger issue at hand; the fact that this kind of behaviour is still very present, and that it happens to every race, not just Indians. Subtle discrimination is still discrimination. SMU boasts itself on hosting international students from every corner of the globe, and Singapore does the same with regards to its racial harmony. I feel that it is imperative for us, as individuals of both our college and nation, to see that we turn these facts into strengths. It is about time we moved from being culturally inclusive to being culturally aware.