Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chip on shoulder

Swahili forwarded an interesting article by NurDiana Suhaimi about "feeling like the least favourite child." ( see below)

Perhaps her sentiment is echoed by quite a few in Singapore. Throughout my life I have met many such Malay Singaporeans who, in my opinion, have a chip on their shoulder.

It would be quite easy to spot them from afar, because they are very often defensive people. They often feel a need to tell others that " I am the first Malay country manager..." or "I am one of the few Malays in the office..." within the first 15 minutes of you meeting them.

At the back of my mind I always ask myself, "Is that how he sees himself? First as part of the collective Malay race before he/she is an individual?"

They often carry such anger inside them. Perhaps stemming from growing up thinking that the whole world is against them because of their race and/or religion. And again this sentiment would appear quite early in conversation and they are often tense and very serious.

Some feel that the whole world is against them and that the world owe them something else in return.

Perhaps I am one of the lucky few who managed to escape from the bug. I can't really say if I never had the chip or that I had lost it as soon as I left the country at age 21.

My mum never told me that I have to work harder because I am Malay. She merely told me that I just have to be the best no matter what. But she is genetically Chinese of course. (Although it does say that I am a Malay on my Identity card as is my cultural practice.) Perhaps that made the difference?

I suppose, if as a child, you are told that you will be discriminated against, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and you will feel that you are discriminated.

When I left Singapore to hangout with the other fellow Malaysians/Singaporeans there was never a sense of separation between the races. We all hung out because we had something in common, we were from the Malay Peninsula. They enjoyed similar food. Our memories of home were very similar too. (Especially in the -15oC Calgary winter.)

We were all united of course, all with the same goal, to finish our studies, whatever it may be, the best we can and move on and up in life.

Thing is prejudice exist everywhere. And it is inevitable, at any given place on earth, a minority group would feel itself shortchanged and prejudiced against by the majority.

For me, the truth is the feeling of being prejudiced against is a state of mind. You can and will only feel that way if you give away your sense of worth by what you think others judge of you. If anything, it shows the ignorance of the prejudiced, of how little they know of you, as a person, and chooses to judge you on the basis of race/color/origin etc.

And to that, I'd say "The loss is yours, not mine."

I see no point in carrying this chip on the shoulder; the anger, the feeling of helplessness, injustice and unhappiness. The fault lies on the person who undertakes to shoulder all those emotions when in fact they have the power in their hands to shake themselves off and seize the world.

We cannot change who we are. Our race, our gender, our color is something we are born with and have to live with. But we can change how we think of ourselves. Where do we put ourselves in the big picture? We should not be defined by what other people think of us, but rather what we think of ourselves.

So my daughter, to you, I say this. Be the best person you can be. Be happy with who you are and the wonderful opportunities given to you. Dream big! Everything and anything is possible for you, as long as you work hard and set your mind on what it is that you want.

Here are your wings. Fly my beautiful child!


I now realize that to view the article you'd have to be a subscriber and so here is the article:
he Straits Times, Aug 10, 2008

Feeling like the least favourite child

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

When I was younger, I always thought of myself as the quintessential Singaporean.

Of my four late grandparents, two were Malay, one was Chinese and one was Indian. This, I concluded, makes me a mix of all the main races in the country. But I later realised that it was not what goes into my blood that matters, but what my identity card says under 'Race'.

Because my paternal grandfather was of Bugis origin, my IC says I'm Malay. I speak the language at home, learnt it in school, eat the food and practise the culture. And because of my being Malay, I've always felt like a lesser Singaporean than those from other racial groups.

I grew up clueless about the concept of national service because my father was never enlisted.

He is Singaporean all right, born and bred here like the rest of the boys born in 1955. He is not handicapped in any way. He did well in school and participated in sports.

Unlike the rest, however, he entered university immediately after his A levels. He often told me that his schoolmates said he was 'lucky' because he was not called up for national service.

'What lucky?' he would tell them. 'Would you feel lucky if your country doesn't trust you?'

So I learnt about the rigours of national service from my male cousins. They would describe in vivid detail their training regimes, the terrible food they were served and the torture inflicted upon them - most of which, I would later realise, were exaggerations.

But one thing these stories had in common was that they all revolved around the Police Academy in Thomson. As I got older, it puzzled me why my Chinese friends constantly referred to NS as 'army'. In my family and among my Malay friends, being enlisted in the army was like hitting the jackpot. The majority served in the police force because, as is known, the Government was not comfortable with Malay Muslims serving in the army. But there are more of them now.

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that as a Malay, I need to work twice as hard to prove my worth. He said people have the misconception that all Malays are inherently lazy.

I was later to get the exact same advice from a Malay minister in office who is a family friend.

When I started work, I realised that the advice rang true, especially because I wear my religion on my head. My professionalism suddenly became an issue. One question I was asked at a job interview was whether I would be willing to enter a nightclub to chase a story. I answered: 'If it's part of the job, why not? And you can rest assured I won't be tempted to have fun.'

When I attend media events, before I can introduce myself, people assume I write for the Malay daily Berita Harian. A male Malay colleague in The Straits Times has the same problem, too.

This makes me wonder if people also assume that all Chinese reporters are from Lianhe Zaobao and Indian reporters from Tamil Murasu.

People also question if I can do stories which require stake-outs in the sleazy lanes of Geylang. They say because of my tudung I will stick out like a sore thumb. So I changed into a baseball cap and a men's sports jacket - all borrowed from my husband - when I covered Geylang.

I do not want to be seen as different from the rest just because I dress differently. I want the same opportunities and the same job challenges.

Beneath the tudung, I, too, have hair and a functioning brain. And if anything, I feel that my tudung has actually helped me secure some difficult interviews.

Newsmakers - of all races - tend to trust me more because I look guai (Hokkien for well-behaved) and thus, they feel, less likely to write critical stuff about them.

Recently, I had a conversation with several colleagues about this essay. I told them I never thought of myself as being particularly patriotic. One Chinese colleague thought this was unfair. 'But you got to enjoy free education,' she said.

Sure, for the entire 365 days I spent in Primary 1 in 1989. But my parents paid for my school and university fees for the next 15 years I was studying.

It seems that many Singaporeans do not know that Malays have stopped getting free education since 1990. If I remember clearly, the news made front-page news at that time.

We went on to talk about the Singapore Government's belief that Malays here would never point a missile at their fellow Muslim neighbours in a war.

I said if not for family ties, I would have no qualms about leaving the country. Someone then remarked that this is why Malays like myself are not trusted. But I answered that this lack of patriotism on my part comes from not being trusted, and for being treated like a potential traitor.

It is not just the NS issue. It is the frustration of explaining to non-Malays that I don't get special privileges from the Government. It is having to deal with those who question my professionalism because of my religion. It is having people assume, day after day, that you are lowly educated, lazy and poor. It is like being the least favourite child in a family. This child will try to win his parents' love only for so long. After a while, he will just be engulfed by disappointment and bitterness.

I also believe that it is this 'least favourite child' mentality which makes most Malays defensive and protective of their own kind.

Why do you think Malay families spent hundreds of dollars voting for two Malay boys in the Singapore Idol singing contest? And do you know that Malays who voted for other competitors were frowned upon by the community?

The same happens to me at work. When I write stories which put Malays in a bad light, I am labelled a traitor. A Malay reader once wrote to me to say: 'I thought a Malay journalist would have more empathy for these unfortunate people than a non-Malay journalist.'

But such is the case when you are a Malay Singaporean. Your life is not just about you, as much as you want it to be. You are made to feel responsible for the rest of the pack and your actions affect them as well. If you trip, the entire community falls with you. But if you triumph, it is considered everyone's success.

When 12-year-old Natasha Nabila hit the headlines last year for her record PSLE aggregate of 294, I was among the thousands of Malays here who celebrated the news. I sent instant messages to my friends on Gmail and chatted excitedly with my Malay colleagues at work.

Suddenly a 12-year-old has become the symbol of hope for the community and a message to the rest that Malays can do it too - and not just in singing competitions.

And just like that, the 'least favourite child' in me feels a lot happier.

Each year, come Aug 9, my father, who never had the opportunity to do national service, dutifully hangs two flags at home - one on the front gate and the other by the side gate.

I wonder if putting up two flags is his way of making himself feel like a better-loved child of Singapore.

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