the sound is growing, let us listen, let us speak

by Ang Kia Yee

I am relieved. I am relieved that we are finally talking publicly, loudly, messily about race in Singapore. It is bringing out the worst in people, yes, but we are finally opening up conversations we need to have.

We have technically talked about race before, but I don’t feel it’s ever been on such a scale, with such climbing awareness and courage. We are moving slowly past comfortable ignorance into a state of heated debate. People are shifting somehow, even those who stamp their feet and refuse to listen.

It is not a great thing – these mounting years of unacknowledged privilege, discrimination in insiduous and comedic forms, vulnerable people told to “take a joke, you’re so emotional”. Depressingly, we’re finally talking about it because the privileged people have woken, many unwilling to acknowledge just how much race and class divide us in Singapore. Many scornful and indignant. But we are talking. We’re yelling at one another in the open, in multiple conversations, and I feel like a weird bubble has finally burst. As much as I hope we soon reach a state of greater listening and kindness in our Facebook arguments and coffeeshop debates – this is good, I think. I might be too relieved.

I think I am primarily happy because the thing I’ve most feared and most resented in Singapore has been the apathy. We have been sleeping for so long, and it’s terrified me to no end. Perhaps this is how we begin, and maybe through all these tiny-big jolts we will transition into a nation more active, awake and aware.

To the people who have been willing to listen and articulate yourselves with generosity and openness – thank you so much! You have been part of a waking wave for Singapore and I am emotionally and spiritually indebted to you. Thank you for having the courage to speak even as people like me, afraid and passive, wary and weary, held back. Thank you for opening up conversations and creating space in which dissent is possible and people can be generous enough to apologize for ignorance, insensitivity and cruelty. And this extends beyond Singapore – because meeting politically-active students here in the UK has allowed me to grow more than I ever thought I would.

Although in those moments I am ashamed and often defensive (something to work on), I am relieved to be called out when I say insensitive things. I am relieved that people are willing to debate. I am relieved that I now have the nerve to apply my knowledge and eloquence (when it emerges) against discrimination. To everything and everyone who has grown me from a wee frightened human into someone who will use her voice – thank you!!!!!!!! I will keep on going on, and grow and learn and make and do.

I recognize that my relief is the particular shade it is because of my privilege as a part of the Chinese majority. And…I don’t know. I don’t quite know yet what to do with that knowledge, that strange self-hatred. I feel I must have done some terrible things. I, in my ignorance, have been part of the problem for so long, and I want to ‘make things right’. I want to ‘make it okay’. I feel misplaced and ashamed for daring to feel misplaced when all I’ve had is a blessed, fortunate life.

I refer here to the only sort of answer I’ve found so far:

I will have in an undergraduate class, let’s say, a young, white male student, politically-correct, who will say: ‘I am only a bourgeois white male, I can’t speak.’ In that situation – it’s peculiar, because I am in the position of power and their teacher and, on the other hand, I am not a bourgeois white male – I say to them: ‘Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?’ Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very deterministic position – since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak.

— Gayatri Spivak

I will keep reading, keep talking, and learn to listen better. I know I sound fluffy and stupidly hopeful and optimistic very often and I can’t imagine how people still read the things I write but. I am. I am determined, and I am hopeful, and that’s just how I want to/can carry on.

I’ve never been a nationalistic sort of person, but. Right now I low-key love my country for growing, even as I resent it for it’s persistent small-mindedness. SINGAPORE LET’S GOOOOOO WE CAN DO BETTER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!