In June, I blogged about Kevin Kwan’s new novel, China Rich Girlfriend. Today, on The Rumpus, an eclectic online daily magazine, I expanded that post into a short essay about reading, frames of reference, and Western privilege.
While Singapore has put me somewhere entirely new in this racial hierarchy, I have also found myself vaunted higher along another axis of privilege. In Singapore, I do not benefit from positive stereotypes about South Asians in the way I do in the United States. There, I am rarely asked, while browsing a clothing rack, “Do you work here?” because I am Asian American; here, I am frequently asked this. However, in Singapore, I benefit from enormous Western privilege.
My US accent and native English language ability nearly guarantees that I will receive better service in restaurants and shops. My US passport assures that I can travel in and out of Changi International Airport with minimal hassle. It makes it likely that my Singapore Permanent Residency application was approved with less scrutiny than my China passport-holding expatriate friends, and that landlords accepted my tenancy application while rejecting potential India passport-holding tenants. My elite US degrees mean my academic and professional qualifications will never be sneered as from a “mill,” or questioned by a prospective employer.
Even within the South Asian community in Singapore, I benefit from being North Indian and fair-skinned. This colorism or shadeism is rooted in the European colonial project, and both Singapore and India were former British colonies.
When a Chinese Singaporean acquaintance made a prejudiced comment about “Indians” in my presence, I called her out. She replied, “Why are you so upset? You are practically ang moh,” a derogatory term for a white person. Such statements, at first, rankled me. How dare you place me in proximity to whiteness? But, she was not incorrect, was she?
Continue reading “China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan.”