Thursday, July 19, 2018

GOD IS A WOMAN

you, you love it how I move you
you love it how I touch you
my one, when all is said and done
you believe God is a woman
and I, I feel it after midnight
a feeling that you can't fight
my one, it lingers when we're done
you believe God is a woman

God is a woman
God is a woman, yeah
when all is said and done
you believe God is a woman
you believe God (God is a woman)
God is a woman, yeah
it lingers when we're done
you believe God is a woman

*

It feels like I haven't been here forever. Life is still the same, somewhat, always inching forward but never feeling like it goes anywhere. I got a tiny pay raise at work, and my manager gave me a chart of progression to work towards, so I can move up, which was nice. You know, it makes you feel like you're not just stagnating in life. Bigger, better things are happening in future, yadda yadda yadda.

One time, after my closing shift at work, I'd brought down the rubbish as well as recyclables to the main garbage disposal centre at the hidden basement of the mall I work at, and I'd separated the cardboard and plastics from the rubbish, right.

I then saw one of the people who work for the mall management, either as a janitor, or with garbage disposal or something, chuck them all together into the huge rubbish/waste bin thing, I'm sorry I don't know what it's called. I don't know if all of them do it, I don't know what they're taught to do.

I just want to play my part, in this tiny way I can, to impress upon anyone reading this, that plastic is problematic. First of all, there are about 100 million tons of plastic debris in the oceans, and this kills about 100 million sea creatures in one single year, by strangling them, or accidental choking, or trapping them, whatever. I mean, these animals don't have our so-called developed human brains to know what is food or what isn't. Also, when you are a whale and swallowing a ton of water for your food, you can't be picky about what you consume or do not consume.

Even if you give no fucks about these animals (because why should you, right? you've evolved and now it's all about survival of the fittest), you're still being harmed. Sea creatures consume tons of plastic that have been broken down by the sun, and are therefore being poisoned by plastic microparticles, and guess whose plastic ingestion is increasing via eating all the seafood that we love? That's right, us motherfuckers.

Here goes: a plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose. You can do your part in separating your recyclables from your waste, but you still can't guarantee what goes on down the chain of events. I work at Lush, and we are major proponents of recycling and using natural products, and I still can't ensure that your step in recycling, goes anywhere in the long run. Recycling still requires energy, and many recycling facilities reject plastic into waste, if it is contaminated with the food or cosmetics or whatever particles used to be in your plastic containers. Not clean? Not good enough to be recycled.

This is why the slogan goes reduce, reuse, and recycle. Recycling is supposed to be your last-ditch attempt, and instead you should be reducing any kind of single-use plastic that you currently still use. That grocery plastic bag you just accepted (if you forget to bring your cloth bag) should last you at least ten more grocery shopping trips. Single-use plastic straws? Never again (I've got my steel straw, by the way, just FYI).

Come on, people. You know how the boomers left us with nothing but insane college debts and rising mortgages from their fucking up the housing market? Can we as millennials please not be the generation that leaves a plastic-polluted Earth for future inhabitants of this godforsaken planet? Please, let this not be our legacy.

My friend from Lush was telling me about how she'd want to create a zine about plastics and going zero-waste, and she said she'd ask me to collaborate, and I hope this happens! We can talk about Earth Overshoot Day (previously known as Ecological Debt Day)!

*

In the past week or so, I've met quite a few friends for different things. One of them told a story about their best friend, who is in what I would say is an emotionally unhealthy and abusive relationship. So she's only dated this one guy her whole life. This guy doesn't post any photos of her on his social media, then when he's asked about it, he just says "I don't have to display my love for you to the world" which is like, you know, okay enough, I guess. He gets caught sending Instagram DMs to other girls, and all he does is turn around and engage in negging and gaslighting her, asking why she's keeping tabs on him --- which she wasn't, by the way, her Instagram app had his account logged in on her phone, and he forgot about it. But then, then she somehow gets caught in a threesome. Look, I'm all for sexual freedom and adventuring, you do you, boo. But don't do something you never wanted.

So this girl, right, she was having a sexytime session with her douchebag fiancé (that's right, they're engaged), when a mutual girl friend of theirs arrived at their place or wherever, so she leaves the room for a while, to do God knows what, but when she gets back, her fiancé is fucking the other girl. She then feels pressured to join them???? By this time, I'm like, what even the fuck is going on????? Girl, if your boyfriend, no, fiancé is fucking someone else, without your prior acknowledgment and consent, that's not even a threesome, he's fucking cheating on you.

I've been wondering what could motivate her to stick with this fucking dickhead of a man, and the person who was telling me this story, said he's the only guy she's ever dated, and she's given "her all" to him, meaning she lost her "virginity" to him. So now she probably feels like she has no more worth to offer to any other man, and she is of course a Malay-Muslim girl, and this, this is precisely why I think the patriarchy is so insidious and so harmful to my community.

Unless and until all the girls with my racial genetic makeup understand and accept that they are in charge of their own bodies, that we can all sleep around with as many men as we want and are comfortable with, that our worth goes beyond much, much, much more than our bodies, that we have our own brains and agency and that the person who came up with virginity as a physical concept and sexual/slut-shaming was very clearly likely to be a man, this community is fucked. Our mums and dads are telling us to keep ourselves "decent and clean and pure", so we find equally decent men, as if our girls' worth is in just the kind of man she gets to eventually marry. It really riles me up because it's 2018, and if you don't think I can sleep around, and still be able to date a good man, whilst also being proud of myself for just being the awesome, stellar human being that I am, you are dead wrong. Look at me, girls, I'm way past my so-called virginity, and I'm still worth more than most of the men I've dated, and I'm willing to bet, so are you. Men as a gender have to step up, and it is not on you to stay and settle for anyone who doesn't know what you're worth. Oh! Kyrene, one of my friends from work, said something that I really love. Although it's really simple, sometimes I think Asian parents really don't understand the concept. So Kyrene has many tattoos on her body, and her dad asks "what if you find a guy who doesn't like your tattoos?" and she just tells him "so you're okay if a guy looks at me for my body and my skin, instead of my heart and brain and what I can bring to the table?" And it made him shut up, lolol.

*

Mahirah saw that I was reading This Is What Inequality Looks Like, and she'd written a paper on it for school, so I read it, and now I'm putting it up here. If you ever wondered how institutionalised racism works in Singapore, here is the surface of it. I did tiny minor bits of editing for grammar and such, but otherwise, this is what it was.

Which groups in Singapore may be said to experience institutionalised racism and how does this influence their life chances?

The Malay community has long been known to be the race that lags behind in multiracial Singapore. Malays have been ranked the lowest in terms of socio-economic status, educational attainment and have been known for various social problems like high divorce rates and substance abuse (Bin Mohamed Nasir, 2007). Although the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew himself said that it was due to the Malays’ refusal to integrate into Singapore society, academics like Alatas (2012), Rahim (1994) and Barr and Low (2005) have attributed this to the trickle-down effects of post-colonialism, where former British colonisers like Sir Stamford Raffles racialised Malays to be indolent. This was then exacerbated by the Malay community’s refusal to accept English education while the rest of the population had already advanced and cultivated an entire generation of English-educated workers (Bin Mohamed Nasir, 2007).

In 2010, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Racism and Racial Discrimination Githu Muigai concluded that the Malay community has been disadvantaged by certain government policies (Gomez, 2012). In light of his results, this essay will focus on Malays to be a group in Singapore that may be said to experience institutionalised racism. This essay will look into issues such as the tudung ban, Malay men and Military Service, the marginalisation of the Madrasahs as well as the cultural deficit thesis that has been propagated by Singaporean society. An analysis of how these issues will consequently influence their life chances will follow.

There are three concepts to take note of in this essay. First, the Malay community is understood as the Malay-Muslim community. This is because majority of the Malays in Singapore are adherents of Islam. The Malay race has been synonymous to being Muslim in Singapore, such that the Malay self-help group, Yayasan Mendaki, is known as the Council for the Development of Singapore Malay/Muslim community. Hence, this essay recognises that any form of discrimination towards religious practices is also an act of discrimination against the Malay community as Islam is commonly accepted as part of the Malay culture in Singapore. Second, institutionalised racism is when racism is propagated by society’s institutions such as schools, workplace and the government through policies and practices that advantage certain races while discriminating others (Macionis and Plummer, 2012). Third, life chances will refer to more than just the Weberian concept of opportunities that an individual has to improve their quality of life (Weber, Gerth and Mills, 1946), it will also refer to the ability to meet one’s needs that are tangible, like material wealth as well as intangible gains, like inner satisfaction.

The Tudung Ban

The tudung is a headscarf that Muslim women veil themselves with as part of their religious obligations. However, despite living in a multiracial and multi-religious society, the tudung is banned from primary and secondary school students and frontline service jobs like police officers and nurses. The voices of the Malays to fight for their right to observe their religion freely remain ignored when the Ministry of Education (MOE) suspended several school girls for wearing the tudung on school grounds of a local government school (Mutalib, 2011). The banning of the tudung is in direct opposition to the Singapore Constitution that stands to let her citizens practice religion freely. Article 15 states that Singaporeans have the right to ‘profess and practice his religion and propagate it’ (Rahim, 2003, pg. 12).

The ban on the tudung is justified by the MOE on the grounds that standardisation of school uniforms promotes ethnic integration. In a statement, the MOE posited that, ‘The government seeks to expand the common space Singaporeans share. Schools require pupils to wear uniforms, regardless of race, religion or social status. Allowing exceptions would fragment the common space and invite competing demands from different communities’ (Barr and Low, 2005).

The reality of the matter is that there have in fact, been exceptions to this rule of social cohesiveness. Students of the Sikh faith have always been allowed to observe their religion by wearing the turban as part of their school uniform since colonial times (Tan, 2011). If the turban, a blatant symbol of the Sikh religion is allowed on school premises, it begs the question as to why the same exemption is not allowed for the tudung.

This act of discrimination has long been a grievance to the Malay community. Insofar as education is concerned, parents have sought to send their students to Madrasahs so as to allow their children to study without compromising their religious beliefs (Mutalib, 2011). A number of Muslim women have had to discard the tudung when it comes to keeping their jobs (Barr and Low, 2005)

Banning the tudung is a form of forced assimilation (Syed, 2013) as Malays have no other choice but to discard part of their cultural identity in order to integrate and be accepted by society. This form of “culture shedding” (Syed, 2013, pg. 430) violates human rights for freedom of religion and freedom of culture.

This adversely affects their life chances as it can be seen that their opportunities for a better quality of life and their needs to fulfil their religious obligations are not met. It is seen that the Malay community has to jettison part of their cultural identity in order to assimilate into the Singapore society. For the Malays who refuse to assimilate into the secular society and choose to hold on to their cultural identity, they will then have to find other means of education and occupation.

Malay Men and Military Service

Gomez (2012) found that Malays are underrepresented in senior positions in the Military as well as the Police force and the judiciary. He attributes it to the perceived notion that the Malay community is not loyal to the city-state. This can further be seen in how Malays are restricted from areas in the military that are seen as sensitive, including intelligence units and elite guards units (Walsh, 2007).

Literature on this subject has shown that two recurring themes are often the reason why there is so much distrust towards the Malays. First, Singapore is situated between Indonesia and Malaysia, both countries’ with populations made up of a large number of Malay-Muslims. Hence, although the Malay-Muslim community might be a minority in Singapore, they are the majority within the region. In 2000, then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong confessed that the state is wary of the loyalty of Singaporean Malay-Muslims if a war were to erupt against their fellow Malay-Muslims from neighbouring countries (Kadir, 2004). Second, Malay-Muslims are not trusted to put the interests of their nation before the interests of their religion. Again, Lee Hsien Loong justified keeping Malays away from sensitive areas in the military by rationalising that the “government did not want to put any soldier in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may come into conflict with his emotions for his religion” (Mutalib, 2011).

This form of institutionalised racism towards the Malay community is practiced by the military and government bodies. Life chances of the Malays in forms of opportunities for career advancements in institutions like the Military and the Police force are stunted because of their perceived disloyalty. Such discrimination also breeds feelings of being alienated from their own society.

Marginalisation of the Madrasahs

This essay will argue that the Singapore government, whether intentionally or not, marginalises the Madrasahs in Singapore. Madrasahs are private religious institutions that provide both religious and secular subjects. Barr and Low (2005) suggests that Madrasahs provide an alternative education path for female Muslim students to study in an environment that allows them to wear the tudung since it is banned in national mainstream schools.

Madrasahs do not receive any form of funding from the government, seeing as they are private institutions. They operate on the funds from wealthy Muslim families and Muslim organisations as well as donation drives that they initiate from time to time (Mokhtar, 2010). This results in a lack of resources to upgrade school facilities and skills of their teaching staff. Madrasah students are also not awarded the same subsidies as government school students, like Edusave, and have to pay their school fees in full, which is usually a hefty sum (Mokhtar, 2010, pg. 115).

Despite the lack of assistance from the government, it is seen that they are adamant on monitoring and patronising the education provided by Madrasahs. The Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) was drafted up as a registry for the government to keep track of the Madrasah teaching staff (Kadir, 2004, pg. 366). The government  started to impose requirements for Madrasah students to meet an average score of 175 for their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) for each Madrasah. Failure to meet the required benchmark would lead to the closure of the Madrasah (Mohd Nor et al., 2017). Such moves from the government caused tension amongst the Malay community, who felt that the government was adamant on the abolition of the Madrasahs altogether (Kadir, 2004).

When put in perspective vis-à-vis the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, there seems to be a bias in the importance that is placed on education that is in the interest of the Chinese majority. SAP schools are government-funded private institutions that cultivate Chinese culture and proficiency in the Mandarin language (Barr and Low, 2005). These schools receive a lot of funding from the government, despite also being private institutions and are elitist in nature, accepting only the top students of each cohort (Rahim, 2012). Gomez (2012) argued that the existence of SAP schools further marginalises the minority groups in Singapore, especially since the minority groups were not given the same privilege to have a school that is government-funded and exclusive for their race. The implementation of SAP schools promote mono-ethnicity, which goes against the government’s vision of ethnic integration and social cohesiveness- of which their basis of banning the tudung was for.

The marginalisation of Madrasahs brings dissatisfaction and tension amongst the Malays in Singapore (Mohd Nor et al., 2017). It also limits their life chances as their education is not given the same privilege of being fully funded nor monetarily supported by the government. The creation of SAP schools shows that the government favours education in the interest of the Chinese majority. Furthermore, it marginalises non-Chinese minorities like the Malays who will never be able to enrol themselves and experience the high quality education provided by SAP schools.

Cultural Deficit Thesis

Zubaidah Rahim (1998) pointed out that the perpetuation of the Cultural Deficit Thesis by scholars and politicians alike influenced how Malays were being represented. The Cultural Deficit Thesis blames the underperformance of Malays (relative to other races) on their own cultural weaknesses, bad habits and attitudes (Rahim, 1998). The stereotype that Malays are indolent has been an orientalist perception that pervaded during colonial and post-colonial times (Bin Mohamed Nasir, 2007). It is then further propagated by politicians like Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir who suggested that the Malays would need to act more like the Chinese if they wanted to succeed (Rahim, 1992). Then-minister Lee Kuan Yew even went so far as to prove that Malays were biologically an inferior race (Barr, 1999).

The effects of such pervasive racism, propagated by government figures gave legitimacy to the Cultural Deficit Thesis. Such generalisation is problematic, especially for the Malay community. By racialising Malays to be inferior and lazy, they would be entrapped in self-fulfilling prophecy (Merton, 1948), that is when an individual’s expectations of another person causes the said person to behaviourally conform to what was expected of them. This would then potentially cause the Malay community to accept negative stereotypes as the reality of their inherent selves.

The pervasiveness of the cultural deficit thesis also begets internalised racism. A research done by Annas Bin Mahmud elucidates that internalised racism is indeed prevalent amongst Malay youths in Singapore (2014). DuBois, a classical sociologist coined the term “internalised racism” as racist attitudes towards one’s own ethnic or racial group (Black, 2007). Double consciousness as described by DuBois, is “the state of having one’s own sense of self and also having imposed contempt for an ascribed self” (Black, 2007, pg. 394). Putting it in the context of Malays, they face double consciousness as they are first aware of their own identity and yet, they have come to terms with the indolent identity that has been propagated by society. Therefore, the propagation of the cultural deficit thesis is detrimental to the Malays as they become victims of internalised racism and by self-fulfilling prophecy, might end up as what society has deemed them to be.

Cultural theory of prejudice explains that racism becomes rampant as prejudice towards a race becomes widespread and practiced (Macionis and Plummer, 2012). Thus, another ripple effect of the cultural deficit thesis is that the Singapore society at large acknowledges that the underperformance of Malays is due to their own fallacies in their attitudes and values. It is shown in how there have been teachers with negative attitudes towards Malay students who are not on par with their Chinese counterparts academically and how Chinese employers discriminate against Malays (Li, 1989; Rahim 1998). This then promotes a culture of prejudice as racialisation of Malays becomes a part of everyday discourse in society.

Life chances of the Malays are then seen to be limited by their racial stereotypes. This is because they are racialised with negative traits like indolence and racial inferiority. This then not only breeds self-loathing due to internalised racism, but also by society itself due to culture of prejudice. This will have a negative effect on their academic and employment opportunities.

Conclusion

This essay has concluded that Malays are a group that may be said to experience institutionalised racism perpetuated by authoritative governmental figures and institutions like schools and the military. Instances of institutionalised racism were brought up by issues of the tudung ban, Malay men and the military service, the marginalisation of Madrasahs and the cultural deficit theory. How these issues consequently affect their life chances have also been outlined.

The limitations that this essay has is that it failed to show how the Malays have significantly progressed through the years with the help of government policies and educational support provided by the Malay self-help group, Mendaki. However, Rahim (2012) suggests that although there have been absolute socioeconomic and educational gains by the Malay-Muslim community, there is relative deprivation when compared to the progress of other races as the gaps between the races have not been narrowed. More ethnographic research and research can be done to explore how institutionalised racism has affected the lived experiences of the Malay community in Singapore. This could help policy-makers and relevant authorities in Singapore to find ways in which to help narrow the economic disparity between Malays and the other racial groups in Singapore.

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