A female student from NUS Business School penned a heartbreaking account of the latent racism she faced as the only Indian lady within the faculty. She recounted how her majority Chinese schoolmates often spoke in Mandarin and were unaware of her inability to understand what they were talking about. The lady was allegedly warned by an Indian Professor privately that in order for her to succeed, she needed to work extra hard to beat the competition.
Despite her experience with such latent racism in NUS business school, she admitted that such perceived racist experience was not a unified experience which all minorities would undergo. She just wished to let people know these issues exists and to get it off her chest.
“Even before I actually started school, NUS Business School had some orientation event. I remember this particular Indian professor came up to me and in Tamil asked me my name and where I was previously from. After that he then whispered in Tamil, “We are the minority here. You have to work extra hard if you want to succeed here.” I smiled and said that I will. So far, I have never been taught by him and I never really saw him after that incident. I guess those words set the tone for the years that followed.
NUS Business school is predominantly made up of ethnic Chinese. You would see Singaporean Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Indonesian Chinese, Chinese Chinese and what not. I am not complaining. That’s diversity, isn’t it?! It has been drilled into me since I was a kid that I will always be a minority wherever I am unless I work for some Indian organisation. The difference is that up till poly, I always had at least one minority friend in my class.
Suddenly, I was all alone. So they said that to make friends, you need to go for Orientation week and so I did. Don’t worry, this is not about some dirty game that I was forced to play. Coming to think of it, that might have been better(No, I am kidding. I don’t want to lick whipped cream off anyone). We had a lot of games and for some reason, it required everyone to say some “phrases” in Mandarin. I can’t speak Mandarin because I have never learnt it. I struggled to remember the phrases and say it properly. But I tried my best. Having noticed this, my group’s leader came up to me and asked me how come I didn’t know Chinese?
I was taken aback because no one has asked me that before. Like it was an expectation. Everyone in Singapore is supposed to know. I told him that I didn’t take Chinese in school. He got very confused. If the question that he had already asked wasn’t bad enough, he then asked me if I was a Singaporean and if I was born in Singapore. That was a slap on my face. My nationality was questioned because I didn’t speak Chinese. Wow. It was just plain ignorance. I can’t remember what I said after that or if I even said anything at all. I was just stunned.
Since primary school, I have been on the receiving end of Appunehneh jokes and jokes on my skin colour. It doesn’t help that you’re a girl and that too a fat one. I had foolishly hoped that when I go to university, it would all stop because people would be less ignorant. I realized that it had just taken another form.
My first semester was the hardest. When I had entered NUS Business, I had no friends because none of my friends from SP or Yishun Secondary School were in NUS. My brother was starting his first semester in NUS too. But I did not want to bother him as he was finding his way as well. During breaks, I would sometimes join my classmates but they would often speak in Mandarin and I would just not understand.
I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they did not know that I did not understand Mandarin. One day, during a class on cross cultural communication, I shared my experience in NUS Business School where sometimes people leave me out in conversations by speaking in Mandarin. Following that public confession, it just never happened to me again. Maybe it was my fault that I did not tell them the first time they did it. Wait, I think I did. They probably thought that I was just joking. But this is what makes it difficult. You would have to forever be explaining and earning your rights. It would just never come easy.
While the previous incident was bad, it is not bad as the one as the one that I’m about to tell. To commemorate NUS Business School’s 50th Anniversary, there was a Special notebook giveaway at the BBA office. There were limited number of books and being the Kiasu Singaporean who loves freebies, I went to the NUS BBA office to collect it. While the people before me were allowed to just take it and leave, when it came to my turn, the staff told me that they were only for NUS BBA students. I said that I am one.
He asked me to show my matriculation card but seeing that I was going to take it out, he said nevermind and giggled. I stared at him. In a vain attempt of lightening up the situation, he said that he’s a racist and giggled again. I just took the book and left immediately. I was disgusted by the entire event. That was just another reminder that I would have to forever be explaining and earning my rights. It would just never come easy.”
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