Berdiri sama tinggi, duduk sama rendah

Attending the briefing as a volunteer at the 2019 iteration of the Both Sides, Now project at Telok Blangah in 2019. The carnival nature for that year's programme is evident in the background. Photo courtesy of Both Sides, Now.


Imagine the bitter pill of swallowing the fact that your community is never good enough [i].

Imagine being force-fed this toxic concoction of your community as lagging behind over and over again on a range of indicators from education, employment to housing, from when you were in primary school all the way to your adult life.

When I was young, they told 'us', the successful Malays, that we were not like 'other' Malays. We had, despite the odds stacked against us, managed to resist the stereotypes frequently ascribed to our community. Now, it was our duty to save the rest of our backward community from its myriad of chronic diseases and penchant for unhealthy eating habits and steer them towards the path of good health.
I am ashamed to say that, when I was young, my impressionable mind believed this myth. As I grew older and got the chance to attend university, this myth was thankfully supplanted by another. The Myth of The Lazy Native [ii].
In school, my non-minority classmates, friends and even professors have confronted me with questions such as “Eh, why are you so angry ah? Why do you walk around with a chip on your shoulder? You are not like other Malays what! That’s why you’re here.”

And so, the collection of authors in this volume and I, we write. We write to claim space, we write to let you know we exist. We write, as members of minority communities, not as 'problems' to be solved, but to be on equal footing with the rest of society. As we say in Malay, “Berdiri sama tinggi, duduk sama rendah” [literally stand as tall, sit as low; to be neither higher nor lower].

I write, in the hopes of performing a kind of Heimlich manoeuvre to collective society and the readers, to send the message that instead of swallowing this bitter pill of problematic minorities, we should instead spit it out. Only then can we work towards solutions premised on cultural competency and collaboration across ethnic and class lines.

I write, to draw attention to what such a solution might look like: 

Attending the 2021 iteration of the programme as a member of the research team. 2021's and 2022's edition were tailored for the Malay community. A livestream of the event can be found here and a podcast explicating the process can be found here. Photo courtesy of Both Sides, Now.

I write, not to 'save' others, but in the hopes that people will stop asking “Why are you so angry?” and join me in being angry at racialised initiatives that are at best wasteful and at worst, harmful. I write, because I know I have had, and continue to have, the privilege of a university education (and time not spent in backbreaking labour which decimates my body and health). I write, to utilise my platform and vocabulary to resist dominant mainstream narratives of our communities as pathologically problematic. 

I write because my attendant privileges make it impossible not to. I write, on behalf of those who cannot afford to.

Siti Hazirah Binte Mohamad
Contributor to Brown Is Redacted: Reflection on Race in Singapore


[i] As I pen this very letter from 15 000 km away, a friend sends me a missive from Singapore: PM Lee is telling the Malay community that we have made great progress but must aim higher. But what if every time you aim higher, your efforts get ravaged by socioeconomic forces beyond your control? What if every time you even attempt to aim, you find yourself faced with a moving target? The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2022,  Accessed 3 October 2022.

[ii] Alatas, S. H. (1977). The Myth of the Lazy Native. London: Frank Cass.


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