Experiencing Systemic Racism In Singapore: “It Has Taken Me A Long Time To Love The Colour Of My Skin”

As told to ELLE Singapore by Faz Gaffa-Marsh, 33, freelance writer and marketeer:

I’ve experienced prejudice all my life just from the colour of my skin. The first time I was made very aware that I was different from everybody else was in a classroom, when I was nine years old — my teacher pointed out that she didn’t want me answering her questions because my skin was “black”. This of course, opened doors to years of torment from my peers.

It continues even today. I walked into an elevator a few weeks ago in a bright dress and two women commented in a language they thought I wouldn’t understand that my skin was too dark to wear colours that bright. So, I told them off in their language.

It has taken me a very long time to appreciate and love the colour of my skin and to love myself, and I will not hesitate to stand up for myself (or throw a punch if I need to), or someone else who’s being discriminated against.

There is a lot of systematic racism in Singapore, starting from SAP (Special Assistance Plan) schools that celebrate Mandarin-speaking children and casting everybody else aside, to jobs that require candidates to speak Mandarin even though operationally, the role is conducted in English.

Look around you — how racially diverse are your teammates? Or your closest group of friends?

Whenever people become mired in a racial controversy, they’re likely to declare that “some of their best friends are Indian.” In reality, most people in the majority race don’t actually have close friends of a different race. When I was 17 [and] in polytechnic, a friend told me that I was the first Indian — and the first Muslim — friend she’s ever had. How did a Singaporean girl who’s gone through an entirely Singaporean education like I have, have had only Chinese friends? It’s incredulous to me, and I’m willing to bet it still happens today.

Racial prejudice happens everywhere. It’s whether you want to acknowledge that it exists, and talk about it, or you don’t want to and sweep it under the rug. Or worse, penalise those who are already prejudiced. Many times, it’s frustrating. Why is it okay for you to treat me less than just because of the colour of my skin? I’ve stopped turning a blind eye a long time ago and I will teach my son to do the same. I learned the hard way that nobody will stand up for me unless I did it for myself first — something that my father taught me. Nothing is going to change if I don’t call out on it.

For every time I’ve written about racism or talked about it, someone from the majority race has told me that I’ve taken things in the wrong context, or that it was a joke, or that they’re not racist because they have Indian friends.

Here’s the thing — it’s racist because I, as a member of a minority race, felt racially victimised.

As someone who makes me feel this way, you’re the racist perpetrator in this situation, and you shouldn’t make me feel like my feelings are invalid. It’s great that I too have the physical strength to break someone’s nose if I have to (ha!) but true strength, I think, lies in standing up for those who can’t — or don’t have the means to. And for that reason, I will keep using my voice to help anybody who feels victimised in any situation.

I think, like the HeForShe movement, the majority needs to check and recognise their privilege; that it’s not the minorities’ job to educate you about racism.

We’ve talked about it time and again (and yes, it includes Blackface) so it’s time you listen. And when you see something, do something.

Don’t just sit back and then rant about it on Facebook later.

A version of this story was first published in ELLE Singapore’s January 2020 issue.



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