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Title of Conference: Does Invisible Privilege Travel? Looking Beyond the Geographies of White Privilege.

 

Speaker: Asst Prof Walid Jumblatt Bin Abdullah, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

 

Title of paper presented: Chinese Privilege in Politics: A Case Study of Singapore's Ruling Elites

 

Date and Time: 3 May 2019, 2.40pm

 

Venue: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (ARI, NUS)

 

Moderator: Ho Kong Chong (ARI, NUS)

 

Abstract/Short Description of the Conference:

 

The politics of identity is becoming increasingly salient. Being an undocumented immigrant in the United States, a Muslim in India or an asylum seeker in Australia today has a considerably disproportionate impact not just on quality of life indicators, but also for access to basic human rights and civil liberties. Within this context of rising conservatism and racialised modes of nationalism in the US, Europe and parts of Asia, the concept of racialised privilege has been reinvoked as a useful means to understand how collective resentment, and structural as well as everyday inequalities manifest. Much recent research interrogates the implications of white privilege in the United States (Khan 2011, Sullivan 2017) as well as the UK (Bhopal 2018) and compellingly demonstrates unequal outcomes in education, incomes and job opportunities. These studies take the established notion of ‘white privilege’ (McIntosh 1988), to demonstrate that despite enabling institutions of social mobility such as meritocracy and affirmative action, race, together with socio-economic status and gender, can become a static and stubborn structural impediment that requires more severe actions to dismantle. The concept of privilege, which has been described as an “invisible package of unearned assets”, however, unlike related notions of (new) racism, discrimination, xenophobia or social capital, has not travelled or been translated readily across geographical contexts that don't have a white majority. Barring a few studies on gender privilege in South and Southeast Asia (Sen & Stivens 1998; McKay 2011; Sharafi 2014), there are remarkably few studies on privilege in Asia. The invisibility of this concept in scholarly research on Asian societies is jarring especially since Asia, including and especially Southeast Asia, has been a popular site for inter-ethnic strife and violence. While social tensions and inequalities are attributed to class privilege (Pinches 1999, Teo 2018), it is striking that there is little academic research and literature on intersecting racialised forms of privilege. One of the key strands of this conference is devoted to exploring whether the concept of "invisible privilege," developed to explain how white America understands itself as blameless in the oppression of its own racial minorities, and even understands itself as the victim, can travel to Singapore to better understand the position of the local Chinese community in relation to ethnic minority groups. Much of the research on multiracialism in Singapore fosters the image of a peaceful and harmonious society where living in close proximity in a land scarce country has increased understandings of cultural diversity (Benjamin 1976; Clammer 1998; Hefner 2001; Ong, Tong & Tan 1997; Lai 1995; Quah 1990; Vasil 2000). On the other hand, many scholarly works on Singapore also touch on social and racial inequality (Trocki 2006) or focus on outright discrimination experienced by ethnic minorities in the city-state (Rahim 1998; Tremewan 1994; Velayutham 2017; 2016; 2014; 2009). It is in relation to this existing body of work that we consider the possible intellectual contributions of adopting ‘privilege’ as an analytical framework. In this conference, we are bringing together scholars who interrogate how racialised privilege intersects with other vectors of difference such as immigration status, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic class. In understanding how race operates relationally, we want to move past subjective and idiosyncratic understandings of invisible privilege and interrogate the cumulative everyday as well as institutional nature of inequality and its consequences.

 

Short Description of paper presented:

 

This article aims to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of privilege as a conceptual category through the case study of Chinese privilege in Singapore politics. It does so through two main ways. The first is by foregrounding the salience of race in the analysis of privilege. We argue that the existing focus on class privilege within the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) should go hand-in-hand with the study of Chinese privilege since the PAP hegemony has significant implications on the very nature race is constructed, understood and implicated in Singapore politics and society. Furthermore, PAP’s race-based approach to politics inadvertently perpetuates Chinese privilege. The second way is by analysing political privilege through an intersectional lens in order to show that ‘political privilege’ is neither a homogenous nor a monolithic category. In discussing how Chinese privilege manifests in politics, we highlight several contradictions that have emerged as a result of its persistence. These include the paradox of minority representation in parliament, the tension between Chinese hegemony and the government’s system of meritocracy, as well as the differentiated experience of PAP’s parliamentarians due to their intersecting identities.

 

About Speaker:

 

Walid Jumblatt Abdullah received his PhD under a Joint Degree Program between National University of Singapore (NUS) and King's College, London. He works on state-Islam relations, and political parties and elections, with particular focus on Singapore and Malaysia. He has published articles in internationally peer-reviewed journals such as Democratization, International Political Science Review, Government and Opposition, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Asian Survey, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Journal of Church and State, among others. His research interests include state-religion relations, political parties and elections, political Islam, and Southeast Asian politics.

 

 

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