"Chinese Privilege": Teaching Race and Technology in Singapore


Monamie Bhadra Haines, Nanyang Technological University

What does it mean to teach undergraduates about race and technology in a Singaporean context where race is the veritable “superstructure” of society, with nationally-recognized races divided into Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other? Why should Singaporeans learn about the global slave trade and anti-racist activism in the United States? These are questions I grapple with in teaching students about race and technology in a nonliberal-democratic context where meritocracy is the dominant ideology, and where the majority of students view race as biological, and technology as deterministic. Drawing on auto-ethnographic experiences from (1) teaching contemporary social theory and STS at Nanyang Technological University, (2) my participation in Singapore's “Invisible Privilege” conference in 2019, as well as (3) analyzing the recent “brownface” controversy, I articulate the challenges of teaching about race and technology, both separately and together, in Singapore. In particular, I discuss attempts by scholars to distance themselves from importing "liberal" critiques of race and technology from Western contexts. Singaporean scholars argue that Singapore’s historical trajectory diverges from the West’s history of slavery and violent racism, and as such, liberal theoretical constructs of critical race theory do not apply. Instead of theorizing racism as embedded in discourses of structural violence, Singaporean racism is viewed as more “nuanced” in Singapore. To this end, I discuss the pedagogical challenges of situating Singapore and so-called “Chinese privilege” in a context of white-supremacy and anti-blackness, especially when considering the work of migrant construction and foreign domestic workers from South and Southeast Asia.


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

March 20, 2020 - 7:33am

Critical Commentary

Abstract submitted to 4S 2020 open panel on Transnational STS.