Disclaimer: This might be a controversial post. This is my first time writing about my racism experiences at university. I am not saying that all Indians in NUS Business School undergo the same experiences as me. It is not a unified experience but that doesn’t change the fact that I did experience these. All incidents described here are true incidents. I have only expressed my experiences so that people know that they exist. I do not intend to defame anyone or any organisation.
It’s one of those days. I can’t control my tears. Oh no, my eye liner’s getting smudged. God, this is so embarrassing. I hope no one sees me. I wish I was invisible. If someone does see me, I am going to say that it’s just watery eyes as a result of my sinus problem. Yes, that’s pretty believable. Sigh. When I had conceived the idea of writing this blog, I had wanted to only write about the positive stuff. Why burden you with my sad stories? But well, there’s always something to learn, isn’t it?! This will be a reminder to my self, my children and my grandchildren. There will be tough times and you’ll get over it. It might seem like it couldn’t get any worse. But you’ll rise stronger each time.
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.
Well, it isn’t all bad. Given the emphasis on class participation marks, it’s important that the professors remember you in the first place. Looking different and having a different way of thinking helps to set me apart from the rest of the class and to be remembered. On the flipside, it could be bad because you can’t just skip classes. The professor would know if you’re not there. But I don’t skip classes anyway. I am a good student you know! Haha! Similarly, the cleaners and librarians remember you and you have the frequent exchange of greetings. Well, I do not receive any economic benefits from it but sometimes hearing good morning from a smiling face is all that you need to make your day.
Why am I crying today? I am usually fine with racist jokes. Maybe the jokes that I heard today were just really bad. Maybe I had tolerated this for so long that today I just broke down. Maybe today there were some personal insults as well. Maybe it’s because I am PMSing. Maybe I just feel so lonely. Maybe I am just tired. I don’t know. I think I am the only Indian girl in my course. It hasn’t been easy. Not everyone is like the people described in this post. I do have some nice classmates I guess. I have tried my best to assimilate. But the more I try, the more I feel like a misfit. Maybe accepting me into NUS Accountancy was an error on the Office of Student Admissions side. This is just preparation for the real world where I may be the only Indian girl in a crowded room. I am probably going to sleep it off and act like nothing happened when I wake up just as I always do. It will all be okay.
P.S. This post was written yesterday(23/2/2017) on my phone but only posted today.
Also read the follow up on this here.