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Pet Sins May 2005

East Asian and Southeast Asian prejudices against South Asians

Prejudice seems to be a human universal. Even those of us who have suffered discrimination find it easy to turn around and dish it out to someone else. Here, a few readers share their experiences with East Asian and Southeast Asian prejudice against South Asians:

There are many Chinese in Singapore who do not want their children to date or marry Indians. My friend, who is Singaporean Chinese, got engaged to an Indian man from America. When I told my mother the good news, my mother had reservations. She said "Indian men tend to be sexist and wife beaters. European men may be better for her because they respect women more."

Now I don't pretend to have any statistics on the rate of wife-beating in Europe vs India, so I cannot prove or disprove her statement. But I thought it was not fair to type my friend's fiance like that, not knowing anything about him except his race. I always had good Indian male friends who treat me with more respect as an individual than any white man I've met. So I told my mother that my friend's family had seen him and likes him, and that he isn't the kind of person who is sexist or a wife-beater.

Then I described to her all the nice Indian men I met and all the horrible white men I've met. Not that I think Indians are better than Europeans (or vice versa), but I wanted to make the point there are good and bad people in every ethnic group. It did help open my mother's eyes.

X., Singaporean Chinese

I have noticed a similar pattern to the attitudes mentioned in the article The Meeting of Civilizations: Indian Influences on Chinese Culture coming from Chinese immigrants and SE Asians immigrants (Malay, Thai, Singaporean). Being in US, I've met people of all races, and I had never seen any attitudes. My own attitudes changed as I met a few southern white men, who I had previously thought would be more inclined to holding racist attitudes. But it wasn't the case.

I am somewhat lighter-skinned for an Indian and frequently get mistaken by non-Indians as Hispanic/Italian/Middle Easterner (even Jewish once). In one incident, a Thai gentleman's attitude towards me changed (sadly became negative) when he learned that I was Indian (and yet his own name was of Indian origin).

My personal conclusion is that the US is one of the least racist societies in the world.

Y., Indian immigrant in the US

News from Asia

Neighborly Hatred: Violence outside Kuala Lumpur pit ethnic Malays against Indians (TIME Magazine)

A Heritage Denied: Decades of official discrimination have turned Malaysia's ethnic Indians into a disgruntled underclass (TIME magazine)

Comment from 'P'
I found the above description of Thai racism against Indians eye-opening and saddening. As a Chinese, I knew that Chinese racism against Indians was not uncommon. But like many Chinese, I saw the Thais as a less racist people - Thailand is one of the few (or perhaps the only) SE Asian country where ethnic Chinese did not experience significant discrimination from the natives. [Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines had a history of anti-Chinese violence]. Many East Asians (Chinese, Japanese) and Europeans praise Thais for their friendliness and accepting attitudes, thus giving me the impression that Thais are much less racist than say, Chinese and Japanese. But to hear the Indian side of the story leads me to realize that perhaps Thai acceptance does not extend to all races. That the fact that Thais are more accepting than some other ethnic groups does not mean the absence of prejudice.

My Indian friend in the US experienced discrimination in a Thai restaurant, which she used to frequent. She noticed that she and her husband were continually given the worst (smallest, and in cramped quarters) tables, while the best tables went to the whites. Once, the waitress spilled water on my friend's table and she moved herself and her husband to an empty window table. The restaurant staff not only did not apologize for the spilled water, but came to scold her for moving herself without permission. My friend and her husband never went back again.