Actor Tay Ping Hui clarifies that he did say he had Chinese privilege at dialogue

Tay Ping Hui said at a dialogue on race at the weekend that he grew up experiencing Chinese privilege.
Tay Ping Hui said at a dialogue on race at the weekend that he grew up experiencing Chinese privilege.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Actor Tay Ping Hui on Monday (July 26) clarified his position on the concept of Chinese privilege, saying he did grow up experiencing it in the years before he entered junior college.

"I suffered from a condition known as 'Chinese privilege'," he said.

"When I say Chinese privilege, I do not mean that I thought I should have any sort of special privilege, nor that the Chinese race was superior in any way.

"It was more of a feeling that there wasn't a need for me to understand the perspectives of the other races, their beliefs and culture."

This came after The Straits Times published an article at the weekend on comments that he made at a dialogue on race organised by government feedback unit Reach and Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao.

ST had reported, based on an English interpretation of Mr Tay's remarks in Mandarin, that he had grown up with a majority blind spot instead of Chinese privilege.

This drew some attention on social media platforms, with Twitter users arguing that the two terms were essentially the same or could be experienced at the same time, although a top-rated comment on Reddit said Mr Tay had "hit the nail on the head".

On Monday, Mr Tay provided an English version of his speech at the dialogue, in which he shared that he had grown up in a very "Chinese" environment. This included speaking Mandarin at home, attending a Special Assistance Plan School, studying Chinese literature, and having more than 90 per cent of friends who are of Chinese ethnicity.

"I was very comfortable being around most of the things which were Chinese-based and hence I never really felt the need to know more about other races and cultures," he said.

"It was only when I went to (junior) college, army, then university, (that I gained) the opportunity to meet and interact with friends from other races, countries... people with different beliefs. It was during that time that I came to a realisation that there were so many things that I did not know."

He acknowledged that this was Chinese privilege.

"There's a term that is also used nowadays, which is called 'majority blind spot', or kind of a racial blind spot," Mr Tay added.

"I had that blind spot too, until a time when I had to travel after my graduation from university. I was in Australia and the United States, where I experienced some pretty intense racial discrimination. I was referred to with derogatory racist names and it made me realise even more how it was like when I was no longer the majority."

This experience, he said, made him truly understand how it felt to be part of the minority, where others did not see a need to understand their perspective.

"I believe that there might be many within the Chinese community who still do not see a need to understand the history, traditions and perspectives of other races and cultures. They might think that it is not important, but it is," said Mr Tay.

Because only when we open our minds to actively seek to understand others' perspectives, will we be able to have constructive discussions.

"Be it Chinese, Malay, Indian or others, it is an important step that we should take to understand that the things we've come to believe, what we think, are not always the given truth. It is my hope today that this is what the Chinese community can do for our society."