What does it mean to be comfortable in one’s own skin? I’ve never seen myself as “brown”, because I think it’s so essentializing to describe someone by the colour of their skin. I am not ashamed to call myself Malay, but I don’t want to be a colour.
I guess the complexities were only amplified when I chose to wear the headscarf. As much as I get so tired of the headscarf debate, my decision to wear the headscarf necessitates my being set apart. I am marked for life. I am never completely anonymous because I am always set apart as a Muslim. And with everything that has to do with Islam, every rape victim that gets punished by the law in Saudi Arabia and every report of women’s oppresion being justified by Islam, I am expected to know all the answers. Because as the minority, I am the point of reference.
I am made to feel apologetic about the antics of my supposed brethren, in contexts I cannot comprehend, for reasons I cannot fully fathom. Because I was born and raised here, in Singapore, not there, and they are outsiders to me too.
It is not that I have nothing to apologize for. It has always irked me when both the majority and the minority subscribe to false dichotomies of absolute acceptance and complete rejection. The objective should never be to turn everyone to your point of view. Integration is not a unidirectional process. It recognizes the existence of various cleavages and respects those cleavages without reducing the diversified experiences of various social segments to a facade of supposed equality.
What I must understand, is that there is a time and place for apology, and that apologies do not apply in each and every situation. I must demand respect for my beliefs while giving others the respect they deserve to know that they are just as entitled to disagree with me.
I must acknowledge and apologize for the existence of antagonists and living stereotypes within my community, but I must demand the right not to be thrown conveniently into the same category and treated as a unit within a perfectly homogenous community.