Studies show that prejudice normally occurs whenever there are differences in population. However, no matter what race, religion, color or creed you are there seems to be a natural sense of prejudice that subsists in every human being. After talking to Vinod Sundram (who likes to be called “V”), a University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point international student from Singapore majoring in Psychology, I found that prejudice might occur even in light-hearted moments that are not necessarily meant to hurt an individual or group of people.
V told me about his experience of prejudice regarding his race and nationality. Most people he interacts with or comes across initially assume that English is not his first language. Assuming that it is not, these people are normally shocked whenever he opens his mouth. V shared a particular story with me about a conversation he had on the phone with a lady from the admissions office when he was applying to California State University – Stanislaus. As the conversation progresses, she was appalled by the fact V spoke really good English, but what she does not know is that English is his first language. V recounts their conversation:
“You speak really good English for a Singaporean,” said the lady from the Admissions Office CSUS.
In response V said, “You speak really good English for an American.”
The lady was tickled by V’s comment, “But English is my first language, honey.”
“So is mine, darling,” said V, and both boiled over in laughter just as we both did as he retold me the story.
I found it fascinating (more so a gift), that he could take such an event and find humor in it. However, I pondered if this was a possible solution for common cases of prejudice. Although, there was humor in the situation, should we entertain ignorance? When is it fit to be staged? Or is it ever? As I sought to answer these questions, V told me about another prejudice experience complemented by a pinch of comedy.
V was playing soccer, and two of his teammates were trying to get his attention, but didn’t know his name. V, in the heat of the game heard them but didn’t respond immediately. He overheard the two plotting how they are going to get his attention. One suggested that maybe sign language might work.
V finally responded, “Dude, I know English.”
The two laughed it off and once again a potential hurtful moment ended in amusement.
I asked V why he thinks this happens and he educated me on some colonial history. He said that Singapore, located in South East Asia, was once a British colony and that their influences are still alive in Singaporean culture. V told me that he is often asked, “What are you?” He said his response is similar to if they want to know his race or nationality.
“My race is Indian but my nationality is Singaporean,” V said.
Due to Singapore being under British rule, Singaporeans can speak English well. However, many people are not aware of this and this normally indicates the prejudice. On the contrary, for those who do know, they notice V’s accent.
“V does speak really good English but you can also hear his accent,” said Kayla Schultz, a junior Health Administration major.
We say bathroom, V says Loo, which is the British word for toilet. We say dance and pronounce it [dans, dahns]. V says dance and pronounces it [Dhaun-ce]. V shares with me that sometimes the British influence in him comes out but this is because of the history behind the Singaporean culture.
Essentially we all have accents and come from different places but this never means anyone is ever a candidate of prejudice. This is not an attempt to convict any of us but to shine a light on the small prejudice inside us all that comes out at times. However, if the shoe fits, wear it. After all, it was a good fit.