Is it racist to say this?

Does this phrase offend you?

“You’re my favourite [insert minority race here] person.”

I thought it was racist to call a person your favourite Indian, your favourite Black friend, or your favourite Malay, etc.

I wanted to make a video about this topic because it almost sounds objectifying, like how you talk about your favourite food, your favourite type of exercise, etc.

At the same time, I also understand that’s how you talk about people you respect. You say you have a favourite teacher or boss, you say you have a favourite aunty, for example, and that’s normal.

However, I don’t really hear people saying ‘my favourite White’ or ‘my favourite Chinese’ (Chinese are the majority in Singapore).

So I thought I’d make a video about this, but something was niggling at me at the back of my head, so I took it to Instagram and asked everyone what they thought.

Favourite indian, instagram poll

The results surprised me. The initial results showed that 77% of people did NOT find it offensive to say something like that.

After the story expired, and I filtered the votes to remove voters who were from a majority race, the final results were:

69% (40) thought it was NOT offensive to say it

31% (18) thought it was offensive to say that phrase

Still a pretty big majority.

I asked people to share their thoughts on this.

Here’s what people had to say

On the other hand, here are the thoughts of someone who found it offensive.

Some people said that the offensiveness depends on the context

All this got me thinking about why I found it so offensive to be called someone’s favourite Indian.

To elaborate, I’ve grown up with phrases like:

“You’re pretty… for an Indian.”

And I’ve stood next to my Chinese classmates after sports class as they distastefully pinched their skin and complained to me about their tans, like dark skin was something to be disgusted about.

And I’ve heard Chinese aunties tell their kids that the Indian man would find them if they misbehave.

These incidents are not frequent, by the way. I want to clarify that, because I don’t want to sensationalise things, but I want to acknowledge that they do happen. And that being said, I still think I’m fortunate to live in Singapore where racism is so low compared to other parts of the world.

Now the thing is, I let these racist phrases seep into my thoughts and contaminate the way I think. These things contributed to me believing that I should not be proud of being an Indian.

And that led me to getting offended at being associated as someone’s favourite Indian. Because it felt like…

“Am I only that good? Good enough to be your favourite Indian but not good enough to be one of your favourite people?”

Kind of the same way I was upset that I was “pretty for an Indian” and apparently not pretty enough for a Chinese.

When I took this discussion to Instagram I expected a bunch of people to agree with my views. And as you saw, I got a lot of healthy and constructive discussion, instead. And that helped me realise that I was offended for no good reason.

Yes, there are people who say nasty racist things, but there are also people who mean well, and I need to look at things a little more carefully before being triggered so easily. That was just my take though. 🙂 But it doesn’t need to be your take too.

Because if I learned anything else out of this, it’s that people all have unique triggers and histories that shape the way they think. Take my friend Niroshan for example, who said he found the phrase “favourite Indian” offensive:

His experience is totally different from mine and also entirely valid.

Or look at my other friend who experienced racism as well, but chose to put herself in the shoes of the person and look past their actions:

I hope this post was as eye-opening for you as it was for me. I really enjoyed having this discussion, and I hope people keep talking about race in a way that builds one another up. 🙂 And if you have something you wanna add to the conversation, I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

Lastly, a shameless plug: if you wanna take part in more discussions like this as they happen, follow me on Instagram @saras.take if you haven’t already! 🙂