In the US press, reviewers praised China Rich Girlfriend for its “entirely non-white setting” and its “people of color” cast, conveniently eliding over Singapore literary history, a canon that has often rendered non-Chinese narratives invisible. The book, partly sent in “multicultural” Singapore, features only Chinese protagonists. Characters of other ethnicities and nationalities exist only for, well, color—a driver named Ahmed, two nameless Thai ladies-in-waiting, a Gayatri Singh, the daughter of a maharaja, who warns that her gem-encrusted dagger is “an ancient Hindu relic” in which a “evil spirit is being held captive” and will cast great misfortune onto the firstborn of the person who unleashes it, serving as a Magical Brown Person™ of sorts. […]
I was frustrated as I read these reviews. Here was a book that was far from forward thinking; none of the reviews examined the ways in which it displayed certain prejudices that are reflective of a specific culture and history. Instead it was being lauded by American liberals, both white and non-white, as progressive. But then I asked myself: would I have received the book in the same way years ago, when I was in New York City desperately searching for books to read that featured non-white characters? We Americans erase layers of oppression by foisting our own frameworks, which reflect the specificity of our culture and history, on others. Every non-white person outside the United States is not a “person of color.”
–Pooja Makhijani on American lenses.
As a non-USian, the US-centric nature of progressive discourse, especially around race, certainly is… interesting, isn’t it?