“Malays had the highest number of infections at 62,953 cases, followed by the Chinese at 12,687 cases and the Indians at 6,929 cases.”
Instead of stating that approximately 82,569 Malaysians are infected, apparently it was necessary to provide a racial breakdown. The statistics could have been arranged in numerous ways, but in Malaysia, it always comes down to race.
Granted, race can be relevant when looking at certain elements (sickle cell anaemia, lactose intolerance, breast cancer, etc.), and may even be relevant to HIV/Aids in certain cases. But in Malaysia, nothing seems complete without a comment on race — the topic the country loves to pretend that it doesn’t love talking about.
As documented by historian Dr Farish A. Noor, Malaysia was once a hub, a cosmopolitan place of trade where many different-looking people with different ideas met and for the most part got along. Farish poses a question: Should children born today in Germany be blamed for the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust? Similarly, should a child born in Egypt today be congratulated for those fantastic pyramids?
According to Farish, we are all born with a clean slate where we can either do something constructive and good or we can do something destructive and bad. Our ancestor’s accomplishments or mistakes are not our own, nor should we be defined by race. Race alone should not be a benefit or detriment to anyone. The only reason why it does is because we choose to let it happen.
Sadly, Malaysia is race-obsessed and many individuals feel that their right to this country is historically verified. Their feelings can exist in reality because racism is ingrained in the government, schools, and religious affiliations. After colonial rule, Malaysia was left with a political system divided by race. Allegiance was determined by colour. As quoted in The Star, Malaysian politician Datuk Chang Ko Youn said:
“Malaysia has practised racial politics for fifty-one years and we know it is divisive as each party only talks on behalf of the racial group it represents... It is easy to be a Malay hero, a Chinese hero or an Indian hero but it is difficult to be a Malaysian hero”
For whom should one vote? The United Malay National Organization, the Malaysian Chinese Association or the Malaysian Indian Congress. I can’t imagine voting for the White Party of Canada, nor it being allowed to exist.
Malaysia’s racial problems are systemic. It starts with children being sent to race-centric and religious schools where they learn misconceptions about “the other.” These messages are confirmed by adults in their conversations. Finally, the whole process is legitimised when voters keep electing the same people who create and support policies based upon race. The result? A national consciousness dedicated to the misunderstanding of one another along racial lines.
To see affirmative action existing for a nation’s majority is a strange experience. Malaysia is the only country, other than South Africa, with such policies in place. Most hard-working Malays I know want nothing of it, and I don’t think they would want to be included with Post-Apartheid South Africans.
When someone does something immoral or bad, the first question an average Malaysian will ask will concern the race of the perpetrator. A conversation will then follow how this incident confirms prejudice. Please don’t mistake my words for “the foreign experience.” Many Malaysians feel the same way I do, and they want to see this changed.
1 Malaysia is a cool slogan, but it isn’t much more than that? How can harmony be achieved when racism is so deeply engrained in the fabrics of society? Racism here is top down, and those at the bottom are feeling the weight of it daily.
It is the job of citizens to realise this and do something about it. Don’t tell me it will always be this way. It hasn’t always been this way, and it will eventually change. If Malaysia’s only company is South Africa, I think change is coming sooner than later.
The more the media, religious leaders, political authorities and families in Malaysia encourage racialised thinking and deter honest discussions, the longer this land of “tolerance at best” will exist.
I think the young citizens of the country care about human rights, equality and fairness. The threat of race riots seems like a great mechanism to keep things the way they are. But I think Malaysian citizens know this will not happen again — as many have already broken the mould in their everyday lives and are just waiting for authorities, policies, and regulations to follow suit.
Many young people are standing up against the old way of doing things. Interracial relationships, the push for removal of race and religion from government documents, citizens demanding better public schools, the end of affirmative action for the racial majority, and an overall awareness of similarity between Malaysians as opposed to difference will leave Malaysia a country with different looking humans living in it — and everyone living with an opportunity to prove themselves.
Race does matter. Race is closely connected with a people’s history, culture and language. We cannot ignore the fact there are obvious physical differences which play a role in social interaction. However, when racism becomes ingrained in the national psyche, we have a huge problem.
I am not here to tell people what to do. Unfortunately, my ancestors once walked around the world claiming racial superiority and a lot of people believed it. However, I will go as far to say that a paradigm based on true equality is better than one that pays lip service to equality but still puts people into artificial categories.
In closing, here is a rhetorical question: Can we be human first?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.