Only when the racist monster within us is destroyed will we be free to live in peace, justice and happiness in a truly united nation, writes Malaysian Legacy.
When I was house-hunting, a few casual rather careless remarks, made by some people I had to deal with, made me feel that despite the general agreement that we need change in this country, a portion of Malaysian society is not ready to accept a multiracial Malaysia.
One of the most unexpected questions that came up was, “Do you mind if the landlord is Indian?” My reply was, “No, I don’t.” To me this was a non-issue. I’ve had an ethnic Indian landlord before whom I felt very lucky to have, as he was very kind to me when I was bereaved. I have many Indian friends, with whom I have lived. Anyway, some of my relatives are ethnic ‘Chin-dian’, and we grew up ethnically colour-blind.
Another comment that was quite upsetting was, “ Good thing the movers are Chinese, Indians will steal your things.” This kind of comment, really makes me bristle. I’ve also had Indian movers before, and they were honest people. Such comments exhibit the latent racism that comes with stereotyping and false generality that permeates our everyday lives, without us even being aware of it.
In fact, having an appearance of undefined ethnicity due to my mixed-race lineage, I have quite often been ‘hit’ by racial abuse from strangers who know nothing about me and even from some acquaintances. One day, I was told by a relative’s so-called friend, that my parents were not my parents because I don’t look like them. Yes, I am of slightly darker complexion, but if this person had any eyes in his head (and if he had any brains), he would have seen the resemblance and kept his fat mouth shut, out of courtesy. Obviously he lacked that as well. I knew what he was thinking – that I was the Indonesian domestic worker looking after the old people. (Not that Indonesian maids are to be frowned upon.) What an idiot!
There was another incident, quite a long time ago, when I was walking into a Chinese coffee-shop and an elderly Chinese man with a dog deliberately let the dog come near me because he thought I was Malay. This kind of malicious action is what forms the basis of incitement to racial hatred. It is contemptible behaviour and shows utter disrespect, not only for Malays and Muslims, but also for everyone else. Such racist action perpetuates segregation and could cause a backlash if I was really a Malay.
Another incident around the same time was, a friend of mine died in a hit-and-run accident because some passers-by refused to help him. They thought he was a Malay. In fact, he was Chin-dian, his father being Tamil and mother, Chinese. He died because he had dark skin and a mixed-race look that was misconceived as Malay. The other party involved in that accident has never been found or brought to justice, for his death. This racial inhumanity does not justify leaving another human being to die by reason of his being of apparently different ethnicity. It is in fact, one of the most heinous aspects of racism that should be classified a crime, as it is in some other countries.
Some perceive incidences of police brutality also to have inherent and apparently racial elements, as can be seen from the large number of cases involving working class Indians, over the years. However, vicious violence has also been committed against persons of Chinese ethnicity, and more frequently, at present, against indigenous communities and migrants (non-citizens) in this country.
I have also experienced racial abuse by Indians and Malays, but for the most part, these incidences are far less in number than those I experienced from some of the Chinese community. The impact of this has psychologically caused me to disclaim any identification with that ethnic community, because I do not belong there. Being officially categorised as Chinese feels like a lie, which I don’t wish to live. I’d rather put myself into the “Other” category. Yet, it would be unfair to generalise and develop a prejudicial attitude towards all persons of Chinese ethnicity. There are good people amongst them, whom I have met and live with.
Being ethnically categorised as Chinese is a misnomer, as I was never brought up in Chinese culture, nor is any Chinese dialect normally spoken amongst my family. Even my grandmother, who was Straits Chinese, spoke a mixture of Malay and English, most of the time. My father’s mother, being Portuguese Eurasian, also spoke Malay and English. Those languages were the lingua-franca of yesteryear, and in the old days even the European Christian missionaries spoke Malay. I know this from my parents’ recollection of the old days. During my school days, I met very old Catholic nuns, of European ethnicity, who spoke to me in Malay, rather than English. They probably originated from France, spoke French amongst themselves, and used Malay to communicate with the locals.
Most of my life has been spent in multiracial neighbourhoods. We played very happily and peacefully with other children of different ethnicity, but our innocence was spoilt by adult perceptions that imposed racial barriers between us as we grew up. It was made worse by communal politics advocated by a communally divided regime, under which this country’s unity is being further fragmented by racial and religious politics. 1Malaysia is but a lie.
The inherent divisiveness of the political structure in Malaysia has brought out the latent racist monsters within ourselves that have been translated into xenophobia towards migrants in general; especially those of working class and non-white ethnicity. If we fail to recognise and eliminate these racial attitudes within ourselves, we are not only isolating ourselves and ill-treating others, but glorifying our division and disunity.
If we really want change, we have to change our own mindsets and racial attitudes, before Malaysia can become a truly united, multiracial nation. The acceptance and respect of our diverse cultures, faiths and skin colour is crucial to the unity, harmony and prosperity of this country.
When the racist monster within is destroyed, people will be free to live in peace, justice and happiness in a truly united nation.
Malaysian Legacy is a frequent contributor to TA Online.