The Black Lives Matter protests prompts Ch’ng Chin Yeow to reflect on the various manifestations of racism, in a broader sense, so prevalent in our world today.
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ anti-racism protests taking place in a string of major US cities after the brutal murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a white policeman, Derek Chauvin, have gone global. Mass anti-racism protests have taken place in many major cities around the world.
Racism covers a multitude of forms. There is religious racism, interracial racism, intra-racial racism, state-sanctioned racism and inter-nation racism. This list is far from exhaustive.
Religious racism is self explanatory. The obvious example is found in many European countries where right-wing political parties unabashedly target Muslims (both native European Muslims and new migrant Muslims) as being divisive, disruptive and a danger to society.
Muslims are targeted as scapegoats, even though Europe has a long historical link to the Middle East and Africa. Often, little or no weight is given to the historical fact that the first Middle Eastern people and Africans arrived in parts of Europe over a thousand years ago during the Roman Empire, perhaps even earlier.
Another form of ‘racism’ is expressed through religious prejudices or class distinctions – for instance, disapproval of one’s Buddhist son from marrying a Christian or the social frowning of a person from a certain caste from marrying a person of another caste.
Interracial racism is the most traditionally defined racism and is self-explanatory. The dislike, prejudice against, or the jealousy of people from a different racial group is common. We see this interracial racism in Malaysia. Many politicians in Malaysia keep exploiting ethnicity and religion to victimise minorities or target them as scapegoats. In return, some of these minorities react with their own version of racism by hating, disliking or being prejudiced against the majority community.
Thankfully, we have activists like Zainah Anwar, Zaid Ibrahim and many others who are bridge-builders between ethnic groups,, speaking up for minorities who are scapegoated, through no fault of their own, by some racists. These individuals champion a more inclusive Malaysia, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
Unfortunately, this sense of unity for all Malaysians is sometimes unable to transcend national borders. This sets the stage for many Malaysians of all ethnic groups to accept unquestioningly the widely circulated fake and hate messages against the Rohingya. Amazingly, this intense hatred of the Rohingya shows that Malaysians can be truly ‘united’, across racial lines, by being racists!
Sense of entitlement
I believe the superiority complex that elites display towards non-elites within a racial group is another form of ‘racism’, in a broad sense The privileged elites have a strong sense of entitlement: the attitude seems to be “I am more deserving than you and I can do what I want to do because of my position and power“ and “I am a more supreme and important and worthy person than you within my race”.
Politicians who only think about enriching themselves through rent-seeking and corruption, instead of implementing policies for the benefits for all including the poor, are ‘racists’, in this sense. They are betraying people of their own community, and they are acting against the interests of so many people, including those of their own racial background.
State-sanctioned racism happens around the world. Some Muslim-Palestinians are deprived of their right to even renovate their homes. Some are evicted from their homes and lands or blocked from access to their few olive trees (their only worldly possessions). Communities are split and separated by separation walls. There seems to be one law for the Jews and another for the Palestinians. The bullying of the Muslims by settlers, whose main objective, it would seem, is to evict Muslim-Palestinians from their lands and homes and to discriminate against them is ongoing. Perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.
Sometimes such racism takes the form of cultural-religious genocide. In these situations, we see assimilation and dilution of the culture of an entire racial group within a country, through re-education, generational separation, the dilution of the population within their own lands, and the destruction of historical cultural sites like cemeteries and religious buildings.
Inter-nation racism is common. The eternal fear and suspicion between the US and China is a form of inter-nation racism. Instead of dealing with each other amicably and justly, mutual suspicion and fear drives division between the two nations.
More powerful nations routinely exert their power over weaker nations to coerce favourable deals sometimes using threats in the form of trade boycotts and trade retaliation. This is plain bullying.
Other tools are sometimes used to bully weaker nations such as trade sanctions and the granting of odious loans to poorer nations. These loans are not properly risk assessed, and they use as collateral important assets linked to a borrower’s national security. When the poorer nations are unable to service these loans, powerful lender nations will wrest control of these national assets for a lengthy period.
Corrupt leaders in borrowing nations, mostly for their own self-interest, seem to be fond of such odious loans for infrastructure development projects. And so, poorer or developing nations are sometimes forced into accepting such one-sided loan deals. These are all tools used by powerful nations to bully poor nations, a form of inter-nation ‘racism’, in my mind.
Checks and balances are the only way to fight racism. When the video of George Floyd’s murder by the white policeman surfaced, most people in the US, both whites and blacks, men and women, the young and the not-so-young, reacted with disgust. A powerful sense of solidarity coalesced against the great injustices and prejudices the black community has suffered. Many whites who are not underprivileged also came out to support the blacks with compassion, justice and fairness.
The media play an important role in ensuring transparency. There was no cover-up, and indeed, there was no chance of censorship or cover-up. That is the power of democracy.
The power of transparency cannot be overstated. In the US, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery who was shot dead by two white men while jogging in a quiet white neighbourhood in Georgia in February would have been covered up had the video not surfaced. Three white men have since been detained and charged for his murder.
When there is extensive state control over the media or a crackdown on freedom of information and speech, news is “sanitised” to suit the state’s official narrative. In Malaysia, we are lucky that Kevin Morais’ murder and his burial in concrete in an oil drum and the murder of the Mongolian Altantuyaa Shaariibuu were accidentally exposed to us. Had they not been exposed, Pakatan Harapan might not have won the 2018 general election, and Barisan Nasional and Najib Razak would most likely still be in power. This is the power of transparency.
When a blatant act of injustice exposes systemic unfair treatment of a community, the social contract is broken. The resulting resentment cannot be suppressed.
The love for one’s country or government has to be intrinsic. It cannot be enforced by whipping people into submission. Simmering discontentment and anger may eventually flare up.
Inter-nation and state-sanctioned racism are more complicated and harder to resolve. Transparency with constant reporting without fear is still the only way to overcoming these forms of racism.
Ch’ng Chin Yeow has an interest in many issues and subjects, including history, mineralogy and human behaviour. Based in Penang, he truly likes to be a busybody