For us to change the course of this country, we will need everyone to participate, calls Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
In the wake of the flag-burning incident in Penang, the chokehold incident in Johor and the racial mob unrest in Low Yat Plaza, most Malaysians are now more than aware of the violent natures that arise from bigotry, ignorance and fear.
Racism makes us uncomfortable and angry. Racism makes us feel small and minuscule.
We find it frustrating when we come across remarks that oversimplify diversity and the philosophies of religion.
Our country needs to find a way to address this without the fear of being seditious, treacherous or branded as a dissident.
The government is fully aware of how easy it is to pit us against one another by simply exploiting our insecurities and lack of cultural understanding.
Those in power had also recreated a narrative which broadcasts the impression that a particular race is more prone to violence and, because of this, the “pendatang” should know their place.
Recently, Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh proposed that the government seriously consider introducing legislation aimed at combating “racial hatred in the country before it reaches levels which cannot be controlled”.
He pointed out that bigotry was a global issue and needed political intervention to rectify race relations within communities.
“It has reached a level warranting legislative intervention in other jurisdictions,” and “the law must come down hard on that irresponsible minority to send out a clear message that there can be no room, even the slightest, for racial hatred in the country.”
Countries like the United Kingdom (Public Order Act, 1986 and the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, 2006) and Australia (Racial Discrimination Act, 1975) have introduced lawful regulations to curb racism.
In these countries, any individuals found guilty of committing any offences related to inciting racial or religious hatred are subjected to state sanctioned punishment.
These offences are also defined as any “circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people and where that act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group” and “further outlaws communication in the form of words, sounds, images or writing to the public with racial undertones”.
But our challenge is that we need to revamp the entire system; we must crush institutional racism for us to begin to talk about equality and diversity.
Institutional racism is any system of inequality based on race – a concept Malaysians are too familiar with, where various institutions such as public government bodies, private business corporations (such as media outlets), and universities (public and private) have executed such bigoted policies.
William Macpherson defined the term as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
However, our problem lies in the fact that, for the longest time, Malaysians have been told to refrain from ever discussing anything that could disrupt the racial harmony that exists in our country.
Since our independence, we have been programmed to fully trust our government and to rely on them without ever batting an eyelid.
We’re told to never question the ruling elite because they have our best interest at heart – of course, now we know this comes with a nominal fee of RM42bn and then some.
As a result of this sanctioned passivity, we have bred a generation who suffer from political apathy or are too nervous to make a stand.
Of course, racism isn’t the only problem our country has to deal with but tackling this, somehow, can foster a healthier relationship among Malaysians, and this can unite us to fight the common enemy.
We can’t change this country by ourselves as every single Malaysian plays an important role in paving the way for much-needed reforms; each individual citizen is assigned a special task and has a designated role to play.
For us to change the course of this country, we will need everyone to participate. There is no way around it and we have to do it together – as Malaysians, as a nation united under the Federal Constitution.
It will take some time before we can see significant changes but the groundwork towards that change must take shape now.