An Anonymous Malay expresses ambivalent feelings about special rights. Anonymous Cina responds that it is not the Malay but the system that is to blame. Another Anonymous Melayu adds that not all Malays reap the system’s rewards anyway.
31 March 2013 — I am Malay. I went to national schools since Primary One to Form Five. I graduated from a public university.
Being a product of the national education system, I grew up believing the Malaysian ideal: a multicultural society of various races and religions, all living harmoniously despite their differences.
I remember feeling content and blessed that I was born in Malaysia, because we did not have racial wars or anything like that. My family and I would visit our non-Malay friends when they celebrate their festivities such as Chinese New Year or Deepavali, and they would visit us during Raya. In school I could talk and mingle and play with non-Malay friends.
Because of that, I thought the Malaysian formula obviously worked. I accepted the explanation that to maintain this harmony, affirmative action for Bumiputras is necessary. I believed that we were the best example of a multicultural society.
But that belief began ebbing away after my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results came out. You see, my friends and I were excited with our results. We were excited to start pursuing the bright future our parents had hoped for us.
Yet at the same time the subject of our next step to a bright future became an awkward conversation point.
“Where are you going to further your studies?”
That question was a must back then, whether from friends, family members, teachers or the auntie from the school canteen. When talking to another Malay/Bumiputra friend or in company of just Malays and Bumiputras, answering it was not a problem. In fact, it was a nice thing to be discussing because the future seemed so full of possibilities and we were on the verge of actually pursuing our dreams.
However, with mixed company in terms of race, things became awkward. I was accepted into a government matriculation college. But some of my Chinese and Indian friends were not. And since our results were comparable, and in some cases they did better than I did, we were acutely aware that this was due to the quota in place back then.
So that was the whole source of the awkwardness and unease. Was I supposed to feel superior to those friends because I got in and they did not, when all that separated us may have just been our respective races?
At the same time I wonder, did they feel some resentment because of this? That they were perhaps denied the same chance I got just because of their ancestry, which they could not do anything about?
Since then I have never spoken to those friends without feeling shameful and a little apologetic inside.
Yes, special rights and aid to Malays are enshrined in the Constitution. I am thankful for the doors it has opened for me because today I have a university degree, a stable job, and a relatively comfortable life. I imagine many other Malays can and will say the same.
Yes, we are grateful. But deep down the feeling of unease remains.
Am I where I am today because of my capabilities and hard work? Or are my accomplishments to-date thanks to what was written in the race section of my IC?
I believe it is somewhere in between. Being Malay gave me opportunities that were not available to my non-Malay friends, but I also believe I made the most of those opportunities through hard work. But that is also the problem — did those opportunities come at my non-Malay friends’ expense?
That thought haunts me whenever I read sob stories of high-fliers being denied entry into universities allegedly due to their race.
Sometimes I wonder if I unwittingly denied a bright future to someone who achieved more than I did for SPM because I am Bumiputra and that someone is not. Sometimes I wonder if the non-Malay man or woman I see while walking to work, apparently not doing as well as I am, would have been where I am today but for some quota denying them one single chance to pursue their dreams.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever know how far my own capabilities would’ve taken me without quotas and affirmative action helping me. Maybe, sadly, not.
A reply to Anonymous Malay —
by An Anonymous Cina
31 March 2013 – I am a Cina. Like Anonymous Malay, I went through the public education system since primary one all the way until tertiary level. I too graduated from a public university.
Coming from a small pekan, a combination of small township and villages, I had the privilege of growing up with a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Sikh kids.
I never knew what a ‘Malaysian Ideal’ was back then for it never occurred to me as a kid that it could be any other way than what we had been enjoying. We cycled around the kampungs visiting friends and teachers on Hari Raya, Chinese Lunar New Year and Deepavali.
Best of all, it was not for all the formalities and pretense we adults so consciously put effort in today. We were just a bunch of kids having fun. For me, it was the muruku and the dodol. We boys taught each other swear words in our native tongue. I learned guitar from a Malay boy near my house.
If we want to find the answer to what is wrong in our society today, we only need to look at our children. They say if we adults look carefully, there are many valuable lessons we can learn from kids.
The naivety that we as kids were enjoying back then soon gave way to the demands of life and the reality of adulthood. Things began to change as we progressed closer to SPM. Our Malay schoolmates began to slowly drift away from us. After each Friday prayer, they were hauled into Bilik Bimbingan dan Kaunseling (counselling room) and would spend hours inside while the rest of us would enjoy the long break before the start of the evening sessions.
Little did I know the horror that was taking place in those counselling sessions until a close Malay friend whispered it to me. My Malay classmates were being asked to beware of kids from other races – that they were merely pendatangs (immigrants) and if the Malays were not careful, the pendatangs would take away all their land and riches.
Hammered into the young skulls of my Malay schoolmates back then were also ways at which they should dominate all aspects of life over people of other colours and faiths. Therefore, when the news about the brainwashing within BTN broke out, it came as hardly any surprise to me at all. They have been breaking up this lovely nation of a harmonious and united people for generations now. And they start young.
After SPM, my Malay schoolmates simply vanished. Most did not even say goodbye. Those with results far behind some of us continued their education in their matriculation programmes and ADPs (American Degree Programmes).
I was bitter about it, asking why some of us with far better results had to slog through the uncertainty that was the STPM. Words couldn’t describe the disappointment of a desperate 17-year-old pekan kid when faced with such an unjust world. I had only skimmed the tip of the iceberg that is the monstrous hidden beast called Institutionalised Racism. Welcome to reality.
I need not describe the troubled state of racial unity in this country today. We just need to look into our Facebook friends list to see the division along racial lines. Even with the convenience of connections just a few clicks away, I could hardly find my Malay childhood friends who were interested enough to rekindle old friendships. Festive season visits are now only confined among the pendatang childhood gang only.
However, I want to help ease the moral burden of Anonymous Malay – the uneasy feeling that his/her success was attained at the cost of a more deserving non-Malay. Yes, if you look around us, the poor and the struggling class may be colour blind – for poverty does not identify with race and opportunity does. But if there is anyone we should feel we have failed, it is the people of Malaysia generally and the Malay specifically.
I came from a poor family. Even by the standard of the small pekan, my family was poor. But instead of being bitter in my whole life about the unfair treatment and the lack of a smoother path, I am actually thankful for the hardship that was bestowed upon me in my younger days. They say it is often loss that teaches us about the worth of things. The absence of meritocracy in the public education system taught me the value of hard work. The lack of opportunity and options forced me to focus on what was at hand and to make the best out of whatever scarce resources available.
So my dear Anonymous Malay, free yourself from the moral burden. One does not need to feel guilty of harvesting the fruit of one’s own labour. Instead, it is the Malay that you should be sorry for. Yes, your own people – the prince-of-the-soil. Take a look around the world today. Look at the state of the natives that have been enjoying all the benefits of protection from their state. It is not too difficult to draw the conclusion that those who live by the welfare of the state fare poorest in the social-economic ladder. The only anomaly you should find in the survey would be that in this lovely land, it is the majority that is being spoiled. Nowhere in this world will you find laws put in place to protect and spoil a majority.
It is heart-warming really, to read those words coming from a Malay – that he/she is feeling uneasy about the institutionalised racism that has been plaguing our nation for generations now. However, the more worrying and relevant question now is where we are heading towards as a broken nation made up of a multiracial people that is consistently threatening to burn and kill each other (metaphorically)? What is Bangsa Malaysia? Can it be achieved only by eradicating every aspect of other differing cultures and having everyone speak only a common tongue and nothing else? For 55 years, the leaders of this nation thought so.
Anonymous Malay, never for once have I doubted your ability or that of your people – for I do not subscribe to the belief system of Hitler’s Aryan racial superiority. You are merely the victim of a system that does not permit you to hold your head high and claim the merits of your success. Perhaps one day, we can all stand on the same level platform and congratulate one another for a job well done.
But I worry we may not see that day in this lifetime. While we are waiting, perhaps one of the small ways you can help is by embracing your childhood pendatang friends. I sure hope that one day, I will get a message in my Facebook or email saying,”Bro, are you Anonymous Cina? We used to hang out after school – Anonymous Malay”
There are Malays and there are Malays
Another Anonymous Melayu
2 April 2013 – So, okay, we have heard from a Melayu and a Cina. Both eloquently laid out their say. I am another Melayu and here’s my take on the subject.
Yes, I did feel the injustice for my non-Malay friends when we Malays got the cake and when it was so obvious they did better than us in many instances. But hey, there is another side to this ‘privileged’ status and it has never been ‘nice’.
Believe you me, I suffered injustices also in many instances when success and achievements on my part were credited to my Malay status, not my real work.
It was many years ago at the age of 16 when I got second place in the state entrance examinations for entry into HSC. It was an achievement to get into the top three but my ‘achievement’ was not seen as such. Wise nods went round — “Ya-lah, she’s Melayu. Sure got second place.” (The first place went to a boy — of Chinese and Indian origin — who later became a good friend in Form Six. No comment there!)
Worse was yet to come — in university as the only Malay in the English Literature Department, one Eurasian lecturer attributed my status and my achievement in a competitive environment to the fact that I am not a pure Malay — so he said!
In other words a Malay could not have been so successful. Insult or compliment?
The fact of the matter is ‘there are Malays and there are Malays’.
None of my children ever got a scholarship for university studies despite having good results and passing some psychological profile set by the Board. Reasons were not made known to us. Children of civil servants, with good results, they were denied scholarships.
So, this is one Melayu family whose children never got any handouts. And it was a bitter pill indeed when we saw other Melayu families whose children — in some instances all the children in the family — get scholarships to study abroad.
And in many instances, their results were not as good as those of my children. That is all behind us now — our children did very well on their own and we were fortunate to be able to pay for them. They have excelled in their fields and we are honestly, simply very proud of them.
So, this is one Melayu who gets a tad annoyed when people focus on the issue of the injustice of the system. Even in that perceived injustice, there are imbalances.
This thread originally appeared in The Malaysian Insider.