The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”– Martin Luther King, African American minister activist
The world appears to have jumped on the bandwagon against racism in the United States, especially after African-American George Floyd was killed by a white police officer.
Malaysians too are showing their support in their own way for the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement that became more prominent after the incident. But I find this somewhat hypocritical and contradictory when they are being racist and stereotypical at home.
Why are we speaking about global racism when we are not bothered about, or choose conveniently to ignore, what is happening around us, among our friends and our society? Are we sincerely making efforts to curb subtle racism and colourism that exist around us in our daily lives?
Seriously, there is so much causal racism, stereotyping and colourism in Malaysia these days. Are you guys blind to it? I fear that one day we might not even bear to see the sight of one another. We might just end up whacking each other.
Things are no longer the same now as in the sixties, seventies and maybe in the initial part of the eighties. Remember when all of us mixed around freely with one another? It didn’t matter whether we were Malay, Chinese, Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Indian, Eurasian, etc.
Those were the good old days. But things changed when the politicians made a grand entry with their policies which they claimed were for the “good of the people and country”.
Calling a dark- or brown-skinned person hei gui (black devil), calling others orang malas (lazy people), ular (snake), or associating rapists, bank robbers, sex maniacs or child molesters with certain ethnic groups, and calling the original habitants ‘jungle people’ are forms of racism we come across in our daily lives.
Yet, we are still fed with the routine “we are Malaysians, not Malays, Ibans, Kadazans, or Indians” rhetoric. For how long can this go on?
Why force us to be colour blind if we can enjoy the beauty of all colours? Haven’t our politicians been stressing our strong quality, ‘unity in diversity’? Or are they merely paying lip service for political mileage?
Racism and racial discrimination have dominated our society for some time now. It’s about time that we got rid of them. But racism in this country is not as bad as in other countries in the Asian continent or Middle East.
My cousin, a lecturer in UiTM currently doing a research on physiological impact of racism and discrimination, recently asked which country I thought was the most racist. My answer didn’t knock him over. He somehow guessed I would say ‘India’. Yes, not many know that India is a place where racism and racial discrimination thrive.
I am in a position to describe India without being biased. For one thing I have lost counts of the number of trips I have made to India. And for another, my relatives are still scattered all over the subcontinent.
One will be shocked to hear that Indians are the most colour obsessed people one has ever come across anywhere in the world.
India is a land of extreme contrasts — the black and the white, the poor and the rich, the beautiful and the ugly, wealth and poverty, etc.
Dark- and brown-skinned Indians are called kala (black).
Those with Chinese features as in North-East India are called chinki (referring to any person of East Asian descent).
Africans or African Americans are referred to as ‘negros’. Fair people are seen as beautiful and the dark skinned as ugly.
During my recent trip to attend the World Indian Business Conference in Pondicherry, we realised whites received special treatment. If you are a Caucasian, no worries; Indians simply show respect for white-skinned people.
So, we have Indians discriminating against fellow Indians in favour of Caucasians — not because they are visitors but because they are white skinned.
Lighter-skinned citizens in the subcontinent look down on their darker-skinned counterparts in as much as they show undisguised disdain for Africans or African Americans. And don’t be surprised by the considerable antipathy between North Indians and South Indians.
Our guide, Balaraman, aptly described race relations in India: “Indians outside the country are always complaining about racism and racial discrimination they have to face in Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia.
“But our people conveniently ignore the fact that we ourselves can be bigots against our fellow Indians, other Asians, African Americans and Africans.”
Now back to Malaysia.
Racism in whatever form, and no matter in what sense, is bad.
For a start, let’s stop being prejudiced and avoid stereotypical statements and racist remarks.
Racism isn’t going to disappear right away! It’s going to take time but in the meantime, we will have to play our role.