Are Malaysians scared of the entire African continent?


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Are Malaysians scared of the entire African continent?
By Zan Azlee

Malaysians are xenophobic.

To avoid stereotyping, I’ll say not all Malaysians are. But it’s a possibility that most of them who are, work in the media.

Take this news report which highlighted the issue of ‘Africans doing business out in the open’. Read it or watch the video report in the link, and tell me if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

This story definitely made me feel uncomfortable. For one, it fails to convince me that these particular ‘Africans’ are abusing their student visas or don’t have the proper permits to run a business.

If they are indeed here legally and have the necessary papers to set up shop, should they not be allowed to move freely and run their business without being accused of ‘causing trouble’?

This isn’t the first time Malaysia’s media has demonised Africans. Over the years, there have been numerous news reports which labelled them as ‘Gagak Hitam’ (Black Crow) and blatantly accusing them of ‘causing trouble’.

Yes, there have been cases of our African visitors here breaking the law. And by all mean, these individuals should be dealt with by the authorities.

But it is offensive to stereotype and racially profile a specific ethnic group (actually, many ethnic groups) in such an unsubstantiated way. It’s unfair to blame an entire continent consisting of 54 countries and 1.1 billion people.

I have many friends who are from Africa. One is a former colleague when I was teaching at a local university. He is from Sierra Leone and holds a PhD in the communications field.

Sulaiman is someone I am lucky to be able to call a friend for the past twelve years. Students love him for his approachable demeanor and colleagues and friends enjoy the company of his casual personality.

Sulaiman held a legit and valid working permit and his work as a university lecturer educating Malaysian youths was not illegal. He is involved in no activities which ‘cause trouble’.

Another close friend, I met while attending an international film festival in Europe many years ago. We were both participants of the festival’s talent campus.

Nikki is a South African from Durban and we have remained friends for almost a decade. She’s been to Malaysia, and my wife and I hosted her during her visit.

She came to Malaysia on a tourist visa and definitely didn’t work here. We brought her around Klang Valley, and visited Putrajaya, Batu Caves and several other interesting sites.

Nikki is Caucasian. It would be a stretch to label her a Gagak Hitam too, and she is as white and ginger as an Irish.

During my university days in the UK, I had a classmate from Lagos, Nigeria. Uwakaneme has a very strong personality, and it took a while to warm up to him. But once he is your friend, he is fiercely loyal.

He doesn’t live in Malaysia but is married to a Malaysian. Gasp! You can almost hear the whispers – ‘Not only are they stealing our jobs, they’re stealing our women too!’

In my work and travel, I’ve made many good friends from Egypt, Tunisia, Botswana, Kenya, and other parts of Africa.

There are countries in Africa which have economies that are more developed than ours. And many more are growing more rapidly than Malaysia. Some have currencies that are way stronger than the Ringgit too.

Take for example South Africa and Botswana. With their strong economies, I find it hard to believe that their citizens would ever need to come to Malaysia to improve their quality of life.

Are Malaysians really so afraid for their jobs and economic opportunities? Are we that insecure?

We need to learn to understand things before we get all fidgety and act dumb. Be rational. But then again, the definition of xenophobia is ‘the intense and irrational fear against anything foreign’.

So how?

[This article originally appeared at English.AstroAwani.Com]

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