The solution to racism in Malaysia


The solution to racism in Malaysia
By Zan Azlee

It’s interesting how Malaysians get really worked up when it comes to racial issues in the country. Last week I wrote about how I think that Malaysia might just be racist forever, and there would be no hope for the country anymore.

I sounded very pessimistic and called for comments from the readers. Lo and behold, almost a hundred comments came in, and I would have to say that more than 90 percent were equally, or even more, pessimistic than I was.

I spoke at a conference recently, and even there, people came up to me and expressed their hopelessness about our race relations.

What does this say about Malaysia? That we have all given up and are letting the country go to the dogs? Eeee.. haram! We can’t let that happen!

Well, my intention in most of my writings is to always try to offer a solution, or at least suggest that there is a possibility of a solution. So let’s try to do that today.

Every time I get together with my friends or family, we can never avoid discussing politics. It can be off-the-cuff, one-off remarks, or even full-blown debates and discussions that last the whole night.

And every single time, race is always prominently featured. You can never separate political talk from race issues. So that just proves my point that racism is so ingrained in our society because of our political system (and politicians).

Race-based politics needs to go because it’s a divide-and-conquer method that is as archaic as neanderthals like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Mohamad Imran Abdul Hamid.

Like I mentioned in my column last week, even though the obvious race-based parties like Umno, MCA, MIC (are they even still around?) and PAS are out of the government, they are our only option as the opposition.

And the current government is also dua kali lima – different but alike. No matter how much PKR and DAP want to claim that they are multiracial, they are still predominantly Malay and Chinese respectively.

Bersatu is all-out bumiputera-based and Amanah is just an off-shoot of PAS, albeit more modern and less religion-based.

Due to how our political system is structured, how can we ever run away from race issues? Every single politician is going to pander to the racial group that they are supposed to be representing.

Actually, “representing” isn’t the right word. They feel like they need to “protect the rights and interests” of their race. If that doesn’t pit one group against the other, then I don’t know how to explain it any more clearly.

And what’s worse, even our country’s administrative system follows this concept of “protecting the rights and interests” of the different racial groups. Oops! I stand corrected. It is actually only one racial group.

We have race-based policies in all aspects of government, from the economy right down to education.

So how can we not expect these politicians to play on this and then get the people all riled up and defensive on every single move they make? They make everyone feel like they are constantly in a threatened state.

Then, even small, insignificant issues can blow up into national crises. Look at what happened with the issue of learning khat in school.

It has nothing to do with race or religion, yet everyone has blown it out of proportion. The fact that it is just a form of calligraphy just blows over everyone’s heads.

But to say that it isn’t a valid issue is also wrong. The context and history of race relations in Malaysia clearly explain why even the introduction of a calligraphy class in school can be seen and interpreted with racial connotations.

It threatens the already insecure positions related to identity, religion and everything else of the different racial groups in the country.

So what do we do? We’ve established all these causes of why Malaysia is just so incessantly racist. Well, it’s really just two things, isn’t it?

Our racially-divided political system and the systematic factor whereby race is such a factor in all the policies of the government in the country. We just get rid of these two things then. Easy peasy!

Yes, it’s actually as simple as that. We need to vote for the right party and politicians that are not infatuated by race. Find the right people to lead Malaysia forward and then put our trust in them.

When they get into the government, they can change all the racial policies and make it a much more equal government and country.

See! I told you that I will suggest a solution in my writing.

Now, whether that solution is feasible or not is a totally different matter. I guess as far as my friends and family are concerned, it’s probably a bit more feasible to envision something like this happening. We are a very multiracial and multifaith group.

My mother’s side is Chinese while my father’s is Malay-Bugis. We speak three languages at home – English, Bahasa Malaysia and Cantonese. My father speaks Bugis fluently but not me. I just know all the curse words!

My wife is the same. Her mother is Chinese and her father is Malay. Both of us have relatives who are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists.

So whenever we get together, although we talk about politics and race, we know that we are not racists.

We are lucky enough to come from a place where we understand that the racism that exists in Malaysia is created by unscrupulous politics, and because of that, we also know that with political will, it can be changed.

Unfortunately, not all of Malaysia realises this. For the most part, everyone plays directly into the hands of the political system, even the politicians themselves.

Some of the good and sincere politicians even get sucked into the system and find that they need to pander to racial sentiments in order to survive as politicians, and sadly, they do just that.

So I guess the solution is there. We need good and sincere people to enter politics and have a strong enough will to stand for what should be done. And we need to convince the rest of the people that it can be done.

There are just too many sceptics (and I don’t blame them for being so, because it is difficult to believe that the solution is feasible) out there that we have to convince.

I’m sorry. Unfortunately, to be positive in this situation is to also be a little bit naive. But I’m sure that over time, this will happen. It might not be in the near future, but probably in two or three generations.

Or maybe everyone should just start seeing the benefits of interracial marriage and just start marrying each other!

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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