First published in

FEBRUARY 11 — There’s a T-shirt produced by the NGO Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia which reads “RACISM is so yesterday.” I wish it were the case but the reality is actually quite different.

Racism and the politics and policies of race remain very much alive in the Malaysia of 2017. In fact, the divisive and polarising effects resulting from decades of racially discriminatory and preferential policies and practices have been perceived by many, to have increased in recent years. This is in tandem with the increasing economic disparity experienced by all levels of society.

This disparity becomes more polarising when communal leaders start looking for someone to blame for their failures, misfortunes and hardships. Racism and bigotry often feature prominently.

We have seen and continue to see job advertisements where a specific race is preferred. Similar conditions are placed on prospective tenants of rented apartments. There are official and unofficial racial quotas from entrance into boarding schools and public universities to buying houses and property, and running a business.

Even taxi drivers have admitted to being racially biased, despite it being foolish. A driver once asked me, through the car window, what my race was before deciding that I was acceptable as I was of the same ethnicity as he.

The list goes on and on, causing tension, strain and suspicion on inter-community relations. We know these discriminatory behaviours and actions. We have experienced them. We might even have been guilty of committing some of them too.

Let’s face it: We are all products of racism in this country. Whether it is the family or communities we grew up in, or the social environment which continues to preserve, tolerate and even celebrate racial discrimination. None of us is entirely innocent.

But we can break this vicious cycle and choose a different path.

Recently, a Universiti Utara Malaysia professor, Datuk Zainal Kling, suggested that the blue identification card be withheld from children who are unable to converse in Bahasa Melayu.

Overlooking the fact that this cruel discriminatory measure would victimise children who are not fortunate enough to be born and brought up in circumstances which enable them to gain proficiency in the Malay language, Prof Zainal’s suggestion is arguably racist as it targets the non-Malay community.

It is also rooted in the Malay supremacist mindset which believes that Malaysian citizenship should be withdrawn or withheld from individuals who don’t act or conform to homogenous norms and expectations.

We need to continue to call out and condemn such repugnant suggestions and politics which targets people because of their race or religion. We must not turn a blind eye. After all, racism begets racism.

We must be willing to talk about these issues and not sweep them under the “sensitive” carpet. As Khairy Jamaluddin recently called for, we must be willing to talk honestly and openly, not just in the comfort of our own kedai kopi circles, but even with those who look different or bring a different perspective. Only then can we break this dangerous cycle.

There is no point in us indulging in misty-eyed maudlin reminiscences of the times during Tunku Abdul Rahman’s era, when we are not willing to put in the effort to work and fight to preserve that way of life.

It requires moral courage, honesty and a fair amount of sacrifice.

After all, few people want to give away advantages that they have enjoyed as a result of simply being born into the right race or ethnicity. They also want the same for their family, children and even grandchildren. These are the sins of our fathers and we should do well to leave them behind for the sake of our future.

What we need to urgently do today is to make the practice of racism socially repugnant and repulsive. Not celebrate it. I believe that it is not possible to progress as a nation or a people if we believe that it requires domination and emphasis on flawed concepts such as racial superiority.

We need to abandon and reject the oversimplified political rhetoric and sentiments which view whole segments of Malaysians, as not only opponents, but also as enemies.

In the 60s, Malaysia stood proudly in the forefront of a coalition of nations which boycotted and sanctioned South Africa for their implementation of apartheid. Yet today, by keeping alive race-based policies which were meant to only be temporary and limited, it can be argued that we are heading down a gradual slope towards apartheid.

Exploitation of the racial divide as a zero-sum game for often short-term economic and political gains has been allowed and tolerated for far too long. It is one of the deepest fault lines in our democracy which threaten to undo all that we have worked on and strived to achieve.

Talking about what Malaysia will look like in 30 years would be pointless and a waste of time if we are unable to leave behind the harmful race-based policies of the past, and to insist on privilege and entitlements rather than merit and competition.

We need to be vocal about what version of Malaysia we want. The majority of right thinking Malaysians who are moderate and see each other as partners in building this country, need to lift their heads up and not be silent.

We need to continue writing our thoughts to the media, to speak directly to our elected representatives, to participate in community dialogues, and to speak out and fight back against efforts to pit Malaysians against each other.

And most importantly, we must not lose hope in ourselves, in each other and the country. We can break the cycle of racism.


*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

– See more at:

Leave a comment