Tolerance of racism in Malaysia

Julia Yeow
The Malaysian Insider
20 September 2015

Malaysia Day has come and gone, and it’s tragic that a day to celebrate unity, interdependence and diversity was instead hijacked by a street rally which achieved little but show the world that Malaysia has become a country utterly divided along racial lines.

Covering Wednesday’s protest for work created a strange disconnect for me, almost as if the words shouted and messages on the banners were meant for, and coming from, people from some foreign, far-away land.

That was until I received a message mid-way through Wednesday’s rally. It was a friend who has been working and living in Malaysia for almost a decade, someone who has grown to love this country almost as much as her country of birth.

She was shocked and angry after having just read on the news that Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali had taken to the stage at the rally and said the following words:

“Dulu kita bukan masyarakat majmuk tetapi melalui rundingan dan tolak ansur kita menerima kaum lain. Kita bagi mereka kerakyatan. Kita bagi kerakyatan, kita ingat mereka berterima kasih.”

(Once, we were not a multicultural people, but through negotiation and give-and-take, we accepted other races. We gave them citizenship. We gave them citizenship, and we thought they would be grateful.)

I was actually surprised at how subdued Ibrahim’s speech was, compared to some of the more vile and fiery speeches of his early years as a self-proclaimed defender of Malay supremacy.

My friend was obviously not privy to the racially aggressive atmosphere that has become Malaysian political culture. She teared in anger as she struggled to understand how somebody could speak in public about other Malaysians of another race in such a derogatory and disrespectful manner, and get away with it.

My response to her was a simple, much-less dramatic, “We’re used to it”.

That was when it hit me how much I have come to tolerate racism in this country.

When political leaders use terms like “pendatang” (immigrants) or “balik China” (Go back to China) on non-Malays who have been a part of Malaysia for generations, we tolerate it.

When a national Umno-owned newspaper screamed “Apa lagi Cina mau” (What else do the Chinese want?) on its front page after the 13th general election and continues to exhort its Malay readers to stand up against some phantom Chinese threat to their dignity, we simply grit our teeth, roll our eyes and tolerate it.

And when we look to our government for some sign of censure against the racist, hate-filled speeches, but find only endorsement, again we accept it as part and parcel of our lot.

The fact is that Malaysian minority races have become so desensitised, so adept at living with government-sanctioned racism that we don’t even baulk anymore at what would be totally unacceptable anywhere else in the civilised world.

It’s clear that the sowers of hate do so with impunity and with the tacit approval of the government, but there is another reason why the message of hate seems to overpower the message of acceptance and unity.

While most of us don’t want to believe that the average man-on-the-street actually agrees with the divisive sentiments spewing from the mouths of some leaders, not enough Malaysians are speaking out their disapproval.

It has been a soothing balm to see and read of the many Malaysians, specifically Malays, who have since come out on social media to distance themselves from Wedneday’s rally and its supposed call for greater Malay dominance.

From everyday Malaysians, to influential Malay community and political leaders and even members of royalty, it was and is comforting to know that the voice of reason has grown louder even as the voice of bigotry continues to sound out.

More needs to be done, and more need to stand up. As much as it works as a defense mechanism, we can no longer be impervious to this hateful culture of racial bullying.

In the case of hate speeches, a dignified silence is, unfortunately, a form of approval.

Perhaps if enough of us openly reject and voice our utter disgust at this unhealthy and toxic poison that has made its way into our Malaysian culture, we might just turn the tide.

Perhaps the government will finally realise that a leadership that endorses such racism is one that has no place in Malaysia’s future.

And perhaps our children will one day grow up in a society that truly embodies the beautiful ideals of a multicultural Malaysia which our founders had fought to build. – September 20, 2015.

  1. #1 by bangkoklane on Monday, 21 September 2015 - 12:45 pm

    The least that UMNO partners in BN must do is to demand that UMNO suspends their members who made racialist statements during the Malaysia Day protests until they make public apologies. If UMNO fails to take action, the partners in BN have no option but to suspend their membership in BN pending further party deliberations of their relevance and contribution in BN. Otherwise, they are really “tak hidup tak mati”.

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