Racism in Malaysia is a recurring topic that often crops up in people's blogs every 2 - 3 months.
It is an important topic. But frankly speaking, the topic has been done to death. Every man, woman, uncle, auntie, ang moh, cina, malay, Ah Beng, Ah Seng, and Hello Kitty have all written a blog entry on Racism in Malaysia. In fact, I think a Malaysian blog isn't a Malaysian blog until you've written something about racism.
Recently, the discussion on racism cropped up again after an e-mail from a so-called 'very frightened Malaysian abroad'. Click here if you want to read it in full, but here's a heavily-shortened version.
Dear Mr Ooi,
I have been meaning to pen some thoughts for some time now, to let people actually read the views of the typical 'overseas Malaysian' who is kept away.
I accepted a Malaysian government scholarship to study at Oxford University [and later] Harvard University for postgraduate study.
Now I am 31 years old and draw a comfortable monthly salary of US$22,000. Yet, I yearn to return home. I miss my home, my family, my friends, and the life in Malaysia. But of late, my idealistic vision of my country has really come crashing down.
I read about the annual fiasco involving non-bumiputera top scorers who are denied entry to critical courses at local universities and are offered forestry and fisheries instead.
I read about a poor Chinese teacherâ€™s daughter with 11A1â€™s being denied a scholarship, while I know some Malay friends who scored 7Aâ€™s and whose parents are millionaires being given scholarships.
I read about the Malay newspaper editors attacking the private sector for not appointing enough Malays to senior management level, whilst insisting that the government always ensure that Malays dominate anything government-related.
I read that at our local universities, not a single Vice-Chancellor or Deputy Vice-Chancellor is non-Malay.
I read about a poor Indian lady having to pay full price for a low-cost house after being dispossessed from a plantation, whilst Malay millionaires demand their 10% bumiputera discount when buying RM2 million bungalows in a gated community.
As I read all this, I tremble with fear. I love my country and long to return. I am willing to take a 70% pay cut. I am willing to face a demotion. But really, is there a future for me, for my children and for their children? I am truly frightened.
I can deal with the lack of democracy, the lack of press freedom, the ISA, our inefficient and bureaucratic civil service, our awful manners and even a little corruption. But I cannot deal with racism in my homeland.
A very frightened Malaysian abroad
After reading that email, my first reaction was "Wah! USD22,000 per month ar? Tio boh?"
But seriously speaking I can empathise with the guy. I'm lucky I don't have to deal with racism in my everyday life because for some reason I seem to get along with all races very well. I'd like to think of myself as one who embraces cultural differences and I'd like everyone else to do that too.
The only instance I got accused of being a racist was when I wrote about Star Wars: Revenge of the Sikh, which is odd considering I was blasting the AiFM Chinese radio presenter.
Then there's also once in Australia, an ang moh workmate of mine asked me why I call them 'ang mo', since the words 'ang mo' and 'gwei lo' are intrinsically racist. I stared at him with my mouth wide open as I struggled to find a less racist word for 'Caucasian' in Hokkien.
Its a different story when you talk about the Malaysian government, or 'gahmen', if you like. Digressing a little - I have no idea why some people insist on calling 'government' as 'gahmen'. Here in Kuching, we call them 'garblement' because that's what they do. They keep on sending out garbled messages to us all the time.
So anyway, do I think the Malaysian garblement is racist? Unforunately yes. I'd even go as far as to say that the Malaysian garblement has more racist policies than the Australian garblement, which is saying a lot considering how Malaysia once cried out against Australia over their 'racist' immigration policies and treatment of refugees.
But is it a surprise? Hardly. What do you expect when the ruling party ever since Malaysia's independance is a Malay race-based political party called UMNO?
"Let no one from the other races ever question the rights of Malays on this land. Donâ€™t question the religion because this is my right on this land." - Badruddin, UMNO Deputy Chairperson
"Eh hello. I'm born here so its also my right to be here also wat. So hao lian for what?" - Kenny Sia, Blogger.
Btw, I always thought the name 'UMNO' for a political party is kinda cute. Can you imagine what their caucus sessions are like?
UMNO Minion: "Prai Minster! Prai Minster! Can we adopt another policy to increase our bumi discount to 30% pleaseee?"
Prime Minister: "UM... NO."
UMNO Minion: "Then 20% can?"
Prime Minister: "UM. NO!"
UMNO Minion: "15%?"
Prime Minister: "UMNO!!!"
UMNO Minion: "Mmmk. :("
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against pro-Bumi policies. Before Mahathir, a lot of Malays are living well below the poverty line. Look at them now, how many of them can go onto Universities and finally afford their own cars?
The wealth gap between Chinese and Malay had been far too wide for far too long, and I think its a bloody good thing that the situation for Malays has improved to the way it is today. A country like Malaysia needs pro-Bumi policies.
On the other hand, policies like these are exploited. By right, regardless of race, the poor and the needy should be the first in line to receive government assistance. But look at what's happening. The richest Malays in this country are still receiving discounts when they buying houses. How about those who really need it? Clearly, something is wrong.
I'm happy pro-Bumi policies improved the welfare of Malays in this country. I'm happy that it quelled the 1969 racial riot.
But please give me a break lah. Pro-Bumi policies are supposed help the underprivileged bumiputeras stand on their own two feet, NOT hold their hand and walk the long hard road for them. Once they are rescued beyond the poverty line, its time for them to stop relying on the government and start working hard like everyone else to earn their place in society.
I believe Pro-Bumi policies exist as a privilege, not as a right. If these policies still continue to work in favour of the bumiputeras who don't need it instead of non-bumiputeras who need it, that's when pro-Bumi policies crossed to the Dark Side and become Racist policies.
Do the leaders of this country know what's wrong with their pro-Bumi policies? I'm sure they do.
But are they doing something about it? No. And I think it does not take a USD22,000-per-month salary to know why not.
The leader of this country is a Malay-race based political party. So long as there are Malays voting for them, they will always remain in power and they will always come up with pro-Malay policies to make their voters happy. Meanwhile, non-Malays will continue to cry foul. But they can't do anything about it because they can never garner as many votes as the ruling party.
Its gonna take an UMNO leader with the balls of steel to risk losing votes and say to his supporters "Look, we've have done enough for you now. We've helped you out of poverty, but don't worry if you fall because the government will always be here for you. You're all grown up now so its time for you to stop relying on me and start working hard on your own."
But until that happen, nothing is gonna change.
This is a sensitive topic and I urge everyone to practise vigilance when leaving comments. Meanwhile, I leave you with a question that's been troubling me for a very very long time.
Is there anyone out there who can suggest to me a less racist version of 'ang mo' in Hokkien?