From the outsider’s perspective, Malaysia is a picture-perfect country. Co-existence between major racial backgrounds, religious groups, and ethnic minorities. Harmony, culture, and diversity brimming in every corner of the country.
One language, multiple shared values, and the same food beloved by all of us. While it is the passing traveler’s dream adventure, it is certainly not a dream country for many communities in Malaysia.
Malaysia has been a long-standing victim of a racist culture, that has contributed to violence, political disruptions, corruption, and elitism in the country. They have been unsuccessful at uprooting themselves from the colonial uproar that left a significant impact on racial perceptions.
On one hand, there is a protest for Black Lives Matter in Malaysia but on the other hand, there is a massive community in Malaysia that mirrors a similar experience of the black community in America.
They have lost their loved ones to discriminative behavior, inequality, injustice, and consistent fear. Despite understanding that the BLM movement was a fight against all of that, Malaysia still stands to deny its own traces of racism. Media tends to reinforce the racial stereotype while Malaysians choose to deny the claim of being racist in the first place.
I come from an outsider’s perspective. Moving here as a foreigner, but a brown one, who looks too much like a Malay Indian for her own good, my battle against racism remained. Malaysia is home to three major racial backgrounds, Malays, Chinese, and Indians.
Each race has stereotypes of its own which are reinforced by many external and internal influences. As the three continue to connect to one another under one nationality they fail to get over the prejudices against one another.
The racist culture in Malaysia is heavily integrated into everyday norms. From the education system that kids are exposed to every day, to the casual racism that comes in the form of “polite” looks and remarks, it continues to oppress a specific identity. Political racism and backburns of elitism among Malays is a consistent attack on the brown community in the country, AKA the Malay Indians. My first state of racism in this country comes from being identified as a Malay Indian.
Being part of the POC club and having lived in several countries, I was not new to racism. However, it was still hard to identify that our consistent rejection in Malaysia was directly related to our race. Or what they thought was my race.
My most prevalent experience was whenever I had to try and get a seat in the restaurant or whenever I had to try and find a house to live in the country. Finding a place was a struggle when you look like the underprivileged, the race that gets openly prosecuted.
However, my discomfort begins to settle in as people change their tone towards me whenever I tell them about my actual race. Now it just became as clear as the blue beautiful sky, why I was not getting the same treatment as the white friend next to me.
Upon being told of my “actual” identity, people tend to apologize. But as the norms of racists culture follow for some, they start to justify their behavior and quick judgment of me. They make many negative comments about how the Indian community of the country needs to be avoided at all costs and how they mean nothing but trouble.
Now it’s important to remember, my experience of racism is only short-lived. It does not affect my education, nor did it affect my long-term career. But for Malay Indians, my short experience was an everyday reality.
And the problems run deeper than just being dejected for being dark-skinned. It goes into being rejected from scholarship opportunities, limited healthcare benefits, being targeted by the police, easy persecution, and being a target for complaints.
A similar extension of systematic racism is also extended to the Chinese Malay community. They are denied the same privileges as Malays of the country, despite all belonging to the same country and speaking the same common language as them. The mother tongue may be Bahasa, but discrimination prevents them from freely speaking it.
Uprooting the racist culture in Malaysia is going to take a very long time. It is going to take as much time it takes for us truly be aware of ourselves. Currently, the generation is fighting the denial of racism in the country. We are far from being in the fully aware and acceptance stage of the problem. Without awareness, there is no proper way to finally dismantle the horrible effects of racism in Malaysia.
We may be able to vaccinate the country against COVID 19, but there is no vaccination for racism. The only preventable cure is practicing accountability. As long as racism stands to exist, it prevails because it benefits one more than the other.
If the one is the one in power, it is harder to assimilate. People of power, such as Malaysian politicians have to be part of the conversation to address their privileges in the fight against racism. Unfortunately, many of them choose to remain ignorant, the very fuel of racism in Malaysia.
Fighting ignorance is impossible without better educational policies. These educational reforms must stray from political motivation that contributes to racial microaggressions. Schools and other educational institutes are where children get nurtured and develop experiences with different people.
When the said educational institute is racially segregated for political purposes, minorities suffer. With more than 80 ethnic minorities, only a few Malaysians get the full benefit of being Malaysian. Children are taught from a young age that racial discrimination is the norm. One being at a disadvantage while the other is privileged is inevitable.
Proper education, unity, self-awareness play a major role in fighting the racist culture. Judging people based on their skin tone and projecting our behavior according to that should no longer be the norm.
It is about time we realize that in an egoistical battle of racism, there are no winners or losers. An attack on one Malaysian whether he or she is Indian, Chinese, or Malay is an attack on all!