I had an ideal Saturday. Woke up early, bathed & fed the kids and then went back to bed when the husband awoke (he gets to sleep in during weekends). Headed to a social event comprising of fresh food and pop-up stores with my love, then popped into my monthly reading session at Seksan Gallery. The reading happens once a month where authors from all walks of life read their works ranging from short stories to poetry to music. I managed to get a book signed by an esteemed author – so happy! Caught the train back home just as the torrential rain fell and reached home to a bowl of steaming hot Maggi Ayam double + telur. As I said, an ideal Saturday.
Except for this one feeling in my heart that started to fester after the 2nd last reading at the session. I noticed that, on average, half of any readings done by local authors touched on the topic of race. Specifically, their stories often tell the divisive power that racial stereotyping has on society and views of being downtrodden as a minority race by those in the majority.
The 2nd last reading was from a book called Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories (caught your attention now, eh?). The story was called Drowning and it tells the tale of a man, Rama, who by his name any Malaysian will automatically deduce as being non-Malay. Rama was caught in a serious accident whereby his motorbike skidded and he was flung off his bike and hit by a lorry. What the reader, who also happened to be the author, uttered next took me completely by surprise :
The people in the lorry came out and instead of assisting Rama as how the story went in my head, they said, “Keling. Bodoh. Sekarang susah kena buat police report”. At this point, Rama blacked out from the pain and woke up at the hospital, where another part of the story begins.
I physically recoiled at the word. Keling, a derogatory word to specify the Indian race. Akin to calling someone of African descent a nigger. And the insult was followed by a judgement solely based on the person’s race – Bodoh (stupid). I inwardly cringed while at the same time tried to keep my face as passive as a stone. It was as if someone had slapped me in the face for no reason and then spit into my eye. I felt a burning shame, as if I was the one who had uttered those words. Because I knew what race these racist characters were. Everyone in the session knew. It was and had to be Malays. Orang kita.
I am for the most part a non-confrontational person. I have to be virtually pushed so hard into a corner for my blood to boil. I also had a childhood and teenage hood that kept me in contact with various races. 12 years being educated in a Convent taught me that the only thing that matters is that I am simple in virtue and steadfast in duty. My parents never made any differentiation between my friends of different skin tones and was always mindful of other people’s cultures and beliefs.
My colleagues in the workforce were a mixture of everything under the sun and my race or theirs never came up in anything professional save for where to have lunch. But I saw that more of an issue of dietary preference rather than an issue of faith. Some of us don’t eat beef while some of us don’t eat pork. A colleague of mine strictly eats no types of vegetables so if he’s to be included in a lunch, a vegetarian pizza parlor would be naturally out of the question. For me, that’s how it went. I was brought up race neutral and to never use my race as a defining factor or as an advantage.
But with age comes the inevitable reckoning with reality, that there is always the other side to every coin. Such as the story of Rama. Stories don’t come out of a vacuum. Even the most far-flung of sci-fi are grounded in some sort of reality. This particular story, read by it’s own author, was born out of a reality that was different than mine but is real nonetheless. It’s fiction rooted in actual happenings, things that are sadly still happening in my country.
And here’s the sad ugly truth : The Malays are superior only in numbers. That’s it. We are the race majority but that’s where our so-called advantage ends. A country should be measured by the merits of it’s people, regardless of creed. Saying that the Malays are superior just because we have the numbers is like saying a group of students in a class should all get the highest marks just because they make the most noise.
And to claim superiority just because we make up the largest portion of the country’s population is just…I know it’s more complicated than that. There’s a lot of history entangled and embedded in this situation that has brought us to where we are today : Colonialism, politics, bad decisions. But let’s just focus on today, the present. Can Malays today honestly look other races in the eye and say : You don’t belong here. You deserve less because Malays are superior. And Malays are superior because our forefathers happened to be the dominant race and we shall forever be more in numbers than you?
No. For other races, their forefathers came from different lands. That’s true. So if you want to be petty and call them (the forefathers) pendatang or migrants, ok I’ll give that to you. But for those born generations after, for those who were born here, live here and know no other country better than here – they are Malaysians through and through. They are MALAYSIANS. Orang kita. My people.
News reports such as these in The News Strait Times must be something we all rally against :
KUALA LUMPUR: Terengganu has no gangsterism problem, claims its police chief, because the state is overwhelmingly Malay. Datuk Aidi Ismail said Terengganu has a 97 per cent Malay population, and the community still shows respect towards figures of authority, which includes village elders, village chiefs and imams. https://www.nst.com.my/news/crime-courts/2017/11/301595/terengganu-free-gangsterism-says-police-chief
Oh wow. And the statement was made by the police chief, not the village idiot. What if the headline read : Malays record highest number of drug abuse users because the Malay culture promotes a lackadaisical outlook on life. Or why not this : Johor has highest numbers of rape cases because the state has a high number of Malay residents. Where be the village elders, village chiefs and imams? What will happen the day these news headline break out? I can assure you a lot of keris waving and chair flinging action will entertain us on various news channels by people who are, guess what, Malays. And by the way, statistically, the claims are true. Malays hold the record for highest number of drug users while Johor has 15% of all reported rape cases in Malaysia.
This claim of superiority must end. This fear of people who are different from us and a condescending perspective of other beliefs and culture must stop. It’s not tolerance we should be doing, it’s embracing and accepting that we’re all in this together.
The author who signed my book inscribed a short note along with her autograph and it was as if she read right through me. The note reads : To your stories! Don’t give up on Malaysia. She still has many stories to tell.
And write them, I shall. Towards a better Malaysia.
Read my Merdeka Pledge and share your thoughts with me here. Am I the only Malay who feels this way?