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On Being Malay…and becoming racist

I see how the people who make my drinks in Starbucks and Coffee Bean are almost always Malay and my heart still sinks. I see them reaching over the counters accepting cash or credit cards from the yuppies in fancy suits and I notice how they are almost never Malay.

Starbuck before became a famous yuppie outlet

A very well-meaning professor asked me once why it was so important to me to include “minority rights” and “minority issues” into my public policy discussions. He also suggested that I discontinue this way of thinking because 1) it would tire me, to keep thinking of everything through the lens of a race divide and 2) the people whose cause I push so hard for probably don’t even care themselves.

He likened this to how he was a strong proponent of “working class”-centric issues in his younger days, until he realised that it was a lost cause for the skinhead thugs and soccer hooligan types would never really appreciate the struggle of policy-making and implied that they would never change[”most of them end up Neo-Nazis.”]My prof’s situation and mine are not analogous, really. He saw the group he sympathised with as a distant demographic strata. And as the son of a wealthy businessman, he never walked in their shoes. He never, ever had to be identified as one of them, never had to feel their struggles as his own, watch his people be fucked over senseless by a country that villifies them while tolerating them with an air of condescending pity.

A Malay waiter: I like to look smart

I will not apologise: if talking about my community’s concerns make me a despicable racist then I am unabashedly racist and I am proud that I am able to view the world as it really is: ugly and divided between black and white, yellow and brown. through lenses tinted by the colour of skin. And I will continue to bring up the “minority issue” as often as I like because I don’t see why we can talk openly about speak mandarin campaigns and how a large proportion of drug addicts are malay but we don’t yet have the balls to declare openly just how we don’t know each other, how we secretly think the malays are lazy, unreliable and disloyal and that we need to continue keeping them in check and monitored and filtered through the system. how we need to constantly 2nd-guess them: national security rests on our suspicion.

I have the aircond 1.0 hp all by myself: A Dream Job?

I see how the people who make my drinks in Starbucks and Coffee Bean are almost always Malay and my heart still sinks. I see them reaching over the counters accepting cash or credit cards from the yuppies in fancy suits and I notice how they are almost never Malay. I scroll down through employee profiles in Bain Singapore, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, MINDEF and the like and there are never any Malay names or Malay faces and it worries me. My well-meaning but clueless classmates point out the fact that Malay kids receive free primary and secondary school education and that our country runs as a meritocracy. They forget that primary and secondary school costs a pittance and that it is not the fee that matters; it is the stereotype that you will fail before you even begin trying and that meritocracy works only as well as the situation you are born in. They forget that not everything is fair and sometimes it is worthwhile unravelling platitudes for their real intent.

I like working here: I meet a lot of people, my collegues from all over the world usually from Bangladesh, India and Indonesia.

A few poster-boy Malay pilots and Malay PSC scholars in the papers don’t do anything for me, they most certainly don’t tell the sons and daughters of truck drivers and factory workers how to get there.

Malay MPs telling me how “the Malays have progressed in the past 2 years” and fudging statistics about the number of Malays in tertiary institutions by adding in polytechnic admissions don’t comfort me. They enrage me. I want to ask them how they sleep at night knowing that they hide the truth, knowing that they were put there to represent their people, knowing that the Malay people trust them, knowing even how the gahmen functions and knowing best how to change things…but not having enough gall to tell the gahmen that we should look into why those men wanted to bomb the MRT stations in the first place–is it because they were isolated and rejected in a country where they could never find empathy, love and understanding?that they were tired of the glass walls and silences and that the only way they could feel wanted and be heard was by committing an atroscity that would force society to look at them, really look at them, not just glance? Instead, my leaders apologise to the general public, and reassure them that Malay people are nice, instead of apologising to those men and the others who feel like them for not doing enough to address their frustrations, and reassuring them that they are not the bastard children of Singapore.

I think of how we are always called on for not “integrating enough”, suggesting that it is our job [not anybody else’s] to seek out the majority and outdo ourselves to accommodate them. I think of how few people even make an attempt to pronounce our names correctly, even though we have all lived in this “multi-racial” country for 40 years now, even though the rest of us have learnt to pronounce the “jun” in Zijun as “chuin” or the “xin” in Xinyi as “sing”. I think of how members of the gahmen once zeroed in on the madrasahs, claiming that they were worried about them creating enclaves and not integrating into society…perhaps they meant that they were worried if they would turn into suicide bombers but didn’t want to say that on national television. I don’t know. I wonder if they look at Chinese High and Dunman High and all the other SAP schools and feel the same concerns. Scholar X/Singapore once told me how in his year, the school hired a Tamil language teacher just for one boy. [How accommodating is that, huh, he says eagerly] Again, I say exceptions don’t make the rule and that one boy in a sea[or an enclave?] of 99.9999% Chinese boys does not prove integration or “racial harmony”.

I don’t hate any one group of people particularly, and I am not blaming anyone in particular. I have always believed in multi-racialism and multi-culturialism and multi-mad-mix-of-sex-to-produce-hybrid-kid-ism. I have friends of all races [and preferences], my best friend and the friends I spend most of my time and life with are not Malay.

I apologise if you think my concerns and my views should be viewed as prejudices. Or that my choice to give a voice to the issues that plague my people should be construed as cultural chauvinism. I’m not for special favours or holding one sector of society above the others: they are degrading. I am asking you to think and reflect and help me wrestle back the last morsels of dignity that my people have.


I feel guilty sometimes that I feed this angry furnace of a system with my own little betrayals. People ask me why I care about the tudung issue since I don’t wear one and probably never will. I look set to marry someone of another race, and have babies with non-Malay [Chinese?] surnames with him; “perhaps never make him convert”. Sometimes I wish I were abit more conventional, a bit more traditional: then my views would fit in much nicer with my behaviour.


Yet, I know that if I conform, I’ll be doing the very thing the system has relentlessly shoved down my people’s throats: I will be apologising for who I am just to reassure everyone else I am one of them when they will never try to be a part of me.


~ by ballsy on March 21, 2006.


Read more at http://mymalaysia.wordpress.com

GM: I hope the site’s owner is still alive and kicking for me to receive a ‘scold’ from her for hijacking her article without permission.  It is  just that the site has not been active for quiet sometimes.  By the way, ‘ballsy’ the site’s owner did you still carry on with your plan to marry your chinese boyfriend without making him a Muslim convert? To tell you the truth I’m not sure which is the bigger dilema, the cliche of Malay’s socio-economic backwardness or non-Muslim Malay?

Melayu oh Melayu! “ Umpama buah kepayang, dimakan mabuk dibuang sayang”. Just like the ‘kepayang’ fruit, you can’t eat  ( intoxicated) neither  throw it away (simply loving it).


Filed under: Malay Dilema

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