Race: A case of false hope?

RACE. The word has hounded Malaysians, and before that Malayans, with its pernicious nature in that it has invariably not been something to be celebrated together but a factor that divides communities.

There is a temptation to believe that this may be unique to Malaysia but I seriously doubt it as minority communities almost everywhere have come in sometime or other for discrimination or ostracisation because of their race.

Racial superiority reared its ugly head early in the day with slaves from Africa being seen as not quite equal by some whites in the southern states of America.

Adolph Hitler thought the German race was superior to Jews and some others in Europe and in so doing plunged the world into a conflict that escalated into World War II.

The aborigines of Australia have until recently been on the receiving end of discriminatory practices, some which have historical origin, by some in the country.

Of late, black soccer stars in Europe have had bananas thrown at them and a handful of spectators reportedly imitating monkeys with them in mind.

It is amply clear that race has been a sensitive word around the world for different reasons.

And so Malaysia was abuzz early yesterday with the statement from a government bigwig that the race column would be dropped from certain official forms.

This was what most non-Malays had been hoping for in their bid to ensure that they received equal opportunity in all fields ranging from places in university and government jobs to loans from specific institutions.

There are other intangible opportunities which defy a clear-cut identification but generally have to do with self-esteem and confidence levels.

And so, there was a resounding "hurrah" from non-Malays who have for long felt that they had been blighted by this specific box in official forms.

To be sure, there would have been some trepidation among the Malays on the issue given the fact that affirmative action is still in place to help the community and other bumiputras gain parity in terms of opportunities.

And without identification by race, there may be fears that some may lose out.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun had told the media at a specially-called press conference on Wednesday that government departments which had not dropped the race column from their forms would be encouraged to do so.

But the euphoria was not to last long as Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak issued a statement in Taiping yesterday that the cabinet had not decided to do away with the race column in government forms.

The prime minister said there was no change in government policy on the matter, adding that the race column was necessary to monitor the progress of every community and ensure that no one group was left behind.

Najib had also added that the issue had been discussed in cabinet which decided that the practice be retained.

My question is this: what happened in the interim period between the cabinet meeting and Entulu's announcement?

Was there some kind of miscommunication between government and Entulu?

Who sanctioned Entulu's announcement given that this is Malaysia and government policy is always being aired after the green light from the highest echelons of government?

Entulu issued a clarification later in the day yesterday which threw little light on what had taken place.

He took pains to state that the cabinet had discussed the issue but not made a decision on the matter and that press reports (which were almost identical in content) were inaccurate.

Once again the "I was misquoted" bogey appears to have struck. The fact of the matter is that he issued a printed statement with reporters taping the question and answer session that followed.

A basic query at this juncture is why Entulu wanted to meet reporters on Wednesday if not to talk about this contentious topic.

As an end note, Entulu has apologised for the ensuing confusion that his statement had created as he should. He has raised the expectations of one section of the community while raising the ire of some members of another.

Political parties and non-governmental organisations are shooting off press releases to media organisations with many wanting to get into the act.

Malay supremacist organisation, Perkasa, has threatened legal action against the government if it does not stop the so-called policy of dropping the race column in some of its forms. Its president Datuk Ibrahim Ali has thrown down the gauntlet, saying that he will go to great lengths in this respect.

The debate or confusion over race is clearly not over by a long shot. Race, in all its permutations, will continue to plague us for some time to come.

Balan Moses, theSun's executive editor, wants to ask this question.What race do we ultimately belong to? The human race, of course. As long as red blood courses through our veins, and we are made of flesh and blood, we will all be the same. Comments: bmoses@thesundaily.com