The dangers of exclusiveness

WHILE everywhere democracy, egalitarianism and inclusiveness are being touted as the levellers of human society, the stark ground reality is that the human animal is an exclusive creature distinguished by his/her social, cultural, educational, economic and political characteristics.

Much as we want to establish equality and social justice at the level of ideology and philosophy or even policy, these characteristics come into play when we have to deal with real-life experiences.

There's no denying that humans are defined biologically by our genes, that is our DNAs produce white skin, blond hair and blue eyes or yellow skin, black hair and flat nose. These determine our external features and mark us as belonging to a certain human group or a mixture of a few groups.

Very often my small eyes and fair skin lead people to ask me point-blank if I have Chinese blood to which my reply is always, "I don't know but probably yes, as my mother was from Melaka and there might have been intermarriage or adoptions in her family". Or "My father was of Bugis ancestry and the early Bugis people had different characteristics from the other ethnic groups in the then Malay Archipelago".

Yes – much against our societal (good)will, this natural birth phenomenon which produces different variations in our physical make-up is a given and leads to some kind of exclusiveness. We are indeed distinguished by our physical features which mark us as belonging to a certain variety or community of the human species. As with the other animal groups, the human animal is naturally drawn towards its own species.

Over the centuries, the racial categorisation of human groups according to physical and even mental characteristics have proven to be untenable, as differences emerge even within the bigger stock such as Caucasian.

There are many ethnicities within the Caucasian race e.g. Irish, Welsh, German, French and Slovak, differentiated these by their country of origin, the language(s) they speak, cultural heritage and traditions, beliefs and rituals. And so with the Malay, Chinese and Indian peoples of the world.

These days "race" has become a bad word as "ethnicity" takes over to define cultural factors such as nationality, culture, ancestry, language and beliefs.

However, the reality remains that there are these distinguishing characteristics which sometimes influence us to remain within our exclusive silos. Much as we strive to equalise and harmonise our socio-cultural, educational and economic experiences, Malaysians are not homogeneous.

In her book Unmistakably Chinese Genuinely Malaysian (2011), Rita Sim unravels some striking observations about exclusiveness among the Chinese community. Even as globally they are seen as one huge human group with distinct physical characteristics, their historical, demographic, social, and educational backgrounds determine the exclusiveness of each sub-group.

Even as they comprise one ethnic group in Malaysia, Rita Sim's research reveals unmistakeable sub-groups or what she calls "clusters" – the G1, G2 and G3 – distinguished by their social, historical and educational background.

Of special interest is the G1 cluster, which according to Rita Sim is "the largest group (90%) within the Malaysian Chinese community (and) comprises those who identify completely with the traditions of ethnic Chinese culture, language and expression. It is the most widespread group, found in both urban and rural environments…Its worldview is rooted deeply in the core values of Chinese-language education and expression through the vernacular media" (p 13). The G1 are seen as quite exclusive by the much smaller G2 and G3 sub-groups, more so by the mainly urban English – educated and non-Mandarin-speaking G2.

I am sure other studies will reveal similar sub-groupings in the Malay and Indian communities.

Some important questions to ask with regard to inclusiveness as a national ideology are:
>Are we inclusive within our own communities?
>Are we inclusive across the different communities?
>What are the things that perpetuate the phenomenon of intra and inter-group exclusiveness?
>What can we do to reduce, if not eradicate, the feeling of exclusiveness?
>How can the notion of "multiculturalism" be redefined to chart a more realistic and achievable path towards inclusiveness and peaceful coexistence?

These are questions worth pondering and mulling over before answering them as honestly and intelligently as we can. Before the bigots and extremists in our respective communities take over with their exclusive stances in the streets and in Parliament, the more sensible among us must prevail to mediate the dangers of exclusiveness.

The writer keenly follows developments in politics, culture and education. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com