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Racial rules and identity politics

23 Jul 2020 / 00:20 H.

TEN days ago in Parliament, a racist and sexist 10 minutes was videoed for the rest of us to experience. There were a number of commentaries about it and just as easily as it was dismissed, we too have moved on to the next issue that has caught our interest.

As uncomfortable as it may be, I’ve decided to continue pulling at that thread here, because the conversation hasn’t ended.

We know racism is bad. We know colourism is not right. We know sexism is destructive and we know privilege is a problem. But knowing about these injustices and experiencing them for yourself are very different things.

(I’d like to note here that I do not want to conflate racism, colourism, sexism and privilege because it erases the very specific challenges of each.)

Last week, my article on the issue garnered a lot of shares and comments. People related and shared their own heartbreaking experiences, for which I believe we need to continue speaking about.

One common theme that came through was that we know that our policies, specific politicians, institutions, social norms, and us Malaysians are guilty of racism, colourism, sexism and using our privilege. Yet there is little intentional breaking down of the systems that have led to these unequal outcomes.

We use broad strokes to condemn the situation with blame-filled statements – it’s the politicians, it’s the education system, it’s the policies, it’ll take years to fix.

All true but the question is are we ourselves willing to think critically and act tangibly now in solidarity with the marginalised?

Are we the ones standing up when people are put down for their race, colour or religious beliefs?

Are we willing to look below the surface of these broad stroke statements and understand the racial rules or call out the politicians, the policies and institutions that lead to such unequal outcomes?

And are we able to see that inequality is not a choice of those marginalised but exclusionary and discriminative policies pin them to such a life.

Politicians who deliberately undermine social harmony are on the rise all over the world.

For these politicians, only their own voters are seen as real people.

Everyone else is a traitor of the country, an immigrant who should be grateful or enemies of the beliefs of the so-called real people.

We have our very own versions of it here.

Malaysia, however, adds a double dose of race and religion to that mix, and religious and racial guilt runs deep in our veins.

There is an obligation to support someone of your ethnicity or religious leanings.

So the country has become increasingly polarised around identity which allows anyone who does not fit the parameters to be left out.

Partisan affiliation takes over and anything that is different to us is bad or scary or wrong.

Such fear comes in different forms – a certain race is bad, those people are taking over the country, they will take away your land, and lord over you.

Oftentimes military jargon is used as if we are going to war within the country because of racial and religious sensitivities.

How often do we question how much of this fear is in our heads and how much of it affects our daily prejudices? When it comes to images of the now infamous Makcik Kiah, who is it that we see in our heads? Is she a woman of any ethnicity or does she represent one ethnic and religious group? So even when the government has not specified, the language, politics and social engineering policies has prejudiced even the innocent anecdotal Makcik Kiah.

How do we remedy these issues?

We continue addressing the hidden and written racial rules not just on a social interpersonal level but on every level.

If you watched that 10-minute video of what transpired in Parliament last week you’ll see a few things – her mic was turned off mid-speech, politicians jeered and laughed, and there were those who trivialised the issues.

Politicians will continue to do this but it’s up to us Malaysians to decide on the positive rules that we want for greater inclusion.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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