I WAS sent a “form” to fill in when I enquired about a rental property as follows:
>How many people staying:
>Moving in when:
>Are you familiar with this place:
>Prefer Fully or partially furnished:
>Prefer How many Car Parks :
>How long tenancy: How many years?
>Where do you stay now:
>Reason for shifting:
When I asked why race was on the form, the realtor replied “hope you don’t mind”. So I responded by saying “if you tell me why it’s necessary then I’ll decide if I mind or not”.
To which the realtor said “some owners worry” as if I should know and understand their “worry”.
Then he said he’ll look for an owner who has not placed a race criterion in their search for a suitable tenant. He then said, “if I can have some info ... I will try my best to persuade the owner” to which I replied, “it’s okay I don’t want to rent from racist people either”.
A few minutes later, another realtor called, but without any pleasantries asked “what race are you ah?”
So I asked him why it mattered and he said because the owner had specified which race(s) they would rent to.
Out of curiosity I then asked “... and what race is the owner looking for?”
He said “just Malay or Chinese”. So I said in that case I’m not the tenant for them, thanked him and hung up.
This happened on Monday. It was the first time I decided to rent in Malaysia and in my search for a place to live, I have also seen ads with preferences based on religion, which I can understand.
We hear about these things and read about it, but here I am experiencing such prejudice before they even meet me.
These conversations were happening over the phone and email, where my race, the colour of my skin were their foremost concern.
It reminded me of a conversation during my PhD research when a Malaysian man said to me “Natalie, you are at a disadvantage because not only are you a women in this field, you are an Indian woman, you are the lowest on the scale so you have to be three times, or four times, or even five times better than everyone else, even then there is no guarantee.”
The thing is, this isn’t just something Indian women face here. On a trip to Barcelona a similar incident occurred which left me thinking no matter my accomplishments and personality, or how well I dress, it was my skin colour that determined if I was good enough even for a street vendor.
I most definitely experienced similar incidents these past few years as a foreigner in a European university.
But here I am, in my homeland. The country where I sing “tanah tumpahnya darah ku” and no matter my accomplishments, financial standing and tidiness, I am told that the colour of my skin, or my race, is what determines if I am a worthy tenant or not.
It cuts deep and I won’t pretend that it didn’t hurt or affect me. It did, so much so I am writing about it here because not only is racism so public and done blatantly, what it says is that I’m not your equal not matter what.
This doesn’t just happen when it comes to rentals, it happens with jobs and even social settings, where judgment is based on skin tone and not character, merit or experience.
So imagine how it felt on Monday afternoon watching what transpired in Parliament.
For those who aren’t familiar, watching the video shows you more than just reading the headlines. Here was an Indian woman who is a second-term member of Parliament for Batu Kawan asking about the lack of female representation. To which a male MP, who later calls himself dark, responds saying that she’s too dark for him to see. Not only does he dismiss her valid questioning, he insults her in the process. He takes it further after an uproar, and tells her to wear powder. Why did he think he could do it? Because he knew his privilege and he used it to cause shame and inflict pain.
If you do watch the video, look at the number of women who laughed at her being told that she was too dark to be seen and told to wear powder.
Think about the number of women and men in the room who remained silent and remember the people who stood by her. These are the things that are not captured in the newspaper or by the media. Add to that the lack of order.
What’s worse, she was denied the courtesy of an apology because the Speaker did not deem it necessary. The reason?The perpetrator insincerely retracted his comments with no remorse.
It gets worse. The news portal that carried the video reported it as “hangat” (heated) and elaborated saying it involved the key words “gelap” (dark) and “bedak” (powder) dismissing it further as another male MP who could not put forth his motion because Parliament was postponed due to the uproar.
There were a lot of comments online about the uproar, but many missed the essence of bullying, misogyny, ageism, sexism and racism in the DNA of those involved. These are not things to dismiss.
Why are people shamed for their heritage, skin colour, age and gender? And why do we continue to allow such behaviour or “oversights”? And why do the people being bullied have to “take it” or “relax”?
The first thing the Speaker insisted on day two of the Parliament seating was to ask the perpetrator to apologise. Clearly no lesson was learnt because his apology came with a ridiculous explanation of the intention. Does this behaviour then stop in Parliament?
Last week, Cadbury was called out for not promoting racial diversity in its latest advertisement. Even their explanation promising to do better fell flat.
There is so much erasing of our cultures and diversity in this country. There is so much fear mongering and ingrained racism that we can’t even see it unless it happens to us directly, even then we don’t want to raise a fuss in case we’re called argumentative, emotional or sensitive. As the Speaker said: “Let’s not drag this issue further.” Easy to say when it has not repeatedly happened to you.
There was a time where we used to say “no lah it’s just the politicians who are dividing us”, but social engineering policies and identity politics have made us the racist society that we are.
The situation has become extremely toxic and ingrained to the extent that we think that it is normal and acceptable as long as it does not happen to us.
I related my experience with the realtor to a friend. She said she went through something similar and told me “turn it around Natalie and before the realtor can ask you what race box you tick, ask them if the owners are racist”.
The question now is how do we flip our own racist genes and that of those who sit in Parliament.