On Being Malay…and becoming racist
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.
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 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.
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.
26 Responses to “On Being Malay…and becoming racist”
it is precisely because you are not conventional and traditional that you’re better able to see things more objectively. i think being part of any system tends to blind you (to others).
yuch said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 3:06 am
I share your sense of resentment that you harbour about the current situation but I fear that realistically, this will always be the case so as long as we there is a concept of a minority/majority divide amongst man.This divide can be about religion, race and even education endowment. Of course, this does not justify for the marginal pandering that majority always pander to minority but it helps to explain why it happens; majority always will think that they are right and any outreach will always be percieved by themselves as a favour rendered towards the minority. A problem of democracy, the tyranny of the majority because of their monopoly on legitimate powers. Democracy I guess is the best we have now so I guess we would just have to mae do with it.
The only solution I see for closer integration would be for an alien invasion of the earth but I guess that bit is out of our control. In the meantime, just hold your head high and live your life because being defiant is the least that we can do.
Joey said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 7:01 am
I feel your pain and share your anguish. I was shocked by the racial stereotyping that I encountered during NS and by the implication that due to my work ethic, I was “Not a typical Malay” according to colleagues. Like WTF is that? I’m not sure who is to blame for making these stereotyping prevalent at all levels of society but it has got to stop.
Zaki said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 7:08 am
Betul nyer marah awak…rileks.
Kudos to you for wanting to pursue minority rights and give attention to minority issues.Somehow or rather, we are all binded by sentiments attached to our race and how race is very much related to our upbringing.
I believe your experiences during your formative years have armed you with a critical mind. and that probably u are blessed with above average kepandaian. dun’t spoil that wif anger although i cud understand your rebellion.
But what is it that makes a Malay, a Malay?
Our names? Salam orang tua bila berjumpa? Sopan santun dalam/semasa berkomunikasi? penuh akhlak dalam gerak-geri? fillial piety? selalu bersyukur? menghormati yang lebih tua dan berkuasa? descendants of Sultans and fisherman? pandai bersilat? pandai modify benda like motor, kereta, music genres? tak minat belajar? usually good at adapting?
or is it again very much associated to the religion which Malays are famous for? Geylang packed = bulan puasa = hari raya = malay ?
i myself sometimes have a problem telling people what does being a Malay mean. I will take my hats off to you if you help tell me what makes me a Malay.
nowadays, Malay youths are concerned with popular culture which somehow renegotiate their social standing through the pseudo-empowerment of certain popular sites and their related-activies.
e.g. new handphones = share porn clips = (pseudo) empowerment.
clubbing = RnB, drum n bass = cool cos mixing wif the ‘right’ crowd = (pseudo)empowerment
Years ago, the government introduced Confucianism to the secondary school students for it is devoid of anything divine. It was the same time when Religious Knowledge was part of the secondary curriculum. The mid to late 80s, RK was one subject a student can do for their O levels. Why did this stop?
Pragmatic Singapore has always seen religion as a providing a cushion to hard times, a necessity to ensure stability in fast and hectic times. That’s it. Hence, doesnt matter if one is indian, malay, others or chinese.
Singapore needs to keep the economy going. that’s it. sigh. even cultural celebrations are assets of our tourism industry. wif that, think of the special education landscape. it has chinese, malays, indians and others, and it is deemed as not having economic returns.
The Chinese are a majority. Overwhelming at times. Notice that, PAP members those who are of the minority group are usually not so Malay or not so Indian. err…u fit as one?
the ones alienated and anomic are usually the minorites because, in my humble opinion, differences are easier to spot than similarities. same for people with disabilities. we are not the majority.
however, Malays like Nizam Idris sees brighter side of
things. He says Malay youths as a “demographic bonus”.
I could email you his article if you want.
malay bloke said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 7:40 am
Oh no i forgot to mention another extremely important munjen in my life, Joey my debate partner
ballsy said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 8:30 am
malaybloke: don’t worry i have super self-restraint powers, so i’m not about to go on a violent spree anytime soon..what does being malay mean? everything and nothing at all. it is adat [tradition] and bahasa [language] and history but it is also our shared socio-political heritage: becoming the romanticised lazy native, the struggle to deal with our minority status, the dilemma of drugs, teenage pregnancies and school drop-outs. everything we go through shapes who we are and how we see ourselves.
i see the value of pragmatism. i believe in terms of bread-n-butter issues, being pragmatic and realistic ensures your survival. but we live beyond that, don’t we? we’re not SURVIVING any longer in singapore, and no matter how much doomsaying occurs, the truth is we are at a point of time in our life cycle as a nation to talk and think about issues.
Joey[folks, this is the guy who cajoles me to argue and tells me to “rape” the opponent on a regular basis]: i agree with what you said about the limitations of democracy. yes, tyranny of majority happens and it is an undeniable side effect of an imperfect system but my question is: what do we feed into the system that seems to reinforce its limitations?
ballsy said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 8:49 am
” we’re not SURVIVING any longer in singapore, and no matter how much doomsaying occurs, the truth is we are at a point of time in our life cycle as a nation to talk and think about issues.”true enough. dats why there are lots of changes happening in Singapore. because the nation is talking and thinking about issues.
but remember Michel Foucalt’s ‘repressive hypothesis’
i.e. ‘ central issue is not to determine whether it is a yes or no answer, or whether one formulates prohibitions or permissions, or whether one asserts its importance or denies its effects, or whether one refines the words one uses to designate it, BUT (my all caps) to account for the fact it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints to which they speak institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things which are said.’ (Foucalt, 1981,p. 11)
Ref: Foucalt, M., (1981) We “Other Victorians” The history of sexuality, trans. Hurley, R., Hammondsworth: Penguin
(These are good reads too:
Cherian, G., (2000) Introduction: The Politics of an Air-Conditioned Nation, Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation, Singapore: Landmark Books
Mauzy, Diane K. and Milne, R.S. (2002), Authoritarian aspects of PAP Rule, Singapore Poltics Under the People’s Action Party, London and New York: Routledge
Mutallib, H., (2000), Illiberal Democracy and the future of oppositions in Singapore, Third World Quarterly, 21(2) )
Although yeah Singapore is in its thirties, many of us are still working so hard to bring food home, to pay bills, to ensure the children are getting the right education resources. They live life without cable TV, travel holidays, visits to restaurants. etc.
Like many, these people are also bounded for live with housing commitments. Their children? Makbapak dah tua, dah takper kita kerja to help out. Mana ada time to act on issues they talk about, even in their sleep? Vicious cycle.
Beh sai chiau.
On the other camp, Singaporeans are comfortable in their laurels. Good brand new cars, pretty expensive spouses, eating out everday, eating out at expensive places on weekends, country club memberships etc etc.
Why fix something if it aint broken?
But of course, generation X is getting old. previous generations are getting older. So hopefully generation Y can bring significant changes to Singapore. You could be one of them. Like i said, you kinda have what it takes to be a PAP candidate. You cant beat them, you join em?
malay bloke said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 1:27 pm
While i totally see where you are coming from , but there are certain things that you cannot deny . There is equal education opportunity for all and from an existentialist standpoint , it is up to the individual to make the most out of what he/she is given , regardless of whatever situation they are put in.While it may be a rather depressing outlook you have there , i think society is changing , or set to change when our generation takes over . It is clear that this generation of ours can see the difference between racial integration and racial tolerance , so let’s remain optimistic about the state of things.
shangz said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 4:56 pm
i totally sympathise with amira. i hate racism, and i do not think where she is coming from is racist. racism is when you hate another race and amira is not hating on anybody. i think the situation in singapore is not about racism, but certain realities that emphasise racial cleavages. for some reason, its in the malay blood to be extremely “chill”. they dont take life too seriously and know how to relax and be simple. the chinese on the other hand, most of them, tend to be over achieving… they tend to be the ones who cannot do wihtout the 5Cs and have a very one tracked mind – $$.
then comes the problem with singapore’s system of meritocracy. it does not work for the malays! or rather, it does not work for anyone who doesnt overachieve. it is so unnecessarily competitive and such a tiring system to be in, only hardworking go-getters like amira can survive!
i mean, what about people who can sing and dance? what about artists and poets? what about people who like to do menial jobs like be a nurse? things like that are not appreciated in this society. (taufik is not counted, im talking people who have REAL talent, haha!)
i dont think the issue is whether more malays are in blue collared jobs while more chinese are in white collared jobs. its the fact that in singapore is too status conscious and blue collared jobs are not at all appreciated. i think once that mindset is changed, then people will be appreciated more for who they are as a person. not branded as “that malay boy who only knows how to waste his time with his band or playing guitar” as opposed to “that chinese boy who studies so hard and does so well in school”. as if there was everything wrong with an inclination towards music and a disinclination towards books. that is a ridiculous and fucked up mindset to have and singapore’s meritocratic system unfortunately supports this mindset.
i dont know how to go about changing this mindset but the situation is so frustrating that all i can say is that people should just learn to chill abit. stop doing so much work. learn gardening or knitting or something. and when they realise that life doesnt have to be so complicated they will also realise that people are not so complicated either. that no one is going to bomb anyone or become a terrorist or conspire to take over the world.
chinese girl said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 5:41 pm
“its the fact that in singapore is too status conscious and blue collared jobs are not at all appreciated. i think once that mindset is changed, then people will be appreciated more for who they are as a person. not branded as “that malay boy who only knows how to waste his time with his band or playing guitar” as opposed to “that chinese boy who studies so hard and does so well in school”.TRUE THAT, chinese girl! we should be a society that is mature enough to take everyone as they come and be able to appreciate our contributions by measure of their sincerity and their impressive effort, and not by their dollar value and their impressive status. we’re obsessed with money and “face” lah. someone i had a conversation with tonight wondered how they would feel if they go to their JC reunion and they hadn’t achieved as much as their classmates nor had the bling-bling to show for it. i think we all have these secret fears, whether we are brown or yellow. i’m not saying we shouldn’t want to grow up to be investment bankers, i think we should all be comfortable in our skin, in our own worth. critics are gonna say it’s an excuse for laziness, of course.
i also raise a toast to: ” people should just learn to chill abit. stop doing so much work. learn gardening or knitting or something. and when they realise that life doesnt have to be so complicated they will also realise that people are not so complicated either. that no one is going to bomb anyone or become a terrorist or conspire to take over the world.”
i think conspiring to bomb and hurt and inflict violence is a cry for help and a means to vent frustration at not having any other option for their views or their grievances to be heard. of course i’m not advocating violence [except maybe to people who cannot pronounce my very easily phonetic name..hahaha], i just think that terrorism and crime are symptoms of a greater illness, not the illness itself. and we are all complicit in making things worse.
ballsy said this on March 22nd, 2006 at 6:01 pm
“people should just learn to chill abit. stop doing so much work. learn gardening or knitting or something.”I think people should just stop working altogether. I want to, anyway.
(Ok now you guys can get back to your very empassioned and academic comments.)
w. said this on March 23rd, 2006 at 2:53 am
read my mind, you did. after years and years of being told not to question the system – ie race quotas for hdb flats, sap schools, the rationale behind racial harmony day – it’s a comfort to know that there are others who feel that this *is* an important issue and that the status quo is *not* okay.
sharada said this on March 23rd, 2006 at 2:30 pm
sharada: like what they say in our realm of competitive “sport”–Hear hear!
ballsy said this on March 23rd, 2006 at 4:15 pm
What about the other important munjen in your life, i.e. me?
popagandhi said this on March 24th, 2006 at 5:10 am
i’ve asked some friends this question before, and many of them had no answer:“If the SAP schools had to be Chinese-oriented due to China’s rise, why isn’t it Malay and Tamil/Hindi oriented for our region and India’s rise?”
gecko said this on March 25th, 2006 at 9:30 am
Here are 2 more resources for u:http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/mar/assessment.asp?groupId=83001
Barr, M. D., & Low, J. (2005). Assimilation as multiracialism: The case of Singapore’s Malays. Asian Ethnicity, 6(3). 161-182.
motherland said this on March 26th, 2006 at 3:59 am
me again: some quotes fr Barr & Low for u to enjoy Chickadees:Referring to earlier studies done by Li (1989) and Rahim (1998), Barr & Low (2005) says: “The constructed image of the Malays in Singapore has been as rural and backward, which has fed the commonly held stereotype that Malays are lazy, and at home only amongst the fruit trees.” (p.168).
The “self image” of the Malays too have suffered in the process says Barr & Low (p.168), with the Malay leadership encouraging Malays “to assimilate into the rest of the Singaporean society in the public sphere, while reserving their Malay…identities for the private sphere.” The Malay leadership also endorses the “path of assimilation through education” (p.172).
motherland said this on March 26th, 2006 at 4:03 am
makcik a.k.a auntie a.k.a. motherland.
saya minta maaf because me nak kepo sikit.im very curious about your work.
could you cerita sikit if you dun mind.
im also very curious about your take on special education/special needs in Singapore.
(i am sure New York is doing more for that minority group.
correct if I am wrong)
if you dun mind lah.
errr..if you dun wanna type too much here you can email me.
malay bloke said this on March 26th, 2006 at 1:55 pm
Hi Malay BlokeThis Aunty M, and a hopeful Dr M – I m doing my PhD on the back of US taxpayers $- I received a Graduate Asstshp with the State Univ of NY at BUffalo campus – this means I work 20hrs per week in exchange for scholarshp and a small stipend that barely feeds me Mir and the cat. We hv to stretch the greenback q a bit. My PhD is in social foundations, my research interests are in the area of tracking/streaming policies, and how low stream students (many of whom are minority males in SIngapore no?) negotiate their institutional engagement and motivation – so i m looking at issues of access and equity (social justice, reproduction of class etc) as well.
What do I think of Special Ed In SPore? Well I think much more can be done. I would like to see the system integrate students into mainstream schools for one. we sdnt segregate students into special schools and label them as people with special needs. they may not be getting the schooling they need. esp when we define education in a broad sense as a rt and neccesary socialisation of citizens. some sp need students except for physical disabilities hv the cognitive ability and rt to be in mainstream sch.
anyway u can email me at email@example.com (of course they give me an email address that is the name of an improved m16!) to talk to me.
Aunt M, Ms (and Mira’s mum – my only claim to fame at the moment?!!)
motherland said this on March 28th, 2006 at 3:37 am
Hi there,I just chanced upon your blog recently and read this post. Just wanted to say I know how you feel about this issue. I am half Malay / half Chinese (officially Malay) and I was in a SAP school. It is amazing how I was often pulled out and used as an example of being multi-cultural / racial. It was also amazing how people would use my race to “explain” away my poor performance in mathematics!
And yes, being in the education system now, I am very concerned with the performance of the Malays in school. A lot of it, I think, stems from the fact that people expect them to do badly in the first place.
Piper said this on May 6th, 2006 at 9:10 am
[…] On Being Malay…and becoming racist I am really quite enjoying Ballsy. You should too. […]
The Waiting Room » Blog Archive » Kick Push video and more said this on May 6th, 2006 at 12:46 pm
good day.first off, are you a muslim? born muslim? practising muslim?
whatever the case, coz if you are, i read with alarm that you mulled over marrying a non malay with no intention of asking him to convert to islam.
not that it is any better than marrying a malay muslim with absolutely no idea of how to be muslim.
islam transcends boundaries. there are no malays. there are no chineses.
abdul rani said this on October 31st, 2006 at 2:01 am
dear abdul rani,yes i know it does transcend racial boundaries. i also know there are no CHINESES.
i read with alarm that you judge my decisions with no understanding of who i am, where i come from, how important religon [not organised religion] is to me, and how i oppose the idea of making my partner convert because i believe that religion is personal and meaningful and not contrived and obligatory. i believe that the person i love has PRINCIPLES and that it is FRAUDULENT TO GOD to MAKE him convert when he doesn’t have it in his heart, he isn’t ready and he doesn’t believe in it.
there is too much bullshit and facade in this world, religion should be true and real.
i am undecided, unsubscribed. i am a reader of islamic philosophers, i do not believe in dogma, in rules and stipulations and postulations inherent in the way the religion is practiced at present.
ballsy said this on October 31st, 2006 at 2:16 am
in religion, there must be an element of belief. there should not be any forced subscription. otherwise, it will be like what you describe, just a ‘facade’.that said, if a man tried to commit suicide, is it acceptable if society turn a blind eye? or leave him be as he had already decided what’s good for him?
the world revolves around sets of rules and principles. even in religion there are rules. one cannot escape that. you need to understand the underlying principles. common law said that a man cannot drive a motor vehicle in a state of intoxication. what is the principle behind this law? is it not for the good of him and society? he may disagree though…but would his father advised him otherwise?
i did not mean to judge you nor was it my intention. you are your own judge. black you said, black it is.
abdul rani said this on November 1st, 2006 at 9:36 am
hmmmm rani can u get a bit more coherent so we can get at the “hati” n “jiwa” of what u r saying? sarcasm and snide remarks do not a gd discussion make?
mothership/motherland (depending on the time of the day) said this on November 1st, 2006 at 1:14 pm
My daughter was born and bred a Muslim – she can read the Quran in English and Malay and recite it in Arabic, as well as read Mernissi and Avorreos in English. I would like to believe that she doubts and questions so as to better believe in her faith. Pintu Ijtihad belum tertutup?
mothership/motherland (depending on the time of the day) said this on November 1st, 2006 at 1:47 pm ]