Friday, January 23, 2009

What does it mean by being Malaysian?

Recently someone I knew through Facebook posted a note concerning a Race Relations Act proposed by the Malaysian government. According to this writer, there shouldn’t be a need for such an act as matters concerning racial harmony should be natural. For this I am in complete agreement.

The writer then went on to suggest that the best start is for Malaysian ethnic minorities (non-Bumiputeras), mainly the Chinese and Indians to start referring themselves as Malaysians. His thoughts were that these minorities fear that by regarding themselves as Malaysians, they are betraying their racial and cultural identities. He went on further by writing that learning and speaking the national language should not be a threat to their mother tongues. If they can get past this first barrier without any resentment, then it’s a huge step worthy of congratulations.

As a second generation Malaysian of Chinese descendant, I was a bit upset reading this. I felt that it has been unfair to put this “initiation” responsibility on the non-Bumiputeras only. In order to illustrate my point, I posted a comment on his post based on my own personal experience.

When I was fifteen years old, I did rather well for my PMR (lower secondary examination) and was second best student in my school. At that time, the local newspaper (The New Straits Times) decided to provide two awards for each school in the entire Klang Valley. The best student was another Chinese student. So, technically, we were both supposed to receive the awards but my school decided to give one to her and the other to a Malay student who came third.

I remember how my spirit was crushed and at that time, I didn’t really understand what was going on because I haven’t really grasp the whole concept of Bumiputera privilege. This goes to show how I had regarded myself as Malaysian and the fact that my parents had sent me to a public national school proved that they had wanted me to learn Bahasa Melayu together with all the other races. When I was growing up, I had never once heard my parents badmouthing the Malays or Indians, etc. So, I was not brainwashed into believing which race is superior and which not.

Then, I went on to explain how I had supported the Malaysian national badminton team during the Thomas Cup, being an avid badminton fan at that time. I would argue and fight with my father who were supporting the Chinese team (it didn’t mean that my father was influencing me in any way. It was his choice and that was it).

Mainly, my point was that we are not the only who should regard ourselves as Malaysians, but the Bumiputeras should as well.

Then, someone else responded to my comment by saying that I should be happy being second and the award was not important. I responded back by saying that the award wasn’t the main point. It is about fairness and equality. The person responded back by saying that there wasn’t any point for us (the Malays and the rest) to harp on this issue and we should just get along. I commented that I agree with his view but I was merely pointing out what I thought was a flaw in the writer’s post.

The funny thing is, nobody else added on to our comments. It was just between me (the Chinese girl) and him (a Malay guy).

So, these are just some opinions and sentiments expressed between a very small group of Malaysians. However, in reality, this is precisely what is happening here in Malaysia at a national level.

You have someone who made, what I consider as a one sided opinion, a Chinese who expressed an opposing opinion, another Malay who tried to “hush” or shove the main issue under the carpet by saying that we should all get along and finally the rest who just remain silent possibly for fear of incitement of racial hatred. This is the current state of Malaysia,

What I want to say is, I don’t support the Race Relations Act but at the same time, neither do I support the Sedition Act where Malaysians are being hushed up in order not to create any incitement to racial disharmony. The sad thing is, usually when a Malay proclaims the supremacy of its race, he/she gets away with it but if the Chinese or Indians fight to maintain their mother tongues in National Type Schools (where Chinese and Tamil languages are used in the medium of teaching), they are being seditious.

So in the end, who is more Malaysian? Someone who wants to see his/her nation progresses by living up to its duties to all Malaysians, or someone who tries to stick his/her head under the sand?

As long as all races are not being considered and treated as equal, do not expect all of them to feel as one.


  1. This makes interesting reading. I am ashamed to confess that before I started reading your blog, I didn't realise that there was a difference between how Malays and the other races within Malaysia were treated. It just shows how successful the authorities are in promoting a certain appearance.

    Maybe this is a simplistic view, but why can't the authorities realise that it is quite possible to be proud of your Chinese or Indian heritage, as well as being 'Malaysian'? The two shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

  2. Hi Hannah,

    thanks for your comment.

    This problem of racial "segregation" has been ongoing in Malaysia and unfortunately, a lot of it can be attributed to how the three races were given different roles during the British colonialization. The Malays were in charge of administration, the Chinese were mostly merchants and the Indians were hard labourers.

    So, once we gained independence, a new constitution was drafted by the Reid Commission ( The constitution provides special status and privileges to the Malays.

    As such, the Malays are regarded as the Supreme Ruler of Malaysia and as years go by, due to the disparity of economic status, the Malays were given special privileges in almost every socio-economic aspects; education, purchase of property, business, etc.

    The problem is, most Indians were in the lowest economic class and yet, they are never given any privileges at all.

    Now, due to this special privilege policies, many have questioned whether it should be stopped since the economic gap between the Malays and Chinese are getting closer (although in actual fact, majority of Malays living in rural areas have not been benefitting from this). Hence, part of the reasons why the ruling party has suffered a significant lost during the last election.

    On top of this, we have a Sedition Law which allows the government to arrest and imprisoned anyone who questions this special rights given to the Malays. As you said, this law has successfully created an atmosphere of fear among the different races (mainly the minorities) to speak up and many have been punished under the law in previous and recent years.

    The ruling party, the Barisan Nasional, consists of a coalition of parties representing each races, and specifically UMNO (the Malay "branch") has persistently defended this special privilege policy.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out why. Most of these high ranking government officials, also members of UMNO, are the ones who benefit most from this policy.