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COMMENTARY, Sept 12 — Racial generalisations and stereotypes are dangerous, not least because it condemns every member of a race to a particular trait such as dishonesty or stupidity, but because its lack of scientific basis encourages shallow thinking.
Take what our former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said yesterday about the Malays.
He described the Malays as lazy and lacking in honesty.
To back his claims, he said that many Malays were not hardworking enough and forced to sell their land for money.
He also cited how Malay employees at his bakery stole his money. "That is the problem with the Malays. They don't have honesty," he said.
Think about what Dr Mahathir said for a moment. Many Malaysians probably did not.
I know many non-Malays would have privately applauded Dr Mahathir because it reinforces their own deep-seated bias about the traits of Malays.
“You see, even Dr Mahathir thinks the Malays are lazy and dishonest,” they would have thought to themselves or told their friends.
I know of many of my Malay friends who would also think the same as Dr Mahathir.
It is very easy, thinking in racial stereotypes.
Of course, if a non-Malay were to say the same thing as Dr Mahathir, then there would probably be a queue outside the nearest police station of right wing groups baying for blood.
Here's the thing — I also have been guilty of resorting to racial stereotypes and spewing what is downright racist speech among my friends.
I have made fun of Indians, Malays, Chinese, Caucasians, and others. You name a race and I have insulted them.
Am I proud of it? No. But I used to justify it because it was mostly said in jest.
I can say right now that I was wrong. Just as Dr Mahathir was wrong to use such racial stereotypes to make such sweeping generalisations. Even if it is against his own race.
Such behaviour is learned. Racism is learned. Lazy thinking like that is learned.
It is really time for us, Malaysians, to unlearn our race-based thinking. It is time for us to stop having such lazy minds.
I don't think Malays are lazy. Neither are the Chinese unscrupulous and dishonest. Nor are Indians wife-beaters. The Ibans and the Kadazans are not drunkards. Or lazy.
Why? Because a race cannot be lazy. A race cannot be dishonest.
Individuals can be lazy, drunks, dishonest or wife beaters. The colour of one's skin does not make a person lazy or dishonest.
If there are more lazy Malays in this country, then it is likely because there are more Malays in this country. I say likely because I have not conducted a scientific examination of whether there are disproportionately more lazy Malays than, say, the Chinese.
The only time a person's race should really matter is on medical grounds. You see, people of different races have certain genetic traits that doctors sometimes need to know for diagnosis and treatment.
Earlier this week, Malay Mail Online posted a video with the title "Are Malaysians racist?" The video has sparked some debate about whether it was scientific enough to draw any conclusions.
It wasn't scientific. It was just a snapshot of people who made a decision to refuse to say racist things.
And, frankly, we have to decide all the time not to be racist. It's a decision we should consciously try to make all the time.
So forget about whether the video was scientific, or whether different demographics would have had no problems in saying racist things.
For now just take the video at face value and use the people in the short film as role models.