Why I don't believe in unity

DECEMBER 5 ― With the resurgence of white supremacy movements and increased nationalistic fervour the world over, I find constant talk of “unity” and “patriotism” disturbing.

Whenever people bring up that story about the bundle of sticks that held together would not break, they do not realise that anecdote is a popular one... in fascist circles.

The bundle of sticks itself represents “strength through unity” so I cringe whenever well-meaning people use the anology without realising its context.

This notion that everyone needs to group together under a single banner or cause is problematic. Dissent is necessary and natural. The key challenge is to navigate differences instead of trying to whitewash them with twee slogans.

I do not believe Malaysians need to “unite.” Instead we need to learn to be more accepting and put a little more effort into figuring out how to live together without the use of subjugation.

There are Malaysians who actually think that what the Indonesians did a long time ago ― banning the use of Chinese names and langauges ― was the right thing to do to foster unity by making everyone use the national language whether they wanted to or not.

Fast-forward decades later and how is that working out? You can take away their ethnic names and their right to display their ethnic differences, but you cannot erase an ethnicity.

The animosity against Chinese Indonesians is perhaps low-key now but those past actions did not fix anything. It was convenient wallpapering over the cracks in Indonesia's race relations but still those tensions exist, without the root cause being properly addressed: income disparity and dissatisfaction due to widespread poverty and lack of opportunity.

We are not good at dealing with our differences. We prefer to make ourselves blind to them, using convenient slogans such as: “We are all Malaysian.” It is easier, this comfortable blanket labelling, than to take a look at who we are.

The past few weeks I have had to deal with daily attacks on my social media at my refusal to acknowledge Malaysia belongs to just one race, that everyone else (including my East Malaysian ancestors apparently) are only immigrants who should be more grateful.

It makes me wonder just how we are going to progress as a nation when the “race supremacy” ideology is continually used for political mileage.

How long can we go on, if we continue to allow this narrative of one race above all? Until we stop making everything about race we will be stuck in this perpetual limbo, never truly moving forward.

There is no “one Malaysia” and it shouldn't even be the goal. Until we truly accept that we are a weird, wonderful rojak made better by the various elements that make us instead of trying to create a weird homogeneity, we are not going anywhere as a nation.

Until that happens, I think we just need to keep calm and get behind one thing at least: we can do better than this.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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