Colour up your rooms, landlords

FEBRUARY 7 — Ah Meng is in town. So is Ah Kit, Ah Pit and Aji.

So, I’m in a good mood and I’d like the following to not be an invitation for negativity. I’m not responding as much as continuing the article by fellow columnist, Alwyn Lau.

By the way, Happy Chinese New Year Alwyn.

He opined it’s not racist to be openly prejudicial about room rentals.

It had specificity, the opinion. To be racially exclusive with room space — in residential units — adverts. 


The main premise was preference is not a synonym of discriminate. Well, it is, in the general sense.

There are elements which need clarification.

The vast majority of residential rentals are entire unit take-ups, like a house, flat, or condominium. They are not the focus of the mentioned op-ed.

Whole units can be sublet, where the main tenant looks for co-occupants via him, which is usual. Also, not within the locus of the article.

Interest was limited to unit owners leasing out specified space in their dwellings, and to be preferential about it. This would be a small segment of the overall residential rent market.

The question being, can an altar-possessing pork connoisseur with large Labradors on the living room couch who occasionally curses in Hokkien (advanced Pai Ti Kong wishes to the community) explicitly mention he rules out non-Chinese in his “Room For Rent” ad? Or Indian for Indian only, Iban for Iban only, you get the drift.

First, a “Room For Rent” inevitably drags in the overall residential rent segment. Even if it is not fair to conflate, it naturally overlaps.

Therefore, It lends support to the larger notion it is acceptable to discriminate, and that is why it is objectionable to me.

Second, cognisance “preferences” will play out anyways. All owners vet applicants and filter them along their personal beliefs. Not disallowing non-Chinese to apply for space, does not prohibit rejection at the initial phone conversation stage, during unit visit or when the owner mulls the applicants before selection.

It is the silent filter. The discrimination persists.

The discussion here rather is about the right to openly express the “preference.” Some realist might chip in that it saves the applicants time by knowing upfront they’d be excluded eventually due to the owner’s unstated “preferences.”

Third, the visceral nature of room rentals. It’s one thing to imagine scenes in the unit rented out from one’s premises elsewhere, quite another to live with the tenants.

To lumber out in the morning from your room to be confronted by a guy in his boxers frying bacon strips in the kitchen before he showers for work. Shared space involves personal space, like toilets.

Which leads to the proposition, can’t landlords state expected indulgences and prohibitions prior in the ad rather than rule people out on demography?

“Owner, worships nudity, will prance around living room in birthday suit whenever Arsenal wins.” (Thank Caesar, they don’t usually.)

“Won’t put up with pets, even cockroaches”

“Must know the words to every Barry Manilow song, or at least fake it.”

There’s an elephant in the room. The Muslim equation. Many non-Malays feel it is necessary to match the perceived low tolerance Malays have, in the areas of food, refrigeration, religious observations, gender interaction and general cultural permissiveness. That in a perverse outcome the owner might end up compromising too much, subjugated by the tenant.

Mind you, it is horrible to generalise people. Persons while they are affected by the demography and dominant thinks in them, they are not captives of their demography. Why not judge each Malay as the individual he/she is and not as how Malaysia tempers perception?

Fourth, many oppose integration and want race homogeneity. They don’t want your room if you are Mr Wong, unit owner. It’s no accident Setapak, Wangsa Maju or Shah Alam have race inclinations in population. But those who do want mixed race environments, they are attempting to give their share to integration, why deny them?

Fifth, the discussion is pertinent as our cities crawl vertical. The idea of keeping people separated in private spaces struggles as condominium common areas, swimming pools, function rooms and barbeque pits would expose races to “objectionable” behaviours.

In an essence, our walls are thinning, surely the direction is race mixing in the most delicate of areas and not the opposite.

Sixth, other discriminations, that there is social acceptance of other selected discriminations. The female-only unit being the winning argument. It’s PAS-esque bizarrely; however, many societies attempt to normalise unisex lodgings. After all, even in a female-only apartment, a housemate may still bump into someone’s male friend in the corridor at 3am. In a liberal eventuality, gender violence will be mitigated enough to be an afterthought in open gender interaction. Alright, that’s obviously more aspirational than factual.

Finally, those who seek rooms ― not whole units ― invariably earn limited incomes, and therefore aremfinancially straitjacketed. If owners want only their own kind, it would severely restrict options for small minorities like Sikh ladies. There are stories as such distributed, individuals just looking for a room invalidated.

In Singapore, landlords seem less resentful of the opposite gender, races and nationalities, though I expect in the republic everyone is subject to tenancy agreements.

It’s the colour of life

A multicultural society is hard work.

Australia was an easier country to advocate values during White Australia, by virtue of strict emigration laws. The flood of people since the 1970s has meant things are a bit more complicated.

[And pockets of support for all kinds of international players at the Australian Open and New Year’s test cricket — thanks to Serbians, Croatians and Indian Australians.]

But it is a better country for it. More complicated does not mean worse values, if anything, Australians have been enriched by a more colourful country.

Malaysia has races.

In my university days, college administrators decided on my behalf I’d be happier with an Indian Malaysian room-mate.

(He found out — early and moved out — an insane room-mate was not what he signed up for when he left Kedah.)

Or, less issues.

I concede the argument that surely, in private homes owners can decide who rents their extra room.

Justifiably wary of laws which disallows citizens from preferring, but my advocacy is for owners to open their hearts on the matter without the force of new laws.

Should Malaysia, and its complexities, end at the door? Will it be overbearing if it was outside the bedroom dancing to AR Rahman’s mixed tapes? Would it be a bridge too far to consider room-mates, so Malaysia is farting above in a bunk bed?

The existential query of when a Malaysian can withdraw from the federation, within the confines of preferred race. Therein lies even more defining questions on the level of race in being Malaysian.

But it is not all political experimentation, it is also excitement.

Crossing the race line is an adventure.

My last digs had a mad Bristol boy who climbed telecommunication towers, a story-telling Irishman and a property selling hockey-playing English lad, nestled in the edge of the red-light Titiwangsa Sentral. Even my intolerance to Backstreet Boys dropped slightly. Thank you, Martin.

He ain’t heavy

The convenient argument is when people are the same race, they argue less. They love more.

(Yes, aunts who want same-same for nephew, are racists of the benign kind. To not be racist is a daily fight within the self. They should want happiness for said nephew, not assume happiness has a colour.)

There are those who point to historical tragedies, bad policies and body count to defend a need to hold the race ground. The fact they are correct about their facts does not dissuade from the higher calling of a multicultural society, to meet itself despite the cultural recriminations.

Alwyn makes fair points, and perhaps there is restorative power when people can completely be themselves on their own terms in their private spaces.

I feel rather, they build fences.

In the vein of Robert Frost's, “Good fences make good neighbours” which was an ironic riposte to those seeking to physically separate people as means to peace.

Anyways, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the festive period by crossing the divides.

If you are a home owner, there are worse things to do for the universe than to have someone alien to everything you hold dear hang around.

But I understand your fear. I just wished you found your love too.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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