JULY 4 — Set aside the minister’s political illiteracy regarding his “Africans in the plantations” solution. Consider how Malaysians responded separate from his political survival, and it’s clear this country has serious race problems, not the least xenophobia.
The memes, crude remarks and jokes, oh the jokes, reflect a deep disdain for ethnicities, as if carpet-bomb insults of whole communities is par for the course.
Can Malaysians tell apart who they hate and what they hate?
The 2018 general election suggested there were core behaviours Malaysians opposed. The “whats” which average Malaysians opposed which caused a government to fall.
Yet, past events suggest otherwise. Somehow, the “who” never went away.
We despise people we know very little about, out of differences. Though from their vantage point, we seem profoundly different from where they sit.
There is so much negativity when it is about foreigners, and those who have come to this country.
In the past week, a reporter asked her circle about their true feelings about foreigners, the new arrivals. She asked people to discard political correctness — which shapes individual’s official view — and to speak candidly. So, they did. Foreigners were fine as long as they did not stand too close, so they confided.
Where are they to stand, these new arrivals, these riff-raffs?
We are happy to have them serve our drinks and meals in any restaurant, clean the urinals at the malls, lay out the tracks for the trains which take us home, pick up our trash and assist us with credit card transactions at the petrol kiosk, but not have them live near us. That would be too much.
And by them, what is meant are those from the dark subcontinent, South Asians and Africans. The Japanese remain revered and Westerners honoured, so the real source of displeasure are the cultural lower beings, those without a respectable GDP or Hollywood narratives.
But seriously, where are they to live?
With more than two million migrants, much more according to experts, where can they live?
The feedback is “not where we live.”
The history of migration is about new proximities. Arrivals threaten to come closer.
Like in my hood.
In Taman Suntex, Bangladeshis sell scraped coconuts, and in Pekan Hulu Langat, a short run away from the start of Mount Nuang are Pakistanis.
In lieu of the xenophobia, committed to it, a developer placed workers at Johor’s Bandar Iskandar Puteri in containers, years ago. Keep them away from the populace was the developer’s ethos. Human rights advocates were up in arms, but truly, in practical terms only the locals’ views mattered.
Does that solve problems?
While growing up, every time there was theft the community blamed the Indonesians.
They were involved with the area’s construction, lived in kongsi settlements and were decidedly, Indonesian. As such, key suspects to any pilfers, from shoes to house safes. They were Indonesians, after all.
Which explains why, Hadiah, one of my cleaners from the settlement with Javanese blood says her daughter — a McDonald’s assistant manager — is no more Indonesian.
Both she and her husband are Javanese, but after enduring abuse from the locals, they are proud their daughter by training is not Indonesian anymore. It reflects less on Hadiah and more on us as a people.
Two things require explanation. About who migrants are, where they are from and what they mean in a proper democracy.
Don’t conflate behaviour with race.
Most Malaysians reduce people to their racial stereotypes. They are wrong, they are dead wrong.
If one Indian national had done one thing wrong, then it is presumed all Indian nationals will do the same. Because 1.3 billion Indians have wired themselves to each other like the Borg. To the typical Malaysian. Apparently.
People can’t live up to your prejudices or follow misconceptions. If you have bad experiences, adopt safeguards and even premiums but do not reduce people to your tropes. Mind you, it is Malaysians who have seemingly perpetrated the largest frauds in the country’s history not foreigners.
Second, migrants built this country.
That’s not derisory, that’s fact.
Migrants todays are leaders tomorrow.
The single most attractive thing about Malaysia is its wild demographics. Vietnam has Chinese from its border, and Indonesia has a minority Chinese population. Philippines is right next to China and inherits the migration. Malaysia has them all, the neighbours and the Indians and Chinese. It is a potent, potent mix.
My best friend Pit told me of the time he and another Malaysian were queued to a migration counter at an airport, and were deep in conversation. They did not notice that a separate group of tourists from China and India could not grasp how an ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian were into each other. They were bewildered. They would be, though the duo were far away from Malaysia, their Malaysian signature was on display. No one has what we have.
Migrant means most of Malaysia. From those from the middle kingdom, subcontinent or nusantara, migrants built Malaysia.
It honours my own late mum, a migrant to these shores, that her children do their bit for Malaysia.
My brother yesterday secured safety for the local kids threatened by monkeys from the woods by getting the forestry department to put up cages to trap the animals. Six were caught and about to be relocated. The community is beholden to him.
I just write columns.
And millions of migrant kids keep the lights on in the Federation of Malaysia. The only difference is when they got here, or their parents got here.
So the summary is, it is time to let the hate go.
The new arrivals are from various destinations and they look different. But so were your ancestors when they got here. They smell different, eat different and speak different, but what difference does it make?
While monoethnic nations learn to embrace the world, Malaysia has done it for millenniums. It is time to let the hate go and learn to use the people who come to us. To utilise their skills, abilities and endurance.
Today is the 4th of July.
Two hundred and forty-three years ago they pronounced:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That’s what we need to know and appreciate. Beyond the political calculations, demographic fears and irrational hates. Those who come after us, and will remain on, just want to pursue happiness. And that can’t be a bad thing. Least of all to Malaysia.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.