What next? — Christine Lai

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SEPTEMBER 6 — “Even the Chinese like it; they buy a lot”. I looked more closely at the piece of lingerie in my hand. Yes, that’s right, lingerie or in plain English — underwear of the female kind. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. What, now even underwear has gone racist, is it?

I wanted to ask the enthusiastic salesgirl, “So how about the Indians, they don’t like?” But I kept my peace. Who knows, if I open my big mouth and get overheard by some zealous patriot who feels insulted about their ‘rights’ to inner fashion, I might get a slew of police reports lodged against me. Which pity our men-in-blue, they may then have to waste their precious time hauling puny little me in for investigation under the Sedition or whatever Act for promoting ill-will and inciting hatred in society. Look, they already have their hands full with honourable MPs, ADUNs, oh, and don’t forget university lecturers. I should just keep my mouth shut and pray like a good Malaysian.

Which I do. Pray, I mean; though I am not too sure about the “good” Malaysian bit. Nowadays if I listen or read too much, sometimes I wonder. After all, sometime back my ‘kind’ has been called ‘pendatang’ and recently anti-Malay, anti-Islam, anti-bumiputra and arrogant. And if I voted opposition, for sure I am classified anti-government. That’s a lot of A’s but all not ‘good’. Despite that, I am still Malaysian, right — at least I think so. Last I checked my Kad Pengenalan, it’s still blue and the words imprinted on it.

If I were made of lesser stuff (not that I am great stuff, but just a matter of speech), I would really be very doubtful of my status as a Malaysian. I am supposed to feel good about being Malaysian, especially with all that ra ra ra parade, videos and speeches made just about a week ago, on August 31st. I anticipate being treated to a second round in about two weeks’ time come Sept 16th. More of that “How far we have come as a nation united in diversity” line, blah blah blah. Which apparently for some means that I can only be Malaysian if I do, say or think certain things a certain way, like ‘them.’

They say the older the wine, the better the flavour. Unfortunately it doesn’t apply to nations. Ok so I shouldn’t be such a negative cynic. I should lighten up, look on the bright side, we are not that bad surely. Consider America, she’s 200 over years old and racial issues are still bubbling up in her society to this day. What do you expect of ‘baby’ Malaysia; we who are not just 2-hued — either black or white — but literally a melting-pot of different coloured skins. Even our God/gods are different.

Still when push comes to shove, honestly I am tired of all the posturing and postulating. Maybe it’s the depressing politics that’s getting to me. But why do I sense that everything in Malaysia is being reduced to one of two ‘hot-buttons’, or both at the same time? I call them the 2 R’s — no brownie points for guessing what the acronym stands for. I wonder, is there nothing else we can obsess about except race and/or religion? Is that all Malaysians are about? Everyone jumps every time the buttons are pressed. We moan or shout (depending on which side you are on), “Not again!”

I walked out of the hypermart with two sets of the lingerie which apparently is a big hit with the Malays. Surely that doesn’t make me more a Malay, less a Chinese or a Malaysian Malaysian. But I couldn’t help thinking at the rate things are going, it’s going to be a long long time (another 50 years perhaps?) before we can claim to be truly 1Malaysia. Nice catchy acronyms, patriotic slogans, splashy bill-boards and repeated promises aren’t enough anymore to camouflage the ingrained prejudices lying underneath us all.

Whether or not we realize or admit it, we have them. We still stereotype different people not just by skin colour or faith; but by gender, age, social status, political affiliation, even sexual inclination. It may not be outwardly manifested, but it’s there all the same underneath the smiles and declarations of equality, freedom and tolerance for all. I’ll be the first to admit I have prejudices. There’s the prejudice of fear.

Fear that we will lose our ‘rights’ if we give in to others. Fear of being taken advantage of. Fear of being misunderstood as weak. Fear of reprisal from our own kind. Fear of offense. Fear of rejection. And on the other side of the coin, there’s the prejudice born of pride. Pride of ancestral roots. Pride of historical privilege. Pride of cultural or moral superiority. Pride of assumptions and presumptions. Pride of ‘face’.

Fear keeps us from growing up. Pride puts us on a false pedestal above ‘those others.’ The cure isn’t in a legal constitution, a social contract, street demos, NGOs or a change of government. Those may help things along the road to unity, but really at issue is the condition of our own hearts. Actually the cure is simple and complicated at the same time. It’s in a 4-letter word; and it doesn’t begin with F, but with L.... spelt L-O-V-E. It’s not that we don’t love Malaysia, the nation; I have absolutely no doubt we all do. It’s only “those other” Malaysians — her people — we have problems loving.

A quote comes to my mind: “The destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.” Hmmm, me thinks there are a lot of monkeys in Malaysia now.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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