Probing deeper into our ‘preferences’ — Joyce Shamini

FEBRUARY 7 — I refer to Alywin Lau’s Opinion piece titled “Why ‘Chinese (or Indian or Malay) only’ rooms for rent aren’t racist”. I agree to a certain extend that race-based criteria could be just a matter ofpreference. The real question is, (and this is where things tend to get sticky) from where hence do these preferences arise from?

After all, if these preferences were merely for practical reasons, instead of going by general assumptions, a landlord may simply specify their requirements in clear terms.For example, if yourconcern is aboutkeeping kitchen proceedings halal, then say so in your advertisement. In fact, by specifying that you only want a Malay tenant, you’re losing out on all the other potential halal-adherent tenants out there, regardless of race or religion. Unless, that is the very intention?

If language is the criteria, then say so. It should be obvious to a woke Malaysian that one’s race doesn’t necessarily equate their ability to hold their mother tongue. (or even live up to their racial stereotypes!) A Chinese might not necessarily be fluent in Mandarin or an Indian may be better at Bahasa Melayu than English. If language is the real concern, then by all means, state your conversational requirements and go as far as dictating your expected fluency!

Alwyn’s point of view basically conflates a person’s home and lifestyle preferences to somethingan individual hardly has control over- ethnicity, plausible but not always foolproof. Socialcategorizations such as ethnicity does play a large role to definea person’s make up forged through shared communal beliefs or value systems. But when it comes down to actual tenancy etiquettesuch as hygiene and making punctual payments, it ultimately boils down to an individual’s sense of ethics and responsibility, not simply just race!

I empathize with landlords that may have been “traumatised” by multiple negative experiences with a certain people group or races, and therefore have conditioned themselves to justify putting up race-based renting criteria. However, in the long run, this move will only come back to bite us. Number one, we are reinforcing all sorts of baseless racial stereotypes by doing so (including stereotypes against ourselves), number two, we are also absolving the individual of personal responsibility when we conveniently, and wrongfully, shift the blame from the individual to an entire people group.

Of course, banning race-based renting would cause quite a bit of inconvenience to landlords and raise some hoo-ha over at the housing industry, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the long-term damage if we continue to allow the unhealthy and toxic perpetuation of racial discrimination to fester. A culturally, ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse country like this must learn totread gracefully in navigating the nuances of social pluralism. Banning race-based rentals will disrupt tenantships drastically and teach us to see people as individuals instead of their race or skin colour. Now surely that’s a far more concrete step towardsnational progress than race-blaming over every social woe!

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

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