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Malaysia’s fertile grounds for racism: Schools. Playgrounds. Work places.

This is Adam’s story  about his school days. Adam is Malaysian. He is not Malay, and Adam is not his real name.

Yasmin’s Merdeka adverts were great

“I weep every time I see Yasmin Ahmad’s ‘Merdeka’ adverts. I wish I could return to my kindergarten and primary school days. We got on fine with one another. We had fun. For instance, we would be curious about circumcision and ask our Malay friends about it. We would be told in graphic detail. We laughed a lot then.

“Even the parent-teacher association (PTA) was more multi-racial than in secondary school. Both Malay and non-Malay teachers and our parents would reinforce the message to work hard.”

After primary school, most of Adam’s Malay friends left for secondary schooling in boarding schools.

He said, “At secondary school, the collective racial stereotyping started. I had to make difficult social decisions, whether to make multiracial friends, or choose from my own race. When I reached puberty, ‘they’ tagged me ‘a smelly Indian’. So, I kept away from the Indians.

“I joined the Chinese group, but they spoke in their own lingo, withheld information and boasted about their family’s wealth.

“The teachers told us that life would be difficult as we were non-Malay. Malays had all the opportunities and privileges, but if we studied hard, we could get a scholarship. Some teachers even advocated leaving the country.

“I came across many racist Malay teachers. They spoke in a softer tone to the Malays, and it was made clear that we were not privileged. There was a backlash of racial vitriol because Malays were seen to be lazy, and opportunities were handed to them on a silver platter.

“The difference between the non-Malays and Malays/Muslim intensified, before the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). Teachers forced us to memorise the Moral paper. Even straight ‘A’ students were stressed-out.

“Even if we had scored 9As, we knew that an A(-) or B grade in the Moral paper would have disqualified us from a scholarship.

“Oh, how we disliked the Malays then. It was seen as a form of discrimination by the government against the non-Malays.”

Malays are required to sit for the Agama paper at SPM.

Age of indoctrination

Adam believes that the age of indoctrination occurs between the ages of 17 and 19. For his Form Six, Adam enrolled in a national school which offered his course options, and this is where he encountered full-blown racism.

“It was a national school, with a Malay majority. Islam was shoved in your face. I was firmly put in my place in my first day at school.

“I felt isolated. After 11 years of English education in a Mission school, my Malay was rusty. I wasn’t Muslim and could not sit with the Malays. There was no warmth at all.

“The Chinese students spoke Mandarin and used the word ‘Keling’ freely in their conversation. They built walls in boy-girl relationships, hinting that Indian guys were a threat to Chinese girls.

“The Indians were equally community minded and conversed in Tamil. They mostly talked about movies and culture. It was a circus!

“I could only get on with the ‘coconuts’, the Indians who were ‘brown’ on the outside, but ‘white’ on the inside.”

Adam’s teachers targeted Indian students and he said, “One teacher blasted Hindraf for their association with rebellion, and would look at the Indian pupils and say, ‘Ni nak kena sembur je’, using the euphemism for tear-gas and water cannon to scold us.”

I wish I were Malay.

At his lowest point, in Form Six, Adam, “That was the beginning of my self-hate, when I questioned my identity.

“I wished I was Malay. All I wanted was a sense of belonging. ‘Balik India’ did not refer to me. I am Malaysian. I wanted to have a kampung. I just wanted to claim Malaysia as mine.”

Adam is now studying for a postgraduate degree at a university in England.

In Malaysia, institutionalised racism is used as a tool to modify behaviour, and instill a culture of fear and loathing in our schools, universities, the civil service, and public institutions. The indoctrination of the National Civics Bureau (BTN) helps to create a certain mindset in Malaysians.

Adam claimed that racial gang bullying was rife in schools, but some people deny this.

Racism affects our physical and mental health. It lowers our self-esteem, destroys community relations, is a factor in low productivity in jobs, reduces our life-expectancy and is a bar to social and economic participation.

Key to ending this tyranny

Racism is not just about Malay against non-Malay and vice-versa. The Malays are key to ending this tyranny in Malaysia, but few Malaysians want to talk about sensitive issues, such as race.

Adam is contemplating remaining overseas.

Should he sever ties with Malaysia? How can we, stop more “Adams” from leaving?


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