Malaysians must shed racial stereotypes

Ikmal Rozlan

Modified 18 Jan 2019, 11:05 am

LETTER | In 2016, I had decided to move to Petaling Jaya to pursue my studies and, of course, my first priority was finding accommodation. A quick Google search led to many helpful websites that connected people in need such as I to those looking to make a quick buck from their underused properties.

Unfortunately, the first thing that caught my eye about these websites was that each of the ads contained a caveat; the racial preference of the rental owner. As naïve as I was, I thought that the owners specified the preferences merely to put off those who were intolerant of mixing with other races, so I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and contacted the ads that ostensibly would not accept a tenant of my race.

I figured, “If I could start a conversation and explain to them that I have no issues with living with people of different lifestyles, they wouldn’t care about my race”.

Instead, after dozens of attempts, I regularly could not even get past the question of, “What race are you?” Every time I tried to insist that I was very open to living with other races, the façade of “We don’t want to offend you with our food, and we might have communication problems” faded away and the cavalier truth revealed itself without a hint of shame: “We don’t want people who aren’t the same race as us”.

Similar cases as mine deeply resonate with most Malaysians as the situation feels far too familiar. In their story, they speak the same language as the tenants and the landlords, had no conflicting cultural lifestyle and partially met the biological requirements and yet, were rejected by multiple landlords for a seemingly arbitrary reason – they were not the correct race.

This begs the questions, are racial preferences in rental ads purely for the purpose of preventing cultural conflicts amongst tenants or are they, in fact, nothing more than a pretence for those who see other races as inferior born out of preconceptions?

Malays, Indians, and Chinese Malaysians, unfortunately, share a deeply-rooted problem - we all believe and disseminate negative racial stereotypes about each other and while we all smile to each other on the streets and work together, there are still those in Malaysia that live in self-imposed apartheid.

They rarely fraternise with other races in their personal lives, leaving them no choice but to judge cultures they are unfamiliar with purely based on institutionalised moulds. This, then, leads to fear and ignorance, forcing them to cling to the familiarity and comfort of their own creed.

The mindset of Malaysian society requires a paradigm shift. One that requires communication and exposure to each other instead huddling together in our own bubbles while feigning faux unity to pat ourselves on the back.

If one were to venture out of their familiar circles, they would find that Malaysians come in many different colours and idiosyncrasies that don’t correspond to their racial stereotypes. If you are a rental owner facing an enquiring candidate of a different race, start a dialogue asking about their lifestyle preferences before you immediately reject them.

You will find that there are Malays who are pious and devoted and then there are Malays that drink alcohol and eat pork. You will find Indians that are completely vegetarian and Indians that love beef. You will find Chinese that can barely speak a word of Malay and Chinese that are more fluent in Malay than Malays themselves. Every person has their own unique set of variables.

The point is, whether it is home rentals, job-hiring, or even just making friends; judge a person based on their individuality as a whole and do not pigeonhole them based on just one facet of who they are.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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