Malaysiakini Letter

You can’t state “racial preference” and still want Icerd

Hafidz Baharom  |  Published:

LETTER | Landlords are coming out saying that they should have a choice of who to rent their properties to. Some of them also want the government to ratify the UN's International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).

In an earlier letter, I did point out that the want to set race as a precondition to renting out property to someone was extremely xenophobic, thus against the spirit of Icerd.

As such, the community bans on not wanting to rent to Africans, the cases in Penang and Petaling Jaya where there was discrimination against Chindian individuals wanting to rent, and even the bad choice of words by the chief minister of Penang in saying migrant workers should live in hostels because “some of them cause social ills” really need to be considered.

Because – let us be honest here – I believe the idea of ratifying Icerd was not to stop racial discrimination in all shapes and forms against everyone, but just wanting to remove bumiputera privileges which many see as institutionalised racism.

Not everyone wants to have the same equal treatment as Bangladeshi and Indonesian construction workers, do they? Does everyone believe in the concept of equal renting opportunities for everyone inclusive of the people from the African continent?

Why not?

After all, Icerd means to remove “all forms of racial discrimination”. Not just the bumiputera and non-bumiputera divide but also for everyone in the country, including all foreigners from branded expats all the way to migrant workers and even domestic housemaids.

Now, some have used religion and culture to justify this discrimination. That it was a matter of “hygiene” and wanting to maintain harmony in communities. Honestly, this doesn’t really make it sound any better than any single racial stereotype you can think of to list out here if you must.

Plus, it really sounds condescending because I am pretty sure that with all Malaysians and even foreigners, you will have slobs, you will have troublemakers though you will also find people who buck the trend and prove you wrong.

Case in point, this was written by someone who recently went and backed letting Israeli Paralympic athletes into the country.

I understand why landlords do it, though.

It is easier to list it out rather than having to go through the process of meeting would-be renters one by one to gauge who will be good for the property like hosting a job interview.

However, it is only through these interval actions and follow-up visits that you will in time see that there are people from all races who deserve a chance to be considered beyond their skin colour and even their religion.

Plus, having an interracial, inter-ethnic rented homes does have its advantages – if you can imagine it. Having a vegetarian, a chef who loves pork and alcohol, and a devout Muslim, all in the same house for a prolonged period of time will be a continued social experiment in wondering how to navigate Malaysian issues regarding religion and culture.

Of course, this is a highly imaginary case in current day Malaysia because landlords try to avoid this from happening. An anti-discrimination law on renting out property, coupled with a landlord who insists on opening their home to such a situation, could indeed happen in the future.

There, of course, will still be landlords who insist on keeping their racial discrimination on the down low but at least it will not be as overt as it is now as part of the listing preference. In other words, it is removing one’s “racial preference” from being a listed formality.

In the end, Malaysians should consider that anti-discrimination laws must be for everyone, including non-Malaysians who live and work here too. If this is too much of a problem, then perhaps we should really reconsider two things – are we really not racist and xenophobic, or are we just wanting it in our own individual favour and not for others?


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

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