Monday, June 15, 2009

Malaysiana: Pet Peeve #1 Edition

One of the sentiments I see very often in discussions of race with Malaysians is this: race isn't important. Talking about our racial problems will not help the situation. We are a multi-racial society and should thus learn how to learn multi-racially.

Part of this thought comes from my friend's post on Malay vs. Chinese counter-oppressions. In it, another very smart LiveJournaler pointed out that the article was simplistic, that "we should be talking about something else, or else not just about this."

Part of this thought comes from the Farish Noor interview in the original article, wherein Farish Noor says,
"I want to see a Malaysia that is luas, that is limitless in its abundance, wealth and potential. Not a Malaysia where ethnic communities plant their flags, saying "This is my patch, that patch is yours." It would be a Malaysia where one can walk freely and with confidence in the knowledge that this is our shared land and we are all the richer because we share it together."
Some people may find it a bit of a mental stretch to see how an article which calls for inclusivity produces a reaction which discusses the exclusivity and racial tensions whivh divide our people.

I don't, because although the solution is obvious from the start for anybody who so much as looks at the problem, not everybody is actually seeing the problem for what it is. Some of us see the problem very differently. And a few of us don't even see a problem, shrugging their shoulders resignatedly, that it's part of life, everyone is different and everyone is greedy.

My friend's article is just a very small portion of the much larger conversation that I believe is absolutely necessary to have: in order to find a solution, we have to find out what is wrong. And there are a lot of things which are wrong in Malaysia wrt our racial politics, and even how we approach the problem.

One of the problems is that we don't like to talk about our problems. We don't. I don't know what it is we do in lieu of it, but in my experience, we quietly put some band-aids over it and carry on with life, under the impression that eventually it will blow over and the people perpetuating the problem will eventually die and... things will be peachy? (I have tried to do this with my BFF. Eventually she clued in to the fact that my acting like an idiot during our serious conversations was my way of derailing. I didn't realize it. I'm not entirely sure I've broken the habit.)

Another part of this problem is that talking about race inevitably gets ugly.

But we do need to talk about it. We need to talk about the power dynamics at hand, and we need to talk about the racist things we do to each other, whether on a macro or micro level. We need to confront the fact that although we may not feel it, our racial group may be hurting another racial group wholesale, and we might just inadvertantly be supporting it without our knowledge.

And we need to acknowledge and own the damage we do to each other. We need to recognize it is being done, every day. We need to see how it happens and the hurt it creates and we need to accept that it creates hurt, not defensively say, "well, it wasn't me, it was just an individual, not the whole group" - fuck that. It may not have been me that abused Farish Noor, but it was a Malaysian-Chinese, and I am part of that group. For all I know another Malaysian-Chinese is, right at this moment, hurting someone in another group, and I must admit that this, too, reflects on the part of the identity I wish to claim, and I need to call them out on it.

It is only when I am made aware of the damages done by the group I claim solidarity with (i.e. Chinese) that I can understand why I am confronted with walls that prevent me from finding solidarity with a much larger group (i.e. Malaysians as a whole comprised of many different races).

I am not going to find solidarity by throwing flowers around, saying, "ignore the racial tensions! Forget the past! Let's move on!"

NO. When a faction of the Malay racial group threatens MY racial group with a repeat of May 13, that is a problem we need to address. We need to ask why it happened, why it could happen again. We cannot just forget about it. We can put it behind us, but we mustn't forget, because forgetting it means we learnt nothing from it, and thus learned no skills with which to prevent it happening again.

And NO, because these things we are talking about, the little cruelties which are the thousand tiny paper cuts we kill others with, whether institutionalized or individual - they hurt other people. And for every Farish Noor out there who grows up with the self-confidence and self-assurance needed to get over the awful racism they faced as a child, there is probably someone (or many more) who doesn't have that fortitude to "get over it". And why the hell should they? There is nothing to be gained from passing over their pain, not recognizing it and not addressing it. Not only is nothing gained, but it is not fair.

I am not saying that we should be living in a state of guilt over what other people have done (good fucking god why am I saying this, oh right because in the whole white privilege discussion this came up half a dozen fucking times because people think "owning the damage your group has done" means "feel sorry! Wallow in the guilt for the crimes of the past!") but we need to recognize our own complicity in giving these people a pass, whether it's "they're just individuals" or "what do you expect, they're ignorant" - these are not excuses for what they have done, these are, all the more, reasons to talk about the problem.

Perhaps I put words in other people's mouths. I myself have never been a victim of such harsh racism in my life. Maybe it is easy to get over racism relatively unscathed. Maybe I'm over-blowing the whole thing.

But from my standpoint, not many Malaysians have nuanced ideas of the problems we have, not even a start to understanding the racial tensions - why they're there, how they are perpetuated, what keeps them there - to even begin working together towards a long-lasting solution that would truly tie tightly the knots of affection we need.

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