Friday, July 10, 2009

Malaysiana: No, A Colourblind Politician Isn't Ideal

So, Farish Noor is really smart. Just making sure that's out there: I respect him, I respect his work, I know how important he is in Malaysia. I haven't come across much of him, seeing as I tend to read in different circles, but occasionally my dad sends me stuff written by him, and other friends pass on links.

But occasionally, because the man isn't perfect, he will say things that get my goat. Case in point, this post.

Firstly, we don't even know what being Malaysian means. I assume, in my readings and discussions on nationhood and identifying and immigration and other such subjects, that being Malaysian, much being Canadian, means having been born in Malaysia or otherwise attained citizenship in Malaysia, living in Malaysia, abiding by Malaysians laws, as per expected as a Malaysian citizen.

However, every citizen will have different experiences of these limits within Malaysia itself. The priorities of a Malaysian-Indian will be different from the priorities of a Malaysian-Chinese, which will be different from the priorities of an Iban, which will be - so on so forth.

I presume that being a Malaysian means accepting (not just tolerating), understanding (not just accepting) and actively participating in the diversity within our fine borders. Which, thank God, we do, on so many levels that this amazing first-world country I'm currently living in does not.

Secondly, I'm not so sure that ignoring racial differences, particularly the power dynamics present in this current era, is exactly a really good thing to do. It is true that racial differences don't actually mean a hell of a lot. It is true that stereotypes are stupid. It is probably not a very good idea to imply that all the groups in Malaysia are of equal importance when clearly, we have been shown that they are not. I do not mean to say that he is wrong in expressing how our racial differences as we know them are an after-effect of colonialism. I do think it is disingenuous to not address the huge power imbalances that have occurred as a result of these schisms caused by the colonists.

Thirdly, it is, for many of us, a knee-jerk reaction that we will seek out People Like Us.

This, in itself, is not a bad thing. Sometimes, I don't want to be around Chinese people. This doesn't mean I hate them. Sometimes, I don't want to be around men, either. This doesn't mean I hate men, either. It just means that occasionally, I will take myself off to find a space where I can find people who relate to my experiences as closely as they can. The chances of them being able to relate to it all are pretty slim. People are complex like that. There are parts of us which are clearly blue and/or pink, and we like to find people who fulfil these blue and/or pink sides of our identity. And we seek out other groups to fulfil the parts of us which are green.

Differences and similarities are not necessarily bad in themselves. They are simply part of what we have to negotiate when defining our identities.

I believe we should be emphasizing this negotiation between each other and within ourselves, as opposed to simply embracing a universality which not all of us may feel at all, which would ending up excluding people anyway, which is... well, totally not the point of universality. It's a bit like committing GSF #4.

Fourthly, it is not the emotionalism that is the problem. Emotions are useful in enabling us to express ourselves and often are the catalyst and adrenaline-pushers that drive us to stand up for ourselves. The problems stem from how emotionalism is used, the consequences of those actions, and the defensiveness of the people who used fucked it up when called out on it.

Fifthly, I would also like to see a politician address issues other than race, too. (Of course, this point is not so much disagreeing with Farish Noor's vision as it is adding to it.) Class, sexuality, able-ism, and other such stuff, should also be part of our holistic vision.

Because I assume that part of the Malaysian condition is the human condition, and the human condition encompasses all.

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