Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Colourblind's Problematics: A Further Response

Because I apparently cannot go without a disclaimer, I wish to make clear that what I said in the earlier post is merely opposition to the idea of doing away with race entirely. On the flip side of the coin, it is clear that differences between races in Malaysia have been a wedge between race relations.

These differences however, are played up by specific people, for specific reasons. There is no good reason why Chinese are apparently controlling the economy and why the Malays apparently control the politics and why everyone else are just SOL. That's how power plays itself out, how people retain power and refuse to let go of it, even though it is obviously detrimental to whole swaths of the population. There is no goddamn reason why I should have to note what my race on any sort of application in Malaysia - it's irrelevant for most administrative reasons.

Except, of course, for that strange affirmative action policy in place which insists that Malays need to make a specific percentage of the top-most tiers. (Which is strangely skewed only for businesses, since political administrations are under no strain to ensure the same is done for other races.)

But AGAIN! That policy is only in place because of some morons in power who think it's a terrible, terrible tragedy if Malays were to lose a hegemonic position within our great country because - because - well, because Malaysia belongs to the Malays first, right? Or something so completely outdated like that.

So, just because I say that doing away with the concept of race is bad idea doesn't mean I don't recognize that race is played up for horrible fucked up reasons in Malaysia that is truly screwing us all over.

Another issue that I wish to touch on (and this is totally a sucky segue but there was no other way to discuss it short of another post) is that it made me think about how much emphasis some of us place on individuality, whereas others will place emphasis on communalism.

When I lived in Malaysia, I was an ornery, ornery little rebel, and my maternal grandmother once called me "outlandish", although the term she used is more coded for "white". I didn't fit in. I was either too confrontational, or too loud, or too different. In a way, I both celebrated and resented my difference. But I felt that just being myself drove others away.

It was a relief to me to come to Canada and find that my difference did not drive wedges between myself and others the same way it did in Malaysia. I made friends. I grew up, grew apart, grew close with others of similar interests. Even now, when I say I seek out people like me, I'm often referring to people of a similar ideology, educational background (MOAR ENGRISH MAJUHRS!).

But you know, sometimes, I'll come across a fellow Asian, and I won't lie, I, too, like asking the question, where are you from?

Recently, on the bus, I saw a woman who looked like a Malay - face, tudung, and her language, accent, slang. She was talking on her cellphone for the entire duration of her time on the bus, but I listened with hunger to those words I so rarely hear.

Is it because I am in a space where I don't have family and/or community members breathing down my neck that I crave the sense of community? Of having people to be there for me?

Is it because I've so much time as an individual, that not, finally comfortable with who I am, am ready to deal with the random shit that inevitably gets flung around within community spaces by people de-sensitized to each other?

Who knows. All I know is that for all the talk about individual differences, there are still many of us who are drawn to other people, people like us, whether commonalities of interest, race, heritage, nationality, culture, and I know this isn't a bad thing.

5 comments:

  1. Whenever I see someone who I think might be Malaysian outside of Malaysia, especially if that person and I are in London (loads of Malaysians there), I won't go out of my way to 'tegur' that person, or even bother to be curious. But that's because I'm really snobby! haha! but really, I don't see common nationality as a good enough reason to be over-friendly with someone.

    Being outside of Malaysia and outside an environment where our compatriots and ourselves are constantly being defined as a Malaysian citizen to microscopic detail is liberating for me. Having the advantage of not looking very Malay allows me to move quite freely across some ethnic lines and it is that kind of ambiguity that I enjoyed and took advantage of in Malaysia (e.g. in non-religious events where I 'disguise' as a non-Malay so that I won't have to wear the tudung).

    So, because I cherish my anonymity, I respect other people's too.

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  2. cycads: As I mentioned, it might be because you can find Malaysians all around you. I remember when I had to be dragged out to an all-Malaysian party, I was feeling pretty wiped at having to socialize with people I didn't want to be around by the end of the evening. (Oh yes, I'm snobby too!)

    I wonder if our differing attitudes towards "passing" could have something to do with our racial contexts in Malaysia. As a Chinese woman, I don't have the same limitations as you might have as a Malay woman. Hmmm.... I sense a further response coming on!

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  3. Jha,

    It's not so much the case of whether I can find Malaysians in my area or not. Even if they are a rarity, I would feel indifferent about getting to know them. I suppose even in Malaysia I've been a bit of a loner and I've internalised (and appreciated) being a loner further into adulthood. Of course having friends is always nice, just not necessarily Malaysian or Asian ones!

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  4. I spent two years in London, just essentially being starved out of having Malaysians around.

    When you get down to it, though, they really can get annoying. But I remember those days, and I'm kind of glad I am around people I can't stand.

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  5. cycads: That's cool to know. I was a bit of a roamer, socially, in Malaysia. Not so much a loner as I couldn't seem to find a set of friends I could be around for very long. I'm not curious about every single Malaysian I meet to the point I'd absolutely HAVE to talk to them, but it would at least pique my for five minutes.

    Tariq: I can't stand being around people I can't stand for very long, and being home in Malaysia gets on my nerves after a month or so. It's not the "Malaysianness" that gets to me, though.

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