I offered a distinction between the terms “racial” and “racist” which was published in The Star (July 10, 2008). Essentially  “racial” refers to the state of being loyal to one’s ethnic group, i.e. a community of people sharing the same physical and cultural characteristics.

By this definition, a Malay would be sympathetic to and influenced by developments in the Malay community, the Chinese to and by the Chinese community, the Indians to and by the Indian community and so forth. To me these racial sentiments are the natural extension of  loyalty towards kith and kin, the Old English expression whose meaning includes the country of one’s birth. They include love for and pride in  one’s motherland!

However, “racism” rears its ugly head when one believes in and gets emotional about the superiority of one’s ethnic group and becomes antagonistic towards those  who are not from one’s community. It is this kiasu mentality of racial or national chauvinism and oneupmanship which can develop into discrimination and hostility; which can erupt into bigotted intolerance and open confrontation!

It is racism that  Malaysians must avoid like the plague!

It is loyalty to and pride in their physical and cultural heritage that Malaysians must defend to the last drop of their blood!

At the everyday level we must admit there is a growing polarisation (for want of a better word), a tendency to veer towards one’s own ethnic group especially when it comes to defending the group’s interests or championing its causes. Vital issues that affect and impact upon the group’s survival and progress viz educational and economic development can very quickly invite racist sentiments.  What starts off as rational racial arguments can degenerate into emotional racist outbursts as people defend what they perceive as their legitimate rights.  

At the official level, policies and programmes are viewed as this and that; this or that! Biased or unbiased; fair or unfair; egalitarian or elitist; democratic or segregationist/sectarian; equitable or discriminatory!

Being the sceptics and critics that Malaysians have become overnight,very few of the government’s efforts are lauded as being just and right, just right or rightly just because let’s face it – humans have the tendency to view things from their own narrow perspective! And it’s not just a characteristic of the Malaysian political animal but  a natural characteristic of the animal species everywhere that we gather and flock with our own species and sub species!


In other words the much abused term “racial polarisation”  – in schools, in residential areas, in community and socio-religious settings – is natural! Malaysia’s multiethnic population will still seek their own kith and kin, their own ethnic groups, the people they are comfortable with, the persons they share their food and other cultural habits with. And of course the members of the community they can readily talk with/to in a common language!     

So what ONE MALAYSIA  must ensure is that these racial sentiments do not deteriorate into racist emotions. In the process of managing diversity the government of Dato’ Seri Najib  must establish  resounding policies, programmes and activities which focus on shared concerns and interests.

Thus, the establishment of the meritocracy scholarship that will benefit  students from all ethnic groups who achieve excellence in their academic performance is to be applauded.

Affirmative Action that goes out to all deserving groups must be concertedly implemented so that no one section of Malaysian society feels it is left out of the nation’s development.

Meantime, at our own personal level there must be a genuine desire to rid ourselves of the deep-rooted  racist sentiments – “the Malai koi and Cina koi; the Cina makan babi, Keling makan biawak, Melayu makan belacan” sentiments of our less exposed forefathers !


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