I took a class on Diversity and Multiculturalism three years ago. In the class, the students were divided into several diversity topics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexuality, Social Class, and so on. And I was assigned to the Race group. Some of the assignments for the class were:
1) An Otherness experience: Attend an event where I am the “other” person and then write a report on it. For example, a White person can attend a Black church, or a Middle Class person can visit a homeless shelter. As for me, I thought this assignment is redundant, since I experience otherness every single day in the US.
2) A journal of my thoughts regarding my assigned topic (Race). Sort of a contrast between “before-taking-the-class” and “after-taking-the-class” to document any changes in my thoughts and opinions on the issue of Race. I really enjoyed writing that paper: it’s almost like at last I have been given a valid outlet to express my thoughts on this oh-so-sensitive issue. Here is an excerpt from my 6-page (double-space) paper. Keep in mind that I wrote this for an American professor who may not even know where Malaysia is, so instead of going into details about the conflicts, I have simplified some issues.
The Malay-Chinese Model and the Third Race
Elizabeth Martinez’s article talks about racism in the United States being a Black-White model, racism in Malaysia has often times being seen as a Malay-Chinese model. In the battle between the Malay majority and the Chinese minority to gain control, one minority race, the Indians, the third race has been marginalized. The Malaysian government in their quest to make education seem more equal has implemented a new “meritocracy” plan for university admissions. Since the Malays and non-Malays take separate university entrance examinations, I am skeptical that admission is truly based on merit. With the implementation of the new merit system, last year’s university admission data showed that the Malays were still the dominant race entering universities, about 65%, while the Chinese maintained at 30%, but the Indians have dropped from 10% to 5%. Without the previous quota system, the new “meritocracy” has worked against the Indians. The Indian minority group has tried to ask the government to return to the previous quota system as many of their students were not able to gain admission into universities with this new system but the Malay-dominant government has make a decision that “meritocracy” is here to stay.
It is being said that it is the Indians who lost everything in this battle for equality. The new “meritocracy” system, which was meant to bring about some equality in education, has pushed the Indians almost out of the picture. I now see that while I have some Chinese privilege, the Indians have been the most oppressed group. Since the system has always been about taking care of our own, the current system will foster a greater divide among the three major races in Malaysia. As I have faced racism and thought of the many injustice that occur in my life, I understand now that other groups have suffered too and often times have scars worse than mine.
Am I a better person now?
All along I have focused on being the oppressed but now I see that I had allowed that to be my rationale to harbor prejudice against others. I am still very much against the sort of affirmative action that is being carried out in my country. I am beginning to see the effects of it not only on my life but also on the society as a whole. I still hate the term racial quota and I am against the new university entry system that creates a false sense of “meritocracy”. Affirmative action has caused great divide in my country. While Malaysia may be called a peaceful multicultural country, many Malaysians hold grudges against the privilege other, may it be the Malay-majority privilege or the Chinese-economic privilege. The poor and less privileged are being left further behind. The affirmative action has disunified my country. While I would like to deal with racism, I do not see how I can affect societal or institutional change. I can only try to work on it on a personal and emotional level. I would have to work towards not letting racism and oppression consume me with hatred. I would have to work towards not letting it make me think of only me and myself.