Friday, 9 November 2012

Justifying racial discrimination — Feizrul Nor Nurbi

First of all, even though the title of this article are stated as the above, it is not the intention of this writer to even try to justify in any way that racial discrimination is acceptable. Racial discrimination – in every form and nuance — is wrong; no amount of justification can change this.

What the intention of this article is to highlight the seemingly worrying trend of the Malaysian society in accepting racial discrimination as a normal and acceptable way of Malaysian life and in some ways even coming out with points to justify their arguments.

It is shocking to note that in the wake of a study by two academicians - Lee Hwok Aun of University Malaya and Muhammed Abdul Khalid of University Kebangsaan Malaysia — that tries to investigate the existence of racial discrimination in the hiring process of privately-owned companies in Malaysia, vocal Malaysians have come out to voice their opposition to the study, insisting nothing is wrong and racial discrimination is non-existent.

Some even went to great length in attacking the 2 researchers, insinuating that their study was conducted with ulterior motives in mind, mainly political. Some questions the sources of funding, some even rubbishes the findings as inconsequential in line with the general perception on the quality of our local universities.

But above all, the somewhat united voices of the opposition to the study tries to provide justification for the unfair practices discovered during a hiring process here in our country.

Some justifies by saying the Malay graduates are ‘lazy’,’not hardworking’, ‘demanding’, ‘academically inferior’ and in the broadest sense tries to paint Malay graduates as not as par as the Chinese graduates of which the label ‘brilliant’, ‘hardworking’, ‘academically superior’ and whatnot are attributed to them.

As one commentator said, “Malays tend to give up easily and will walk away from stress”. Is this not racial bias and presumption in its purest form?

Another commentator said “Malay graduates can’t even form a proper sentence in English! How can any company hire them?”

How about this comment from a commentator “The Chinese have worked hard all their life, while the Malays have been spoon-fed since they’re little. Obviously the Chinese makes better workers”

Another comment : “This is not discrimination. Business is about profit. Obviously they would want to hire quality people as their staff. And Malay graduates don’t really make the grade”

At a glance one can be forgiven to nod and agree with those comments, but look a bit deeper and you will then realize how each and every comment above are laced with racial bias, racial stereotypes, generalization and negative presumption of the people of the Malay ethnic.

It is worth to understand that the study involves sending resumes to prospective employers and then recording the number of callbacks received. There were absolutely no interaction between the applicant and the employer other than the details written on the resume.

So how on earth can the people in charge of hiring even deduce that the candidate is ‘lazy’ and ‘not hardworking’?

Is there a magical HR tool can detect those traits just by merely looking at the resume?

How about the presumption that the Malay applicants fare worse than their Chinese counterparts in English proficiency, when the resumes sent out were controlled in term of their quality, where applicants from the two races will have almost identical resumes other than the stated name and the CGPA?

Therefore how can one even conclude that Chinese makes better workers than Malay when the hirer and the applicant have not even interacted in an interview?

How can a person judge the better of two similar applicants just by mere resumes?

It is true. Our education system leaves much to be desired. Year after year we hear complaints about our graduate not being able to converse in English. Year after year too we hear about the employability problems of graduates from our local universities.

But within all the muck there are gems to be found. There are brilliant, hard working Malays that strive to be the pride of their people, trying hard to prove that they can succeed even in the harshest environment.

Those that feels the private sector is where their calling is. Those who speak fluent English and try as hard as they can to disassociate themselves with all the stigma plaguing their race.

Those who receive their scholarship with disdain, knowing well that there are other worthy recipients denied because of their skin-color.

Those who work hard to be successful on their own doing, not to rely on the Bumiputra affirmative action but try to make it on their own terms and their own accords.

But try as they might, the whole system seems hell bent on denying them the opportunity to prove themselves.

These are the folks who strive for meritocracy but see their dreams dashed by those reputedly championing for meritocracy.


Because as a society, we have not matured enough to rise above racial bias and stereotypes.

We have not recognized that it is the individual and not the race that matters.

Because we all see ourselves as victims instead of a party that can affect change to the better.

Until we all say “enough is enough” then things will remain as they are.

Until we realize that “two wrongs don’t make a right” then Malaysia will continue to be divided.

Whatever the argument is, to justify racial discrimination is never acceptable. This is the thing that we must change – the mentality that the entrenched system is the norm, acceptable and defensible, when certainly they are not to remain in place if we are to see Malaysia move forward.

One need to look deep into themselves and ask “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

If you think racial discrimination is OK then you are part of the problem. If you think it is OK to stereotype people based on their skin color then change must start from within yourself.

For a Kennedy once said “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”.

And Malaysia – your country – and its people depend on us to discard this divisive trait and move forward as one people and one nation.

Change starts from within ourselves.

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