The race issue – from my point of viewPosted: May 13, 2009
Let’s be frank. To most people who look at me, I’m a Chinese. Doesn’t matter where I am, I look Chinese, therefore I am Chinese.
When I first got here to New Zealand, some Chinese friends (they weren’t friends yet at that time) spoke their first words to me in Mandarin. Only after I looked lost for a couple of moments, did they revert to speaking in English, asking me if I spoke Mandarin.
It was a natural assumption, looking at my features and skin colour, that I was a Chinese. And being Chinese, it was also naturally assumed that I would speak and understand Mandarin.
Which I do. Just not the kind that is spoken in Mainland China (it has a completely different sound compared to what I’m used to in Malaysia).
I don’t reject the fact that I’m 华人 (ethnic Chinese). But I make it clear that I’m NOT 中国人 (Chinese from mainland China). And I couldn’t emphasise this enough when talking to some of my Chinese friends sometimes.
In fact, the main trigger behind my writing this post today is because one of my Chinese friends asked me about the military in Malaysia. He asked if the Chinese in Malaysia were allowed to join the military. I said, of course. Then he asked if any Chinese held high positions. I said, I’m pretty sure there are. Then he asked, but do they have power?
I had a slight feeling that I knew where this was going, so I just told him what I thought he wanted to hear. I told him, if you’re asking whether the top positions are held by Chinese, I think they’re not. The top positions are held by Malays.
I swear I could see a smirk on his face.
Then he said (probably in jest, but I couldn’t see the joke at that moment), I think the Chinese in Malaysia should all just gang up and overthrow the Malays. Make sure the Chinese hold positions of power.
Something probably snapped in my brain, because I told him off. I said (and I remember this because I don’t think I’ve ever been so pissed at this friend of mine): And why would we want to do that? What good would that do to ANYONE? What’s the point of separating ourselves into Malays and Chinese and whatnot? How long more are we going to have to do this if we keep on saying that Chinese have to stick with Chinese because otherwise Chinese will have no power and be subservient to the Malays?
He actually had the audacity to say to me, well, you’re a Chinese.
I simply told him: Look, I know I’m 华人 (ethnic Chinese), but so what? I’m more Malaysian than I am Chinese. I’m a Malaysian first, and things that will not be good for Malaysia, I will not do.
I think he saw that I was pissed, because he grinned and said he was just joking, and asked me to chill and take it easy. I told him that there are certain things that you don’t joke with me about.
So there. Got it off my chest.
When people ask me if I’m proud of the Chinese achievement in building the Great Wall of China, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Because I am. I think it’s bloody amazing how these people in ancient (or probably not so ancient) times managed to build, without the help of modern machines, a wall so long, that has stood the test of time.
I’m proud because I think it’s amazing. The same way I think the Egyptian pyramids of Giza are amazing. And I’m clearly not Egyptian. So I don’t think my being proud of a Chinese achievement is because I’m Chinese.
Same goes for anything else. I respect Confucius and his teachings, the same way I respect Plato and Socrates and their philosophies. I think traditional Chinese music and instruments are cool, the same way I think Dikir Barat rocks. I think the development of the Chinese characters from ancient times to what it is today is mind boggling, the same way I think the way Latin has crept its way into so many other different languages is astounding.
These are all great achievements. And I definitely do not appreciate it when people find a “link” back to my ethnicity every time I think China has achieved something good.
Note: That I’m writing this today (May 13), of all days, is not purely coincidental. I’d love to say that race doesn’t matter, but at the end of the day, one need only look around and be aware, in order to find out that race is still an issue.
Whether we like it or not, there will be people who tend to stereotype others according to whatever suits them best. That’s why I think it’s important for us to know and be sure of ourselves, that we do not do what it is that we don’t like others to do. If we don’t like being lumped into a singular category as if we were all mata sepet Chinks who only care about money, then neither should we lump other people into singular categories as if they were all lazy good-for-nothing people.
Race, I feel, is not something that will easily go away. Not just in Malaysia, but everywhere else around the globe, race will continue to be an issue.
It boils down to how we deal with it that makes it simply an issue, or a problem.
40 years ago, we didn’t deal with it quite well, and it became a huge problem. A multi-layered problem, with multi-layered consequences.
How are we dealing with it now?
Postscript #1: This post is probably more of a rant than anything else. So just take it as such, since there are probably not that many (if any at all) intellectual points or insightful thoughts to be found here.
Postscript #2: I am keeping away from the Perak issue at the moment. I think it has ballooned into something that could burst in our faces any time soon.