Perhaps because my mixed ancestry makes me look ambiguous, people often ask me about my racial background. One particular occasion has remained stuck in my memory for several years because of the reaction of the questioner when I told him, “I’m a Malaysian Muslim, mostly Indian, but really rojak.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You can become an Umno member.”
I just smiled out of politeness because I didn’t know him too well. What I wanted to say was, “No thank you, I am not confused like you.” He happened to be an Indian Muslim and a proud member of Umno.
The exchange made me realise how Umno, despite all the good it has done for the nation, has committed a grave injustice to the melting pot that is Malaysia. It has propagated racial confusion. If you are a Muslim, you will qualify as a Malay, enabling you to join Umno.
What if I want to join MIC? What if I think of myself more as an Indian than a Malay? Or what about a person whose grandparents came here from China, had a child who then marries a Malay and converts to Islam? Their children would be Muslims, and it won’t matter if they think of themselves as more Chinese than Malay. They can become Umno members.
We have been raised to be confused, and the more confused we are the better it is for Umno. For folks in Peninsular Malaysia, the actual race classification is Umno, MCA and MIC. Malay, Indian, Chinese are actually just politically correct words.
As if all that is not confusing enough, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a person of mixed racial background, who was an Umno member for most of his life, has formed a new party for Bumiputeras, called Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Is Mahathir’s understanding of the word “pribumi” based on Umno’s distorted interpretation or on the dictionary definition? If we went by the dictionary definition, Mahathir himself would not qualify as a member of the party.
So confused are we that some of us opt to write “Malaysian” when a form we’re filling up asks for our race. Some just want us to do away with the race column because they just can’t take the confusion anymore.
And now we have pribumi joining the political scene. How is Mahathir’s party supposed to be different from Umno when it is already working on the same race confusion?
Umno has led many Indian Muslims into thinking they are Malays. Do we really need to continue with this confused mess?
Is Umno fighting for the Malays by turning non-Malays into Malays? It looks like Mahathir’s Bersatu will be working along the same lines. It is doubtful that it will turn non-natives away if they happen to be Muslim.