Race relations and the need for plain talk

If we are to continue with the successful integration of the many races in this country, we have to address the topic of race relations head-on. Communication is key.

We must engage in dialogue, enter into discussion intelligently and freely without taking things personally or being slighted by the merest reference to our race or religion.

It is imperative that the major races seize the opportunity now and not wait until a major setback in race relations occurs.

When politicians harp about racial issues, they only want to win votes.

Our role as individuals cannot be underestimated. We must open up, be frank and speak to our community leaders, at church meetings, during temple gatherings, in mosques, at parties, in our schools, to our head teachers, in coffee shops, with mutual friends and people whom we feel comfortable with, in our day-to-day interactions.

During the seventies, one was eager to share food during school break time with friends from other races. Fast forward to today, and children who choose to do the same are not only admonished by their teachers but also by their parents. This is deeply disturbing.

Our forefathers regale us with stories that the society of their childhood was more cohesive than now. Peer pressure and radicalisation of certain segments of our community have killed off spontaneous fun, friendship and sincerity.

Children were born without knowing the difference between race, religion or skin colour.

We are aware that the older generation of various races is more tolerant of each other. In the pre-Merdeka era, they were united by the common adversary – the British. Having gained their independence, they strove to keep the spirit of Merdeka alive and the spirit of oneness prevailed.

Having attained independence, each race tries to outdo the other by stressing the greatness of our own particular race.

By virtue of our own success, we are now breaking the bonds that tied us together. We dwell on the benefits gained by the other races and from what we perceive to be an unfair advantage.

What would happen, if we were to restart from “square one”? This would mean the Malays will have to prove they have not been made complacent by the New Economic Policy. The Chinese and the Indians must do the same to counteract the various hang-ups associated with the common generalisations.

Sometimes, you can understand others better if you are able to be self critical.

Some Malays realise that other races feel threatened, and feel unfairly treated because of past policies. Shamefully, a number of Malays consider it their birthright for things to be served up to them on a silver platter.

As individuals, we must strive harder to attain racial harmony. We should make the initial moves at home, in our schools and in our community.

Wouldn’t it be nice to discover that your neighbour from a different race actually has more in common with you than you previously thought?

We could also start with our own commonly held traits. For instance, the Malays must lose the “tidak apa” attitude and their superiority complex. The Chinese could be less “kiasu” and be more accommodating.

Education is a great leveller of people. In schools, we must question the wisdom of having Agama lessons for Malay children, and excluding them from Civics/Moral lessons.

Are non-Malay children so badly brought up that only they need civics lessons? Are Malay children so morally conscious that they have no need for these lessons? We know that in real life, the conduct of a Malay child is similar to that of a child from any other race.

Very few Malaysians are aware how people of other faiths live. So wouldn’t it be nice if a new subject was included in the school curriculum, called ‘Religious Knowledge’, whereby all the children could study the major religions of the world.

In this small and volatile world of ours, it is one small measure that might create peace, tolerance and understanding among all the major races and religions. In Malaysia, this one major leap towards the future might make a big difference, and improve our lives and the country.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.