Malay-Shaming ~ Battlecry of Our Affected Youths?


““For readers who can’t fathom the personal lives of the Malays, this book will expose them to the inner secret, if you will, of growing up Malay.”

I re-read the Young and Malay book edited by Ooi Kee Beng and Wan Hamidi Hamid twice.

I am not taking away anything from the authors’ experience; but I wonder about the selection of authors as all of them are pro-oppo from privileged background and consider themselves as “second-class malays” (their words, not mine). Perhaps a more balanced book would have included a piece from an actual recipient of NEP who did not grow up having access to George Orwell or Sex Pistols or live 1km away from KLCC.

But I digress. The content does not bother me. But the evident self-hatred at being a Malay makes me wonder — how did Malaysia’s history become re-interpreted as Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) and Mahathirism? When did we buy into the political spin and fulfill the prophecy of becoming self-entitled Malays who believe (ironically) that affirmative action is a given (“no big deal, everyone gets it, so should I”)? Why is it now trendy to denounce being a Malay? Why is this is equated as being inclusive and open-minded and fair?

So, this is my problem:

I have been told many times that I am not a typical Malay. But what is a typical Malay? And who is the typical Malay?

And a side question: Isn’t telling me that I am not a “typical Malay”, which in itself is a derogatory and insulting term to describe Malays as a race, a clear form of racial stigmatizing too?

If I can choose my own form of “Malay Dilemma”, to quote Tun M, this would be it. Affirmative action is a big deal. It should not be taken lightly. By that I mean, it should be continuously looked at, criticized and improved. Old policies should be updated to keep up with the times. Do we need a new economic model as a progressive rollback to the New Economic Policy so that we can wean the Malays off the crutch they have been leaning on for the last 40 years? Absolutely. However, I also believe affirmative action can stand side by side a meritocracy policy that provides financial, healthcare and education assistance to all Malaysians. The two does not have to be mutually exclusive. We need them both.

If affirmative action is removed, thus significantly decreasing the chances of the majority of the rural population to improve their socio-economic conditions, the poor will become poorer and the rich will become richer. It is not the Bumiputera’s fault that they make up the majority of the rural population. Hardcore poor is not the same as urban poor. Both are important segments of the society that we need to look after and they require a different set of thinking and tools to address.

And, more importantly, these are the people that we should not be mad at. They cannot help the fact that they were born as Bumiputeras or the fact that they are poor.

We should be mad at the politicians and Malay-supremacy activists who want the crutch to remain forever because they have been so comfortable earning their keeps by taking advantage of it.

We should be mad at the sons and daughters of beneficiaries of affirmative action who grew up thinking affirmative action is their birthright while they pose for glamour shots in Marie Claire and drink bespoke concoctions at trendy coffee bars with supplementary credit cards that their parents pay for and then decry that the policy is biased and unfair after generations of their families benefited so much from it thus affording them with the kind of lifestyle that 70% of the population could not even fathom.

And we should be mad at those who abuse affirmative action — rich and urban Malays who still expect the Govt to give their children a seat in government-assisted boarding schools, full scholarships for studying overseas, preferential placements in local public universities, good jobs in GLCs and plum contracts for their companies because “I am a Bumiputera”.


The policy is not the problem. These ungrateful lots are. But the thing is, bad people are everywhere. With or without NEP.

Today we don’t want to learn from our forefathers.  We love criticizing them (with the enormous benefit of hindsight) yet we refuse to see or accept the lesson. We feel these long-gone nationalists are old-fashioned and outdated. Instead, we learn from google, which could lead us to a place full of lies and garbage instead of truth and enlightenment. We read arguments for one side and then discount the others. We “learn” from historians or academicians or columnists whose interpretation of current politics and administration are colored by their own prejudice and oft, what they perceived as their less-than-fortunate experience being a non-Malay. Yes, it is always good to approach everything we see, read or hear with a healthy amount of skepticism and to remember that humans, first and foremost, are are motivated by self-interest. At the same time, we also need to develop our critical thinking; to look at things from a helicopter view and its implications in the short and long run, to balance our prejudices and experiences against those of other people even if we disagree vehemently with them, and to find a compromise where the good of the nation triumphs the need of the few even if the compromise is not what we want at the first place. We cannot judge policies based on our yardstick as we are no longer the people who need or are worthy of NEP. But there are those who do. Do we leave them behind because the popular belief is that it is not fair to assist them?

These brilliant and articulate authors – they need to read more, talk to more people, go down to the ground, learn how the 70% of the population lives, volunteer at hospitals or hospices, teach at disadvantaged youth centers – see Malaysians as they are, not just the 30% that they identify with. ​Come up with ideas and framework, discuss them, argue about them, do pilot projects to see if they work. But first, go to the ground. Just like any business, you need to start from the ground up.

A young man asked me recently why does his parents hate PM Najib so much? I told him to speak to  them to get the answers.  I love that he is asking questions and seeking answers. But I do not love that he is exposed to the emotional reaction but not to the the arguments for and against PM Najib. My objections to Najib’s administrations and his political manouvers are my own. I certainly do not want to influence this young man’s attitude and opinion based on my interpretation of the situation. What I want to do is to encourage him to ask instead of just accepting certain manifesto simply because the people around him or the people he loves and respects believe in a certain point of view.

This I know — I am not twisted and bitter (angry yes, and it is always good to have some fire in you at all times). Certainly I am not ashamed of who I am and the fact that I was born a Malay because I truly believe it is my responsibility, not the Government’s, to prove that I am as capable as the next person to compete and earn my stripes based on merits and competency.

I have said this before and will say it again: it would be naieve to expect NEP to work 100%. Greed, stupidity, prejudice, sense of entitlement, ignorance – all these will continue to exist and seep into the minds of the people, with or without NEP. But if you could pull out one child from a situation where he would otherwise not been able to get out of without better education and financial assistance, wouldn’t you? I am sure I would have been happy working at the rubber glove factory as a production operator as long as I am able to earn an honest living. In fact I know I would be happy, because I have worked as one during school holidays. But had that been my path due to the circumstance that I was in, what a waste it would have been to my talent and intellect.

Would my hypothetical, non-existent children be NEP children? No. They don’t have the right to. I am now in a position where I am able to independently finance their education without relying on Government resources or assistance. The system is not there to be taken advantage of, and I believe to do so is disrespectful and ungrateful.

And trust me, there are more people like me than you’d think. The non-typical Malays. We just don’t take our battles to facebook or malaysiakini or Dataran Merdeka or by wearing yellow or red shirts.

Lastly, I especially do not agree that in order to show your love for the country and for your fellow Malaysians you need to hate and be embarrassed about who you are and denounce your “Malay-ness”. Championing inclusiveness does not mean you have to exclude Malays to prove your sincerity as a bangsa Malaysia, and be particularly mean and vicious to the Malays who do not think or believe in the same things as you do.

Politicians spin because they are in the position to do so and they will blame (or champion) race to fit their agenda.

I love and fully support political awakening. I love that people are now discussing and expressing their opinions and asking why and demanding explanation.

But the real danger lies in believing the hype without proper understanding of the framework and why policies were put in place. Somehow, I find that the slogan “bangsa Malaysia” almost always denote “bangsa bukan Melayu” as if being a Malay makes you less of a Malaysian.

That is not true and this lie needs to stop being perpetuated right now.

Feel free to disagree.


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