If you are easily offended, please stop reading. I did not find the news story of a Chinese businessman sponsoring a Malay student from a Chinese school heartwarming. I do not think it represents a moment of “Malaysianess” when we so
desperately need it. Correction, I do not, and have never needed, these
moments of Malaysianess. I do think it represents the toxic nature of
race relations in this country.
When Muhamad Aidil said, “I was told to be a good student to avoid being transferred to a kebangsaan (national)
school. I took it as a challenge to study hard", I started laughing.
Here is a kid being told to work hard so as not to be transferred to a “kebangsaan”
school with the rest of the unfortunate Malaysians who, for some
reason, do not have access to better education and have to make do with.
In other words all that Islamisation and racial underpinnings of “kebangsaan”
schools means very little, and indeed poses a threat, to the education
of young people here in Malaysia. Better to send your kids to a
“Chinese” school or international schools, if you have the money – like
most politicians – than to the poisoned wells that are “kebangssan”
Moreover, let us be honest. It is not as if the cream of the Malay
crop are rewarded for their hard work. If that were the case, maybe
folks like me (and maybe even you) would not take it so hard when we, by
virtue of our ethnicity, are sidelined.
While rich Malay folks and their hanger-ons are immunised from the
machinations of the state, in this case, education as propaganda, the
rest of the Malay community have to make do with what the state thinks
is adequate to maintain the “bangsa” (race) and “agama” (religion) ideology. In other words mediocrity as a method of anesthetisation.
But make no mistake, this young man for all his hard work, is still
in a privileged position compared to the thousands of other young
non-Malay people who get equally good results but are: (1) Denied educational opportunities in local educational establishments; (2) Have to scramble for funding, which often means concerned parents
forking out huge sums of money for a chance at a better life for their
children; and (3) Have to go begging to the various race-based political parties
and their proxies, hoping financial relief does not come at too high a
Non-Malays in competition with one another
Non-Malay young people, especially with parents who are not well-off,
receive an education about the harsh realities of life before embarking
on their academic education. Add to this that fact that non-Malays are
in competition with one another, which means that the social and
economic relationships of the Chinese/Indians/Others are further
strained with the life experience of competing not only on an uneven
playing field, but fighting against everyone else for a slice of the
diminishing economic pie.
This young man will be spared that education that non-Malay young
people receive. He will be spared the “privilege” of hustling for a
better education, the possibility of a better life because one is not
beholden on the state for one’s success. Check that.
Beholden implies that education is not a right. While I have argued
that tertiary education is not a right, when our tax funds public
educational institutions, you are damn right that I want all Malaysians
to have access to them and I want these educational establishments to be
run in an efficient, professional non-partisan manner.
Beginning at the educational level, the state separates “Malaysians”
along racial lines and the competition within the non-Malay community
further divides us. So when someone with privilege gets a free pass and
this is used by certain quarters to demonstrate the spirit of ‘muhibbah’, I cry foul. I have no idea what moved this businessman to sponsor this young man.
Who am I to question his motivations. All I know is that there are
non-Malay young people who are lacking options because the state deems
them as irrelevant, for whatever reasons. Wait, that is not true. I
would argue that the marginalisation of citizens by race is
demonstrative of the “ketuanan” ideology that fuels mainstream Malay politics in this country.
Granted, I was amazed at the businessman’s amazement that this young
man’s “ability to excel and emerge as the top student in a Chinese
school”. Why? Is it because this young man is “Malay”, which again
points to the underlying race relations in this country.
To me, what this sponsorship demonstrates is that it is always the non-Malays who have to show their spirit of “muhibbah”.
It is always to the non-Malays who have to show how their culture is
inclusive. Always, it is the non-Malays who have to make gestures of
solidarity. The non-Malays have to show that we are race blind.
To my thinking, this young man, by going to this Chinese school and
emerging as the top student, has managed to demonstrate that he can
compete with the “other” Malaysians and with this, he can surely
navigate the rest of the system that favours him by virtue of his
In other words, he has already received an education that money
cannot buy. It is the bare minimum that every non-Malay young person
goes through every single day of his or her life, and is not really
worth mentioning only that, in this case, it is because of his
ethnicity, it supposedly contradicts the stereotype of the “lazy
Where does this fit into the whole 1Malaysia/Bangsa Malaysia kool aid?