Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Race in Forms

Sin Chew Jit Poh
Final week of January 2015


The Sabah and Sarawak state governments have changed all their government forms so that there is no longer the “other” box when it comes to filling in your race. So below the usual “Malay”, “Chinese” and “Indian” boxes there is a blank space with which you can fill in what you like. This is particularly pertinent in Sabah and Sarawak as there are so many ethnic groups there. Furthermore to be considered “other” is quite insulting.


This bit of news has generally been well received, with many commentators saying that the rest of the country should follow suit. This raises the question however as to why should we put down our ethnic group when filling in forms? Another question is why is this a sensitive issue.


To answer the first question; I am not sure why a race or ethnicity section is necessary for anything. What does my ethnicity got to do with me getting a loan or applying for a job? Perhaps there is some use for it when taking the census. Perhaps. But apart from curiously wanting to know what the demographic break up of your country is what other reason can there be?


It can matter if decisions are made based on ethnicity. And here we get to the crux of the matter. Because we practice race based affirmative action in this country with the recipients being Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, the ethnicity of a person becomes an issue.


I have said it before and I will say it again, that if we are to have affirmative action, then it should be needs based as opposed to race based. I believe in affirmative action as I know that not everyone has the same advantages in life. Therefore it is only fair to level the playing field. I disagree with it being done on the basis of race because this can lead to unfairness.


And frankly this is why the whole race in forms thing is so sensitive. Not only is there unhappiness with the affirmative action programmes in this country, not because there is out and out disapproval of said programmes, but because of the arguably unfair and unconstitutional methods of implementation; there is also a nasty trend of racism in this country.


There is often an unpleasant racist undertone in so many things that happen here. Take the proposed condominium project in Keramat in KL. If I was to oppose the project it would be on the basis that it is only good for the rich, or it will cause traffic chaos, or any number of things. But the protestors have given the whole thing a racist slant by saying the project will attract Chinese people into a Malay area.


And the PAS President has actually said that local elections could lead to racial riots. It is insane how race and ethnicity has become such a horrible thing. I think that the concept of ethnicity is mainly harmless. It gives us our identity and culture. But when it is used to promote racist ideas and cynically used for political gain; it makes me understand why it is such a hot button topic and it makes me think we should ban all mention of race and ethnicity in every single form that has to be filled.

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