They Taught Me Racism?

Derek Kok reminiscence his past to find out how he started to see colour.

A, C, D, E, F . . .

I went to kindergarten at Tadika Riang Baru.

I remember competing with an ‘angmoh‘ kid for the attention of an Indian girl named Joanne. You could say she was my ‘first crush’. I adored her. I thought her pixie haircut was cute. That smile, oh that smile. Tadika Riang Baru’s uniform never looked prettier on anyone else.

I remember that my best friend in kindergarten was Luvin Kumar, a Chindian boy. We were like Oliver Twist and Huck Finn. Maybe Batman & Robin.

I remember a lot of things from my kindergarten days. But I also remember that I did not know a lot.

I didn’t know what was Malay, Chinese or Indian.

I didn’t know Joanne was Indian. All I knew was that oh-so-sweet smile.

I didn’t know the angmoh was an ‘angmoh‘. All I knew was that I did not appreciate him going after my girl. >:(

I didn’t know Luvin was Chindian.

I didn’t know back then that I did not ‘look Chinese’.

I remember my grandmother saying that I looked Malay. She also told me that if I misbehaved, the ‘apunehneh‘ (a not-so-nice term for Indians) will kidnap me. The apunehneh was like the Bogeyman; an embodiment of terror which my grandmother used to great effect in order to keep my mischievous behaviour at bay.

Ke Bangku Sekolah Rendah

Then it was primary school. People say that you go to school to learn.

I did. I learnt what ‘Malay’, ‘Chinese’, ‘Indian’ meant.

My eyes started to see ‘colour’.

I even started to notice my own colour. Like my grandmother, people were remarking that I looked Malay. I remember how my mum’s colleagues in school would joyfully exclaim that I ‘looked Melayu‘. I never understood why were they grinning from ear to ear while going, “Eh macam Melayu la anak kamu ini!” (My mum was a teacher in the same school, horror of horrors).

I began to see that people were separated based on WHAT they are. I remember an ustazah coming into my class one day, asking those who were non-Muslims to raise our hands. Being the blur kid I was, I raised my hand in compliance.

She then looked straight at me, “Kamu ni Cina ke Melayu?

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