Removing the race column – a move towards unity or suppression?


Will doing away with stating a person’s race on official forms really help enhance national unity? Or is it merely a temporary measure of sweeping the real issues at hand under the rug? A political diversion perhaps?

The Tired Eye, The Borneo Post

BORN and raised in Sarawak, the Eye does not understand how racial and religious tension in the peninsula has come to a stage where there is now a suggestion to do away with the ‘race’ column in identification documents.

The Eye does not understand why people cannot be proud of their respective ethnicities and yet celebrate the differences that make up this country, together in peace and harmony.

The recent suggestion by a federal minister, Joseph Kurup, to remove the need to state a person’s race on official forms seems to have received support from the National Unity Consultative Council and ordinary Malaysians.

Superficially, it seems like a good way to encourage national unity and do away with racial profiling.

But this suggestion has gotten the Eye both worried and annoyed.

Worried because it shows that Malaysians – those in the peninsula specifically, have to resort to such a move, just because they are unable to celebrate their differences.

Annoyed because this whole issue does not seem to have been well thought through by those who immediately jumped at agreeing with Kurup’s suggestion.

Some say that race doesn’t count and what matters most where national unity is concerned is the fact that everyone is Malaysian. Others say that the move to do away with filling up one’s race on official forms also augurs well with those who wish to protect their privacy.

But seriously, the country’s administrators will have to sit and really put their heads together on this one, before they go ahead and make another blunder. Will doing away with stating a person’s race on official forms really help enhance national unity? Or is it merely a temporary measure of sweeping the real issues at hand under the rug? A political diversion perhaps?

Eye suppose that some people have lost sight of what really makes Malaysia, Malaysia.

For years, we have promoted our nation’s tourism, bearing themes of diverse races, religions and culture living together in peace and harmony.

For years we have prided ourselves as ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’, where Malaysia is made up of a little of every country in Asia.

In some tragic turn of events, again, particularly for our fellow countrymen in the peninsula, one is no longer able to be proud of his individual ethnicity and yet still be Malaysian at the same time.

Let’s just say, thank goodness things are different here in Sarawak.

We are proud to be Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Malay, Chinese, Kelabit, Lun Bawang, Kayan, Kenyah, Berawan, Penan, Punan, Saban, Bukitan, Selako, Bisaya, Kedayan, Ukit, Sebob, Tagal, Murut, Kajang, Kejaman, Lun Dayeh, Lakiput, Tabun as well as a host of other indigenous groups found here.

Each with our own distinct language, cultures and beliefs. Yet we have no problems with intermarriage, or with living under the same roof despite different religions and beliefs.

And, what’s more, as proud as we are to be Sarawakians and Malaysians, we are first and foremost proud to have these ethnicities stated on our official identification papers. For these are our true identities.

Any social anthropologist will say that to have race erased from official documentation is easily saying that we are dismissing our individual histories.  And such a move will prove disastrous as it will mark the beginning of a loss of culture and identity.

To play down our individual ethnicities when filling official forms in the name of unity is as bad as saying our ethnic backgrounds are the reasons of the religious and racial rife that has come up of late in the peninsula.

What will we tell our children in the future? That we cannot be identified by our own individual ethnicities just because it might spark some conflict?

That Malaysians are so immature to the extent that we can only be identified in a homogeneous manner because that is what unity is about?

The problem of race conflict or disunity lies not in our individual ethnicities, but in the minds of bigots and extremists who are, in reality, cowards.

Cowards because they have within themselves an inferiority complex. Cowards who refuse to open their minds to the cultures and beliefs of others. Cowards who choose to be ignorant and hide behind their bully-facade.

Let us take a look at the recent US Superbowl advertisement brouhaha and how it brought out the ugly in Americans who have forgotten what it means to be an American.

A beverage company’s advertisement featured the American patriotic song ‘America the Beautiful’ sung in eight different languages, featuring people of different ethnicities and religions. It’s a beautiful advertisement, really.

But it immediately drew the fury of bigoted Americans who felt that it was unpatriotic to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ in any other language than English. They called for people with coloured skin to “go back to where they came from”. Sound familiar?

They forget that America was built on accepting immigrants from all over the world. They forget that no one in America, other than Native American Indians, can today claim that they are truly people of the land.

Yes, those who claim to be true blooded Americans today are descendants of immigrants. They are the ones who have forgotten their roots by adopting closed, homogeneous minds that shut out even the true natives of the land.

Malaysia is very much like America. A melting pot of Asia. Do we want to lose our own identities too, as what has happened in the big US of A?

Here in Sarawak, we are brought up to acknowledge and respect differences.  We work hard to preserve our diverse cultures, languages and dialects. We want our children to grow up wealthy, not in the monetary sense, but as wholesome people who are proud of their own backgrounds and still respectful of one another.

We take pride in our own ethnic backgrounds and make an effort to learn about others, so that we may better understand their lifestyle, and join in celebrating our diversity.

And yes, say what you want about Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, but as far as unity between different ethnicities in Sarawak is concerned, the man has done well to keep negative influences from the peninsula out of Sarawak. A true force to be reckoned with, he has clearly stated that there will no play of the superiority of one race over another here in Sarawak.

We now put our faith in his successor to carry on defending the unity that is uniquely Sarawakian.

As for the policymakers over there in the peninsula, address the root of the problem, instead of making blunders which will eventually destroy what makes Malaysia truly Asia.