Are Malaysians racist?

I always hear this from friends, colleagues, and family members: Malaysians are not racists, it’s only the politicians!

And I always thought, yeah right, I envy your optimism.

After all, half of Malaysian voters voted for the racist politicians and what they clearly stand for. Yes, usually we claim it’s for reasons other than racism. Those of us who vote for BN say that all they want is stability and unity…

… but they sure don’t give a flying fuck about institutionalized inequality that affect racial and religious minorities, do they?

A huge segment of voters sure don’t mind that bumiputeras enjoy privileges when it comes to education, housing, religion and more, while minorities need to be obedient, assimilate, and showcase unity even as the nation refuses to give them equal rights.

That’s not very comforting. And some of us are not even bashful about the real reasons they support the ruling coalition. It’s all on social media, for all to see.

I mean, remember that anti-ICERD rally?

The very same people who complain loudly about racial discrimination against Malays at the private sector were just as vocally opposing the signage of The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by the Malaysian government. Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, for fuck’s sake. Was there ever a clearer expression of what a certain segment of voters want and don’t want?

Take a closer look at what Malaysians really want, and the façade of social harmony falls even further apart. A few years back, a survey by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute showed that over half (57 per cent) of Malays in Johor wanted to apply hudud laws to all Malaysians regardless of religion. A year later, ISMA started a petition wanting Malaysia to be declared an Islamic State, and 19,000 Malaysians signed the petition within just two days.

Because, fuck all non-Muslims in Malaysia, right? If you’re not a Malay-Muslim, the majority simply doesn’t really care about what you want, and see you more as an obstacle towards achieving their political utopia.

Or, you know, just read any history book on Malaysia.

We have been a bitterly divided country long before Mahathir or Najib or Hadi Awang or Lim Kit Siang appeared on the scene. The majority of Malaysians have been against equal rights between races ever since colonial times.

That’s why Malayan Union was opposed back in the days. The harmonious version of Malaysia many of us wish we could return to only happened in Petronas ads.

Stop glorifying the pre-Mahathir or pre-Razak days, for fuck’s sake. Realize that all the sentiments against racial equality flows from the bottom to the top, and not the other way round.

And then you’ll have some idea of how hard it is to change things in Malaysia. You’ll be less disappointed that way.

On the other side of the political divide, there are plenty of us who claim that we vote opposition for a less racist and more equal Malaysia. And yet, some of us turn a blind eye when it comes to pro-Chinese racist preferences at the workplace, or when it comes to landlords not willing to rent out houses to Indians or Malays.

And let’s not ignore all the casual racist comments that are made by non-BN/PAS supporters at home, at the mamak shop, or on internet spaces…

One needs to be truly ignorant of what’s going on around us to declare that Malaysians in general are not racist. As some have joked, Malaysia is truly a multiracist country.


It’s true that Malaysians are super friendly to each other in real life. By real life, we mean on the streets, in the office, at the mamak shop, as neighbors and colleagues as long as we are not arguing about politics or voting at the voting booth.

Now close your eyes, and think of what racism looks like. You probably pictured politicians spewing hateful content about apa lagi cina mahu or raising the keris and promising to bathe it in minority blood or shit like that.

Sure, most Malaysians don’t speak and act like brown or yellow nazis. UMNO voters have no issue sharing a plate of nasi kandar with Chinese friends and DAP voters have no issues sharing a lou sang with Malay friends. We smile, we call each other bro, we laugh and spend time together. And although I’ve sat with dozens of protestors who just came back from the anti-ICERD rally, none of them dared to speak to me and ask me to balik tiongsan.

It’s only at the voting booth that we vote against each other’s interests.

Even as we befriend those from other races, we look at politicians spewing racist shit and think: sure, that guy speaks like a mad man, but at least I feel comfortable about his vision of what Malaysia should look like.

And then we vote for the mad man. Because no matter how crazily he acts, he’s our man.

This applies to both sides, I have to say. For every keris-waving Malay Nationalist on one end, there’s the chauvinistic-yet-super-popular Superman-Hew-type grassroot politician on the other. It just happens that the Malay nationalists are the ones with power.

The truth is, when most people vote, we probably don’t do it out of hate for entire groups of people. It’s just that we simply don’t care very much what those groups of people want or don’t want. If I vote for PKR/DAP I’d probably not care very much about your UMNO or PAS-voting friends, would I?

We all put ourselves first, and that’s ok. That’s how democracy works. Others will vote for what they feel is the best for them, and the majority will vote differently from you and get what they want, so you don’t have to feel bad about it.

Not that most of us will feel bad about it in the first place. Let’s say I’m voting for the opposition, and I do think for my friends who vote differently. It’s really not that hard to convince myself that it’s all for their benefit.

Afterall, a Malaysian for all Malaysians will benefit everyone. *Sure, it takes away some privileges from my Malay friends, but isn’t a better-run Malaysia, free from racial politics that empower corrupt politicians, going to benefit everyone including Malays who are all this while bamboozled by short-term benefits and deluded by malicious propaganda? *

She’ll come to her senses and realize that it’s all for her own good, I thought. She was just manipulated by political parties who play with religion and race. She’s not racist at all.

And who knows, my friend might be thinking of me too as she casted her vote.

Sure, some of my friends are not Muslims and they will not like to hear that I am voting for PAS, she thought. But a country led by true Muslims will be good for everyone, including non-Muslims. Non-Muslims will see that it’s all for their own good when it really happens. Afterall, Islam is applicable to all humans.

God willing, my friends will see the light and convert to Islam, once they experience what a real Islamic society is like.

Or what about my UMNO-voting friends?

Well, something about how stability is good for everyone, that’s for sure, and how only UMNO can bring true stability by ensuring the continuity of the (fictional) social contract to maintain social cohesion. Wouldn’t it be great if true harmony happens, with Malays leading the way?

At the moment, my Chinese and Malay friends are manipulated by greedy political parties who want to destroy the social fabric of Malaysia. That’s why we should be responsible and protect them from themselves, and the disharmony that they are going to create. I’m sure once they realize that it’s for their own good, they will no longer be racist against Malays.

Of course, this is just me trying to step into their shoes and imagine what others might think. Most of the reasoning above should be familiar to you though, if you’ve ever argued with Malaysians with different political views.

The point is, the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions. All of us REALLY do believe wholeheartedly that what we want is also the best for everyone. It’s unfortunate that we also happen to live in very different realities, and have very different ideas about what’s good for ourselves and others.

So, does this make us Malaysians a racist bunch or not?

Does it count as racist if we believe that only our race (somehow) have things figured out while that other races are unable to make the right decisions, and are just being stupidly manipulated by evil politicians? Does it count as racist if we refer to non-Muslims as belum Muslim, or refer to Chinese-speaking or liberal-minded Malays as “smarter” and “more educated”?

Does it count as racist if we defend the status quo that clearly benefits our own race at the expense of others, even when we claim to care for one another?

There is no right or wrong. It’s up for you to judge. It’s all just labels, in the end.

But if we are going to change things for the better, the last thing we should do is to sweep everything under the rug. Let’s not pretend that as long as we remove the current batch of politicians, the majority of Malaysians will “see the light” and stop wanting the same things that they have always wanted.

Because while you wait for them to see your version of the truth, they just go ahead and vote.