Getting Rid of the Malay Stereotype

Well done to the Deputy PM, Najib Tun Razak for coming out and attacking the perception of Malays as being a lazy race. This perception has now long been in place, for a century or so I'd suggest.

The fact is the Malay archipelago was a trade centre. We have witnessed any number of ancient and middle-age trade centres like that of Aceh, Srivijaya and Malacca, not to mention the Brunei Sultanate. Malays were not just farmers; they traded as well, and did it well.

The problematic stereotype probably began to manifest itself by the arrival of the British colonialists in Malaysia at least, who, first of all, removed the role of trade from the Malays, no thanks to the subserviance of the Malay sultans. This led to the Malay economic role being reduced to agriculture and petty administration. They also imposed racial segregation between industries, and Malays were excluded from the modern industries, which went to the Chinese (primarily in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore). Here we also see the Chinese stereoptype; that they are all traders, yet a fair chunk of those who arrived worked in the mining industry. The Chinese are not naturally traders; the Malays are not naturally lazy. This is all perception.

The big problem now is probably due to the policies of the Malaysian government. While it clearly had to impose policies to alleviate the economic lot of the Malays it has now become a political tool and the Malays are becoming very used to it. This, plus the agreement that 80% of all public sector jobs must go to Bumiputeras has led to the lazy and hand-out perception of the Malays. It is highly ironic that the government perpetuated the industry-race segregation, but given the race based politics of Malaysia we should not be too surprised. UMNO is a significant contributor to the stereotype by perpetuating the hand-out mentality, despite the attempts of some of its reformist leaders.

One might point out to Malays in Singapore being so far behind the other races and the general perception that they are lazy might seem to hold some credibility there but I'd argue otherwise. First, Singapore was a backwater till Raffles decided to develop it, and the Malays there were not really traders anyway. I could be wrong, but I believe the Malays there were fishermen. Singapore was a rural area; trade was conducted in neighbouring Aceh, Malacca and Johor. The British then brought in the Chinese to do the trade and marginalised the Malays-simply put, they never stood a chance. Present day Singapore practises theoretical meritocracy, but in effect this means perpetuating the political and economic hold of the Chinese populace. The Malays need a leg-up there, but they'll never get it.

Ultimately, the perception might well come true if UMNO continues to lack the guts to seriously reform their pro-Bumiputera (essentially pro-Malay) policies. As Josef Goebbels said; 'repeat a lie often enough and it soon becomes the truth'. The greatest threat to Malays becoming a lazy race lie within themselves. Will their leaders have the guts to get rid of their own self-defeating policies? I doubt it, not while the feudalistic tendencies of their leaders remain. The Malays need a revolution, from below (the grassroots)-their leaders (apart from a few at the top) seem to scared of speaking the truth and doing what needs to be done. The future does not look bright, but it is not too late.

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