Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

We Make Racial Polarisation Possible

Written by johnleemk on 3:01:13 pm Jan 18, 2008.
Categories: ,

Everyone likes to bitch about racial polarisation, but nobody is serious about fixing it. Some of us live in denial; I remember a vocal minority which insisted that opinion polls finding that most Malaysians do not mix beyond their own ethnic groups were clearly unfounded propaganda. But most of us acknowledge the problem — we just don't want to acknowledge the solution.

Where is racial polarisation most pronounced, going by volume of complaints? In our universities, and in our workplaces. We look at ways to solve the problems here — we try to force people from different races to live in the same dorm room, and we make vague, empty pronouncements about the importance of diversity.

But it stands to reason that racial polarisation cannot be a phenomenon which spontaneously arises in early adulthood. There might be evidence to support this, but if there is, I haven't heard of it — I don't think anyone is seriously making this claim, in any case.

So where does racial polarisation arise? Either in our youth, or in our childhood. And guess what? Racial polarisation really is prevalent from childhood onwards — and we are the ones who created it.

It is we who have created an educational system that for all practical intents and purposes segregates our young according to race. Widely reported figures indicate that over 90% of Malay students are in national schools, almost all Chinese students are in Chinese schools, and 70 or 80% of Indian students are in Tamil schools. It's pretty difficult to argue that this is good for national unity.

Note that these figures are only for primary schools. Our secondary schools become slightly more plural, but they seem almost to have been designed to encourage racism. The best and brightest Bumiputra youth are shipped off to Malay-dominated boarding schools, where they have few (if any) intelligent non-Bumiputra peers — racial polarisation again!

As a direct result of this policy, the Malays that stand out in our "national" secondary schools are almost invariably the bad apples — the poorly disciplined, the Mat Rempit sort of fellows. It's almost as if we want to make the non-Bumiputra think that all Malays are like these riff-raff.

By the time we go to college, university, or enter the working world, the damage has long been done. You spend the six most formative years of your schooling surrounded mostly by those of your own race. You then either spend the next five to seven years the same way, or you spend them interacting with the least savoury students from the largest ethnic group in the country.

When you spend these twelve or so years in a system that is meant to racially polarise, should it come as any sort of surprise that you will maintain the same sort of race-based cliques when you move on to higher education or employment?

We have to make hard choices if we want to put a stop to racial polarisation, or at least halt its advance. It is not enough to wring our hands and try to shut the barn door once the horse has bolted — nasi sudah menjadi bubur. Either we accept that the benefits of our practically segregated school system (whatever they may be) are worth the price of racial polarisation, or we reject this notion that it is necessary to separate ourselves according to race from a young age.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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