Monday, November 21, 2011

Race Matters

"Why retire to Malaysia?" Our current answer is to note that Kuala Lumpur has the advantages of a national capital and it is affordable. Among its advantages are the availability of intense, public discussions on national issues, where we continue to learn about Malaysia and its people and to examine our own beliefs and opinions. Take the issue of race.

Nottingham University Malaysia has a Public Intellectuals Seminar Series.  Its "Found in Malaysia: Race and Belonging" seminar questioned what constitutes racial purity and the role of racial identity. The evening's lessons were  global.

The argument that Malays should have a special place in Malaysia is seductive, although unnerving when one thinks about the horrors of "ethnic cleansing." An on-line news source, The Nut Graph, surveyed Malaysians about their lineage. The upshot, mixed racial/ethnic backgrounds were common, suggesting that "racial purity" was a political construct rather than a genetic reality.

During the Q & A someone asked if Malaysia worried too much about race, after all it compares favorably with neighboring countries such as Burma and Thailand. The answer - not at all, that the Malaysia is peaceful argument may justify making race and racial advantages a  policy concern.

The discussant from New Zealand pointed out that living in harmony without reference to race might suppress another's culture. She used the example of a Maori classmate who now felt oppressed by the society's failure to acknowledge her racial/cultural identity. 

A presenter wondered what Malaysia's geography would be like in the future. For example, would states unhappy with their status peel off and form their own country? He showed a video, "How to Spot a Racist," which could easily be adapted to the US. To learn more about one (common) opinion about race in Malaysia this link
 (includes references to current Malaysian politics).

A tee-shirt here reads "Racism is so yesterday." I am not so sure; discussions of race and racism are very much today here.

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