Thursday, May 11, 2006

Malaysia: a self-segregated nation?

Self-segregation as I understand it is nothing new and has been practiced in many countries for a long time. However it has mostly been confined to minority communities in relation to housing areas, hostel rooms and the workplace.

Rarely does one see self-segregation being practiced across-the-board, involving a very large proportion of a country's population including the majority ethnic group. Unfortunately, by accident or design, this phenomenon is prevalent in Malaysia.

Throughout the peninsula including the major towns this strange sight is there for all to see. From abodes to schools and places of worship there is near total segregation. Why? A historical anomaly? Successive government policies designed to perpetuate it? A new divide and govern strategy? Or a mixture of these and more?

Take a look at our housing estates in major towns. Even in a 'mixed' area the ethnic groups are somehow kept apart. Reasons for this may include certain practices of one group which may be unacceptable to the cultural and religious beliefs of another. One important factor, I feel, is that somehow we are more at ease with 'our own kind'. The presence of a person of another ethnic group is perceived as an 'infringement' of our comfort zone. Someone who has spent a considerable time abroad and has had the opportunity of 'mixing' with many ethnic groups could probably detect with ease the prevailing reluctance to interact among our Malaysian communities. We who are so used to 'being like this' perhaps cannot comprehend that what we consider the norm may not be normal elsewhere. Just ask yourselves how many times in the past year that you have spent an evening socializing with persons of other races either as a host or a guest. Except for the occasional 'open house' my guess is- precious few. Why? Most often you don't feel comfortable with 'them' around.

Then there are our schools which are excellent examples of self-segregation. Reasons for this range from the 'high' quality of ethnic schools, 'low' standards and insufficient religious classes at government schools, preservation of their mother tongue and by extension their 'culture' and at times purely due to chauvinistic and racist sentiments and beliefs. Religious schools and pondoks are other examples.
Our universities and colleges are case-study material for analysis of self-segregation. First there are the race-exclusive institutes and then the one-race majority type run by the government and ruling political parties. Even in so-called 'mixed' institutions the hostels are prime examples of self-segregation and the reasons for keeping them this way are the same trying and tiring excuses - cultural differences, differing food habits, religious sensitivity and language. The same scenario more or less plays out at the office, restaurant, cinemas and clubs.

Why even on the net our self-segregation is so evident. After reading this, just check out even the better known blogs and see which other blogs are linked to them. Chances are most if not all the linked blogs are those belonging to their own ethnic group. Malaysia Today is one of the few major exceptions to this sorry state and has a varied selection and healthy mix.

With a neutral name like 'The Malaysian', I suppose the other blogs won't have a problem in including mine to their list. In fact I hope they do. Indeed I shall write to them individually and see what transpires.

Finally what can we do to somehow get out of this self-imposed segregation? It is not going to be easy, that's for sure. We need to get the experts into this, to put their heads together and come out with something beneficial. There is hope, there always is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good blog, please continue

1:45 PM GMT+8  
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11:40 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an American who has lived in malaysia' married to a Chinese. Malay woman, travel frequently in Malaysia, I find it interesting that the government actively promotes unity and harmony among the different ethnic groups but encourages and creates segregation in military, national service and worksites. The recent intense flag waving pictures in the local papers specifically the Star and New Straits Times seems over the top excessive. One must wonder if it's being done to compensate for the segregation policies which it encourages and has put into place. The contradiction is stunning.

1:32 PM GMT+8  

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