Freeing Malaysia from the myth of race

IF we are genuinely interested to move forward as a nation we must stop pandering to those who continue to harp on race and religion as a means to an end. There is simply no room for such mindset in this day and age.

It was clear from the last elections that Malaysians want reforms. But true reforms must go beyond institutional changes, and it has to include changing the way we think and behave.

And yet we cry over the appointment of a Chinese finance minister, we complain when a Malay Islamist is being made in charge of the education portfolio and we cringe over the prospect of an Indian Christian being nominated as the new attorney-general.

All of these in the so-called new Malaysia that has supposedly rejected the tyranny of a racist government?

Lest we forget, there is just no such thing as a biological race for the human species. There is no genetic sequence unique to the Malays, Chinese, Indians, or any other “races” for that matter.

In fact, in the 1950s, following the review of scientific findings by an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists and psychologists, Unesco issued a statement asserting that we all belong to the same species, and the concept of biological race is not a reality.

Species only sub-divide into races when groups are isolated from one another over a very long period of time. We do not satisfy any of those conditions. We have not been here long enough – a mere 200,000 years is very short compared to other species – and it is not long enough to allow our genes to mutate and evolve substantially.

Since Homo sapiens evolved some 200,000 years ago, we have been migrating back and forth across the globe and our genes have been mixing, thus there is no genetic exclusivity that allows for the creation of a biological race.

A great deal of modern scientific evidences continue to support this view.  And yet, again and again, we see the unscientific idea of racial supremacy and superiority keeps coming up. Not just in Malaysia, but worldwide.

To put it simply, race is purely a cultural and sociological construct. But like any other cultural contexts, they can change with time as we adopt other cultures or when we adapt to new environments.

The notion of cultural purity is misguided, and likewise there is no cultural exclusivity. Most of us sit on a spectrum with differing degrees of Malay-ness, Chinese-ness or Indian-ness, without a clear line separating us.

Whether we realize it or not, we are more alike than we are different.

Today most of us would freely accept that the earth is not flat, and that the sun is the centre of the solar system. But many seem to struggle to accept the modern science concerning human variation.

Racial classification has become so integral to our everyday lives, even from the day we were born, that we no longer question the soundness of the idea or even our need for it.

For millennia we have been conditioned to believe in the delusional hierarchical orders of races, or the false correlations between race and complex human behaviors.

The illusion of race (and racial superiority) endures to this day. History has shown us how these fallacies were exploited by many world leaders of the past to consolidate power, justify their position, and exert control over their dominions.

We saw this during the Spanish inquisition of the 15th century, the eugenics movements of the 20th century, and the ensuing Nazi ideology.

Although they may sound like extreme examples from a distant past, the reality is that racism is still rife today, and it has played a big part in our more recent history too.

We have seen how the far-right have exploited racial sentiments to affect the referendum on Brexit. Or the abuse of racial rhetoric during Trump’s election campaign to win votes.

Back home it is not that different. We saw massive fear-mongering in the last election campaign, pitting them versus us, sowing the seeds of distrust against each other. Let’s not be too quick to forget that it was only a month ago that Malaysians rejected a government that have for so long played the racial and religious card to gain popularity.

Our struggle is not yet over. Changing the government was only the first step, reforming the institutions is the obvious next steps. But it must be closely followed by self-reform to rid ourselves of the ingrained racial biases that we have been brainwashed with for way too long.

We must not allow ourselves to become victims of social manipulations anymore. We need to create a new national narrative to replace our existing storylines – one that is not based on race or religion, but by the contents of our characters.

To paraphrase the late Nelson Mandela – if we can be taught to hate, I am sure we can be taught to love. – June 7, 2018.

* Amir F.N. Abdul-Manan is a Malaysian scientist currently residing overseas. He is closely following the reforms within the country as they unfold.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Hmm. He is a scientist and wrong on the FACT. Just 30% of Malay voted for Reform BUT they did not vote against entitlement i.e., their racial and religo privilleges. So no, non-Malays may have voted against racism and religo-politics BUT not most Malays..

    Posted 6 years ago by Bigjoe Lam · Reply