Islamist Malaysia’s Institutionalised Racism

published on March 14, 2011

In a hard hitting article deriding Malaysia’s discriminatory State Policy under the current government headed by the UMNO, the author traces the myriad roots of the issue that affects its ethnic and religious minorities.

UMNO’s Institutionalized racism – Let us Rid this National Curse


Racism as defined by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V Hamilton in their seminal book “ Black Power” in 1967 is still very applicable 40 odd years on and here in Malaysia. Their definition of racism is “ the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group.” Racism they go on to add is both overt and covert. Acts by individuals they call individual racism is overt and acts committed collectively, they call institutionalized racism is less overt, and in most instances covert.

The first type , individual racism is the sort we see in the likes of utterances of the School Heads, Senior BTN officials and the Mufti of Perlis and the most recent case of a former police PIBG head taking 6 Indian students to the police station who were interrogated for 10 long hours because they rejected the racist book “Interlok”. This type of racism can be easily captured by reports, by the phone or other cameras and displayed in the youtube, in blogs and such other devices and generally it is brought out by acts of commission. There is generally more public condemnation of this type of racism.

The second type, institutional racism is less overt, is subtle, but systematic and many orders of magnitude more pervasive. It is less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. This second type originates in the operation of established and respected forces in society and is far less recognizable and it generally receives little public condemnation.

When scores of Indian youth are killed in custody, there is little uproar, for after all they are the scum of society. When there is widespread statelessness among the Indian poor, too bad these stupid people do not know how to take care of themselves, that is their damned fault. When in desperation Indian individuals and families perish in suicides there is public sympathy and derision at the same time for the dead but not the acknowledgement of the impact the system has had on them.

When the primary schools that Indian children go to are in shambles, well they have a choice to go the national schools don’t they. This is after all the natural order of it not, so argue the beneficiaries of the racist system.

Institutionalized racism manifests itself in oppression of multiple forms within every sphere of social relations – economic exploitation, political subordination, cultural devaluation, psychological violation,verbal abuse, police harassment, etc. These operate so normally and naturally and are so much part of the existing institutions of our society that the common people are barely conscious of their operation.

Casual racial prejudices have over time transformed into a systematized and codified ideology and practice of racial subordination.

Najib, however in his UMNO general assembly speech on the 15th of October 2009 said, “If Malays are truly racist as alleged we would not have compromised on the cultures of other ethnic groups being practiced here……..We would also not have allowed vernacular schools to be established, …..The true meaning of racism would be like apartheid as previously practiced by South Africa..”.

So, Najib the leader of the beneficiaries of the system denies the existence of anyhting like institutionalized racism?

To answer this let us take Najib’s suggestion and compare with what existed in the Apartheid regime of South Africa which no one will argue was not a prime example of institutionalized racism.

Here are some key features of South Africa’s Apartheid (Apartness) system:

1) A central feature of the Apartheid rule was the categorization of all the South African People into Whites, Coloreds, Indian and Blacks – their Bangsa. Everything else was built on this categorization.

2) Using this racial categorization it decided where each category of people lived, who they married, who they had sex with, where they worked and how they moved about.

3) The Group Areas Act of 1950 partitioned the country into areas allocated to different racial groups. Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 created separate government structures for blacks and was the first piece of legislation established to support the government’s plan of separate development in the Bantustans

4) They segregated education, medical care, and other public services on the basis of this racial categorisation .

5) They all had to carry Identity cards which indicated their “Bangsa” so to speak.

6) They had the apartheid laws – The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, Immorality Act of 1950, The Population Registration Act of 1950 and so on. And they had laws of repression. Laws such as Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, The Public Safety Act of 1953 and the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1953, The Riotous Assembly Act, The Terrorism Act to name a few of the notorious ones.

7) To oversee the apartheid implementation, the bureaucracy expanded, and, by 1977, there were more than half a million white state employees.

8. Blacks were not allowed to run businesses or professional practices in those areas designated as “white South Africa” without a permit.

9) Each of the 4 categories of South Africans had their own education system.

Now let us look at comparative situations in the Malaysian rgime:

1) A central feature of our system is also our categorization into Bumiputras, Chinese, Indians and Others from birth to death.Everywhere we go we have to declare Bangsa, Ugama – at birth, at school registration, in all the applications we make, at marriage, at death and in many many more situations.

2) Large areas of most cities and towns are segregated not by law, but by practice and without the need for such segregation laws. Clear example is in Penang the Island is mainly populated by Chinese, and the Malays mostly prefer to live on the Mainland. In Shah Alam it is mainly Malays. In Seremban it is mainly Chinese in locations like Seremban Garden, and Malays in Ampangan or Paroi areas. In Kuching you have South and North Kuching for the Chinese and the Malays. In practice but not in law.

3) In several housing areas State Consent is required if one wants to sell the property especially if it is in a predominantly Malay area. It is quicker to get consent for inter Bumiputra sale than it is for a sale across the Bumiputra /Non-Bumiputra divide. Again in practice but not in law.

4) Malaysia has repressive laws like the Internal Security Act to put away who UMNO considers to be trouble makers without having to go through the court processes, the Official Secrets Act to blot out all decisions made by the UMNO controlled Administration from public view, The Printing Presses and Publications Act to control the print media from publishing too much anti UMNO news, The Seditions Act to shut people up from speaking up againts UMNO policies – to name a few of the repressive laws that helps maintain the current regime.

5) The bureaucracy is entirely made up of largely one ethnic group , Bumiputras – eight hundred thousands of them, all implementing UMNO Policy. The Police force is almost entirely Malay, the armed forces are almost entirely Malay. The judicial system is almost entirely Malay. The public Universitieis are almost entirely Malay. The GLC managements are entirely Malay. Again in practice but not in law.

6) Most Government and Government linked businesses are off limits to non- Bumiputras. There is a complete system of screening vendors that limits vendors to almost entirely Bumiputras.

7) Business licences are largely awarded to Bumiputras or must have mandatory minimum Bumiputra participation – Bank Licences, Educational Institutions Licences, Permits in the Transportation businesses and so many more.

8 ) Participation in all government development schemes are entirely for Bumiputras – MARA, FELDA, FELCRA, RISDA, PERDA, KESEDAR, KEJORA to name a few. In practice but not in law.

9) Educational opportunities in Public Educational Institutions are grossly in favour of Bumiputras.

10) Cross religious relationships between Non muslim Malaysians and Muslim Malaysians is a complicated affair, especially if a problem develops along the way.

If we consider these two sets of situations it is apparent that there are significant number of similarities between the apartheid system and the Malaysian system created, developed, finetuned by UMNO from 1957 to 2011. The key difference seems to be the lack of ambiguity in the South African expression in all its laws. In Malaysia a lot of the racism is in practice not in the law. To any right thinking person it is so obvious, the racism that underlies our daily life.

Therefore it is really audacious for Najib to say UMNO is not racist – the party that is responsible for this terrible state of affairs. He is in a terrible state of denial still..
Allowing the practice of cultures of the Indians or the Chinese in Malaysia or allowing Chinese Medium and Tamil Medium schools in Malaysia, or of allowing the use of Chinese and Indian names does not in any way define the character of the regime in Malaysia. Allowing all this actually now becomes convenient argument for UMNO to take everything else away, it seems. It is the structure of the economic political system that defines the character of our system. And it is blatantly racist.

I do not say the Malay people are racists. I am saying that UMNO, the political party is. It is indeed a blue blooded racist party – the entire cause for the racism that is so rampant in Malaysia.

Racism is “the domination of one ethnic group over other ethnic groups on the basis of some claimed superiority”. In South Africa – White Supremacy, In Hitler’s Germany – the Superiority of the German race, In the British Empire – the Civilizing Burden of the White Man, in Malaysia, Ketuanan Melayu or Malay Supremacy.
Do we need to say more.

Let us all wake up and in solidarity fight this curse of institutionalized racism. We have no choice if we all Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Dusuns, Muruts, Dayaks want a vibrant prosperous and robust nation in Malaysia.

Naragan is an ideolgue of the Human Rights Party of Malaysia.

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