Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Here’s an indication of how deep-seated our prejudices are. A Kenyan student expresses his exasperation in a recent letter to the Star about shoddy treatment on the basis of his skin colour. In a country that perpetuates the myth of special positions and rights, and elevates external forms of religious piety, it is perhaps not surprising that we have little but a veneer of respectability to cover up our innate racism.

Kenyan student feels like an outcast

I AM a 20 year-old Kenyan student and have been in Malaysia for the past two years. In that time, I have had to deal with dirty looks, open stares and even outright rudeness just because of how I look.

If I take a seat in a train, half the time, no one will take the seat next to me no matter how packed the train is and, most of those who do, will be highly uncomfortable and face away from me.

If I walk into a shop, I’ll get startled looks and the sales people will look at each other (I can just hear them thinking “you serve him!”) before one approaches hesitantly to assist me.

When I actually make conversation with anyone, one of the first questions they ask me (doesn’t matter if it’s a salesperson, fellow commuter or a taxi driver) is “When are you going back to your country?”

I had to perform an internship stint at a certain company, and interns from Holland and Japan were welcomed way more warmly and fit in far better than I ever could.

A few Malaysians have had bad experiences with Africans of a particular nationality, and they generalise that all Africans are money-laundering thieves.

It’s hard to integrate into society and make friends, and as a result, most of my fellow African students have gotten disenchanted and cannot wait to finish their studies and go back home.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel stigmatised and made to feel like an outcast on account of how I look and it hurts a lot.

Is this really the tolerant, racially harmonious Malaysia that we read about every day? Is it only selectively tolerant? Why Malaysians? Why?


What embarrasses is not merely the shameful treatment of foreign visitors and migrant workers to our shores (read this, this, this, and this) but the way in which authorities callously dismiss these reports as “only a small number,” and the audacity with which we offer to teach other nations how to live in racial harmony. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, our PM delivered a keynote address titled “Rules for a Global Neighbourhood in a Multi-Cultural World” by drawing on “Malaysia’s experience as a model of racial unity and religious harmony in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural setting.” At a time when Malaysians are feeling more and more polarized than ever, our politicians must be careful about patting their own backs to avoid sounding like empty echoes of hollow men.

Related link:
World Econmic Forum, Davos - Go to Davos Conversations to link to partners carrying blogs and videos on the event.

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