Friday, May 18, 2012

Aren't We Racists?

Every now and then, racial slurs in schools will make the headlines. This is another. Now certain quarters want the teacher suspended, even sacked! Read here for the SMK Georgetown saga. Before long, Namewee might pick this up again and use it as material for his next crude rap or parody.... we Malaysians continue to remain stuck in a juvenile mindset...

I think most of us are racist to a certain extent. It takes a lot not to be a racist in racist Malaysia. Practically every official document we fill in reminds us our bangsa first. Mind you, bangsa here does not refer to being Malaysian. It refers to your ethnicity. 54 years and this is our 55th year of nationhood. And we are still behaving like juveniles as a nation. Somewhere along the process of 'growing up' the notion of nationhood got hijacked and since then, it's Malays/Chinese/Indians/Iban first before Malaysian. Who should we blame? In a ship, a captain is the one in charge. He makes the call. So I guess, the blame goes to our leaders.

This recent news is about this teacher who has made national headlines because she scolded the students with derogatary words - pariah, Hindu... She shouldn't have. And if it's true that the Principal tried to cover up the issue, then it's also wrong. It's quite appalling, the alleged cover up. But I think too that the whole issue has been hijacked, by the school admin and the subsequent groups who want to be seen as championing their race...

I feel sorry for the teacher too though. Though the terms she used were inexcusable, I can also imagine her frustrations at that point of time. No sane teacher would utter such terms unless they are under some form of duress. The racist in us is usually well controlled. But students can be quite difficult to manage these days. Teachers' hands are tied. You know, we even a circular listing down the things we cannot do to a student. We can't even glare at them! So, very often, something that might have started off as a juvenile mischief becomes the catalyst to racist remarks and reactions. And the subsequent reactions develop into racial innuendos because we fail to address them properly. This inability to address is in part a result of the 'I say', 'You do' mentality which seems to be the norm these days.

I've taught in different schools. And all have been different from my own experience as a student. Perhaps studying in a former mission school was the difference. It was built on a the values set by the founders (missionaries) who had clear principles. There were clear boundaries. These days, I often observe that the boundaries get blurred. Kids today are less docile too. But one thing remains, juvenile behaviour has remained more or less constant. But how we deal with them has changed somewhat. We bend the rules more these days.

The sad thing is how the racist keep coming to the surface. And that's where I think schools have failed to engineer that social change which would have gotten us to that masyarakat madani goal we set many years ago. I remember we were taught to watch our words during our school days. Rude and obnoxious behaviour would be severely dealt with. The teachers were also concerned about character building and how we should carry ourselves. And they did their duties well. School was not just for the academic stuff. It was also a finishing school. Over the years, for me it was 7 years in secondary school, we learned to watch our words. Till today, I can never bring myself to call an Indian, Hindu. I used to be quite taken aback by how some of my friends would use the terms Hindu or Keling quite freely when I first came to Kedah. And a bigger surprise was how easily my Malay students would call each other babi (pigs) at the slightest bit of provocation. Yet, if I were to utter that same word to my students, the kids would balk with righteousness and feign hurt. Even derogatory terms get their okay moments - depends on who utters it. Observe the Chinese kids and you get the same thing too... juvenile mischiefs are very predictable. And sometimes we don't outgrow that juvenile tendency because we weren't corrected as students ourselves.

Now in an environment where everyone is one equal footing, dealing with such kinds of issues would be quite straightforward. But we're not. Wrong doers are not dealt with in a way that conveys the right message. You get the impression that bullies are at work. And we know how bullies work... they bulldoze you into accepting their ways. When they accommodate, it means they are being benevolent. So on the outside, sometimes we appear to be civil but in reality we're actually like the shiny apple which looks delicious on the outside but actually has lots of worms inside.

And that is why our schools have failed. Teachers have failed because they cannot suppress their own racism. And so either through action or words and sometimes both, they churn out more sublimal racists. Our education system remains fragmented. We still have way too many types of schools. How can we expect integration when kids do not learn and play together? And oh yes! The recent doing away with the quota for local students at international schools.. the chasm has just gotten bigger between the haves and haves not. The rich will get to learn in English while the have-nots will have to make do with an 'inferior' system. One of the the downfall of the great Roman Empire was this.

Demanding that this teacher be suspended or sacked? Well, like the Medusa, chopping one head won't kill her off. Other heads will grow to replace one lost head. We need to take a good look in the mirror why we have become more racist, or why more teachers seem to become rather unbecoming. Or perhaps we should take a good look at these teachers and take two steps back into the system which produced them. Our system is one that has not been behaving in the manner that benefits everyone equally. Ours is a system with sanctioned double standards.... else why should a rich Bumi get a 5% discount on a RM500 000 house while his 'fellow-citizen' who is a non-Bumi not get any discount? Isn't this also a form of gua tolong lu, lu sokong gua?

Kinda sad, the state of our affairs... but there's still hope yet.... I hope.

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