Malaysia has just celebrated its 64th anniversary of independence and will soon celebrate Malaysia Day. Independence usually means unshackling ourselves from yoke and tyranny of colonial masters.
Moreover, it also means unshackling ourselves from deep-seated prejudices and fears which impede a country from moving forward towards greater progress and prosperity.
Even though progress has been over the decades, Malaysia is still not independent of racial prejudices and sentiments that impede us from truly forming a unified and integrated Malaysian society.
Arguably, prejudices started with the divide and rule policy of colonialists and further augmented by indoctrination post-independence, driven largely by the political elites. Historical contexts and socio-economic changes over the years bring us to what we are today – a society threatened by neo-feudalism and tribal politics.
Despite challenges in many dimensions, it is time for Malaysians to unshackle ourselves from racial prejudice. Racism is not born with but taught with. This is the main message of a recent video “Mak, Dah Siap!” produced by IKRAM for the National Day celebration.
Despite controversies, the video garnered positive and negative reactions. More importantly, the video sparked a conversation on an important topic we Malaysians often shy away from.
There has to be a shift in the way our children are educated. Parents, society, media, public figures and influencers and the education institutions play key roles in imparting good values, in and out of classroom settings.
Appropriate interventions should be implemented early when racial issues arise, such as through mediation mechanisms set up at both Federal and State levels.
Malaysia needs to create suitable platforms for conversation on racial prejudice at all levels of society, despite the topic being difficult, hard and arduous.
By having honest conversation with all relevant stakeholders, we can find middle ground, common goods and shared values upon which we can build a unified and integrated society.
For mature and fruitful conversation to take place, national, state and community leaders should be trained in managing diversity.
To enhance such conversation in our diverse society, behavioural insights (lessons on human decision-making) can be applied to understand reactions of community members to issues facing society. Properly designed, behaviourally-informed interventions can address some of the issues.
Importantly, leaders have to acknowledge the myriad of issues facing our contemporary society today, contributed by domestic and external factors, including technological advances.
We should also recognise that what worked in the past is no longer applicable today, as we go through tremendous changes characterised by disruption and ambiguity.
Racial issues are easily amplified through the social media. Our younger generations are going through different experiences and realities.
Malaysians should demand that our leaders place high priority on issues facing the rakyat and work inclusively hand in hand by engaging with all key stakeholders.
As the coronavirus pandemic uncovers the underlying issues facing society, it is time that we take a hard look at our current state of affairs.
If key issues such as unity and poverty are inadequately addressed, Malaysia would not be able to progress and create a prosperous and just society for all. At worst, such issues would be a threat to the fabric of our society.
Badlishah Sham Baharin, Deputy President, IKRAM
Mohammad Abdul Hamid, Public policy consultant