Ever since the news broke about the residents at Waja Apartments in Taman Tun Perak, Cheras openly displaying a banner calling for realtors to refrain from renting condominium units to African tenants (“Say No to African People”), I have waited to see if there would be protests by Malaysians, especially politicians and community leaders, against this blatant racism.
I was sadly disappointed. After all this time, it is only former Miss Malaysia-Universe Deborah Henry who has protested against this blatant racism, saying it is unfair to generalise and stereotype a community for the mistakes of a few.
“There’s a thin line between racism and discrimination. One bad person doesn’t equate to an entire community.” She criticised the action of displaying racist banners in residential areas as unhealthy, saying that instead, these issues need to be dealt with appropriately. It has been reported that such banners against Africans have cropped up in Shah Alam and the Sunway area as well.
In fact, such blatant racism is not just unhealthy; it is condemned and outlawed by the world community, in particular the Declaration of the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban 2001:
“35. We recognize that in many parts of the world, Africans and people of African descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions and express our commitment to work towards the eradication of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by Africans and people of African descent…”
Just in case Malaysians feel they are a superior race to Africans, they may like to know that following from this clause of the 2001 Declaration in Durban:
“36. We recognize that in many parts of the world, Asians and people of Asian descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions and express our commitment to work towards the eradication of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by Asians and people of Asian descent…”
Living in a ‘Malaysian Bubble’
The reason the Malaysian government has not ratified the International Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination is because racial discrimination is part of “normal life” in Malaysia where it is disguised as “affirmative action”.
For what is the policy that excludes “Non-Bumiputeras” from public institutions such as UiTM but blatant racial discrimination? Likewise, the policy that gives discounts for house purchases, etc. to “Bumiputeras only”.
Time for an Equality Act
Once Malaysia ratifies the ICERD, we would have to introduce legislation to outlaw racism and racial discrimination. In countries that have ratified the ICERD, they have introduced an Equality Act and incorporated Equality into their Human Rights Commission to ensure the implementation of the Equality Act.
Furthermore, to outlaw racism and speeches that promote hate crimes, such countries have introduced a Race & Religious Hatred Act to deal with intolerant racists and assorted bigots.
Until such time, this ugly incident is a reminder to each of us to audit our own biases and prejudices, and reflect on how we would feel faced by such discrimination. Certainly Asians who have travelled abroad will have experienced racism at first hand and in different guises.
Kua Kia Soong is the advisor of SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia).