Malaysia: Defying Your Assumptions on Discrimination and Demographics


28 februari 2019
Auteur(s): Sam Greet
“I find that using evidence of unequal outcomes between demographics is not at all evidence of systemic racism or sexism, and Malaysia is living proof of this.”

By Anonymous 

Before moving to Europe to begin my studies as an engineer, race and gender rarely came to mind as an issue. Having studied in an international school in Malaysia you would almost never find yourself in a room of a single nationality. This has shaped my view on race a great deal. It never seemed to be a problem in my day-to-day life until I moved to Europe. I found myself hearing about racial and gender issues a great deal more and even hearing claims of systemic racism and sexism in America and European countries. Many of these claims championed by progressive media outlets are based on the unequal outcomes of various demographics. Yet, I think that using evidence of unequal outcomes between demographics is not at all evidence of systemic racism or sexism, and I will use Malaysia as living proof of this. Malaysia is a very inconvenient test case for progressive thought.

To understand why this is, it’s important to first discuss the structure of Malaysian society. In 2017 Malaysia’s population consisted of 68.8% Malay, 23.2% Chinese, 7% Indian and 1% persons of other ethnicities. It’s important to note that the Chinese and Indian population are Malaysian citizens, not recent migrants. The vast majority of Chinese, migrated to Malaysia between the 15th to 20th centuries with some exceptions: my grandfather for example migrated to Malaysia to avoid the Japanese invasion of China, only to be met by another Japanese invasion in Malaysia. The Indian population have also been residents of Malaysia for hundreds of years, migrating to Malaysia during British occupation. Though, unlike Europe and America where its laws do not differ between races (apart from affirmative action policies that favour minorities), Malaysia has implemented what is known as the Bumiputera system which entitles Malay citizens exclusive benefits. These are not simply implicit biases expressed by police or government officials but sanctioned laws first implemented in the late 60s.

Here are some examples as to what these benefits entail. Malaysians, for example, are entitled to a 7% discount on all housing whereas Chinese or Indian Malaysian citizens are not. There are also quotas for the number of Malays in universities, for scholarships and positions in private companies yet no such quotas benefit minorities. There are also special Malay-only classes to assist students in their end of year exams in university. Many government-tended projects require companies wishing to fulfil contracts to be Malay owned (an issue my father encounters a great deal as an architect). This is by no means a comprehensive list, there are many more policies designed to favour Malays that, in turn, discriminate against minorities. With all this in mind one would expect that wages would heavily favour Malays; however, Chinese and Indian-Malaysians earn 38% and 11% more than their Malay counterparts respectively.

One such issue as the gender pay gap, which many claim is discrepancy clearly due solely to gender discrimination. If we were to use the same logic when analysing the discrepancy in earnings between Chinese and Indians versus Malays, we would conclude that the Chinese and Indians are the oppressors however the reality is very much the opposite. To claim that Europe or America is systemically oppressive to women and minorities based on the evidence of unequal outcomes is simply not valid in my opinion. This is not to say that no sexism or racism exist in these countries or that nothing should be done about it, but is rather to show that certain outcomes in society do not represent the degree of this discrimination, with the outcomes likely actually affected by many more factors not related to discrimination.

I think it’s important for me to state that one should not conclude that certain races are superior to others, or that women are inferior to men. Rather, in my opinion, it is equally baseless to conclude that discrepancies between races and genders are predominantly due to discrimination. Explaining why these discrepancies exist is beyond the scope of this article, but I hope to engage mature discussions on this topic that don’t involve ‘social justice warriors’ or ethno-nationalist crazies. I suppose that is asking for a bit much in this day and age. My hope is that we can move closer to a point where, instead of focusing on the outcomes of different races or genders, we can focus on justly empowering all individuals to pursue the life they wish to lead regardless of their gender or race.

Editor’s Comment: I found this piece interesting but would personally challenge it on the grounds that comparing the migration of those wealthy or entrepreneurial enough to transfer from China or India to Malaysia is not a fair comparison to the post-colonial realities of many immigrant communities in Europe, which face systematic discrimination based on the history of Empires. The author also makes conclusions on sexisms lack of impact on outcomes, yet does little to substantiate their opinion. Nevertheless, an interesting and worthwhile perspective and perhaps there is something to take from this in terms of contextualising our self-criticism in Europe against wider world experiences.

What is your view? Do you agree that unequal outcomes are natural trends rather than the result of systemic discrimination?