ABC – Awareness Before Change

By Anwardi Jamil

I am a child of the 60s. Started my career as a writer in ’76. I even lived through 13 May 1969 and remember it vividly as my school sepak takraw team was training for a game when we were told to go home immediately. We were told to stay indoors as unmentionable acts were happening around us and we were only able to watch TV for the latest news. Very few people had access to going outdoors on that day and witnessed first hand what was happening. I met and talked to a few of them through my work as a journalist and actually saw the fear in their eyes when they remember the visions they cannot forget.

The things I hear during those days seem so strange. Why? I am a product of La Salle schools – a system that at that time was the microcosm of what Malaysia should be (albeit without the Catholic trappings).

My friends were of all races – Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and of course, Malays. I had the hots for Chinese girls, Malay girls and Eurasian girls. At that time we did not see color – we only saw beauty and personality.

My friends and I were movie fans. During the 70s, Malaysians were fans of Bruce Lee, the Aces Go Places movie series, Bobby, Haathi Mere Saathi, Yaakdon Ki Barat.

More Liberal

Then when I started my life as a reporter, I became more liberal. I found that to be accepted amongst my peers, I had to join my colleagues pubbing, darting, playing cards and speaking in English more than Malay. I was a coconut – a Malay on the outside and an Englishman on the inside. Heck, I even played cricket.

I noticed that Malays who did not follow my path, kept to themselves. They became ‘orang Melayu’. The young ones we called Belia 4B or earlier on geng GPMS (Gerakan Pelajar-Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung). They are the ones who wear long sleeve batiks and over indulging brylcreem. Later on, the Malay youths for whatever reasons suddenly took a drastic turn when they embraced hard rock and the blues. They grew their hair long, became skinny, wear faded tight dungarees, factory shoes, tie dyed tee shirts with anarchaic symbols or messages emblazoned on their fronts and back and began to indulge in drugs.

The Chinese youths – they had their own transformation. Hong Kong was their Mecca. Their fashion icons were the Wynners and their ilk. Bellbottoms, wide waist bands with metal buttons for their pants. Floral silk shirts with wide collars and Andy Lau hairstyles. In my time, we call these guys Jinjang Joes (as if most of them come from Jinjang).

The Indian youths – well, somehow they weren’t very impressionable. They kept to themselves. Most of them were studying to be lawyers, doctors or reporters. A lot of them became DJs because at that they are the Oreos – black on the outside and white on the inside. They speak with British accent and began to love their voices. As DJs they were great even on radio. No one speaks better English than them. Or so it seems.

The Eurasians? In my time, my Eurasian friends, God bless them, found music. Most of them became musicians – great ones. Their love for music knows no bounds. Most others became teachers.

Going to the pubs meant liberal Malays can be accepted by others.
Going to the pubs meant liberal Malays can be accepted by others. – Pic by Canva.com

Now, what I have just written is not data proven. It was what I observed and lived through. I was called a Melayu murtad, a Melayu celup and what not because I was liberal, and I was hanging out with non-Malays most times.

And then I entered ITM. And became a Malay again.

It was a culture shock to me. To be required to converse in Malay and at most times in regional dialects. And when I began college, I was made fun of, but I managed to navigate safely and came out a better Malay. Yes, I began to appreciate things Malay – girls, music, the language, the food and the various peoples that make the Malays unique and diverse.

I noticed that whilst in college race was not an issue, your origin was. The Kelantanese stuck to themselves, the Penangites was a clique, the Kedahans and Perakians spoke in their old language, the Johoreans had their own agenda, the Sabahans and Sarawakians were paranoid and the Selangorians were lost. They fought amongst each other for the most trivial of things. KL guys are not supposed to date Penang girls. Sabah girls are off-limits to others.

And once these regional and parochial issues end, there’s the problem of being anti-faculties. Mass Comm cannot date Engineering, Hotcat (Hotel & Catering) students were the property of Art and Design and Business students can only date amongst themselves. The only good thing at that time was that Secretarial students were fair game for everyone.

Much Ado About Race

What I am trying to say in the article is that race is superficial. It’s imaginary. It’s what society creates for you. Society sets the categories, not you. It could be race, it could be religion, it could be ethnicity, it could be education, it could be corporate hierarchy. Society sets the stage and you get to choose what role you want to play.

I may be liberal, but I chose to be a Malay. I will protect my culture, my traditions and my history with a vengeance. Why? Because I feel that my own people are not doing it well. They are too busy being racist. They are too busy telling people that the cultures of others, the traditions of others, are not right and are bad for the Malays. Bad even to know or respect.

It is the same with others. I see today Chinese families telling their own society that anything Malay is bad for their race. How crazy can you get when you hear them saying if Jawi is taught school, your children will become Muslims? Using the same logic, if their young studied English, they would become true blue Englishmen – which is not the case. Oops, I stand corrected. I know many who went to study in Australia and become more Australian than the Aborigines of Australia.

Anyway, when all is said, unity is not a dream but something that we all can embrace. Everyone needs to give and take. I have to say that the Malays have actually given a lot and taken a few. You may not agree but just look at what we have allowed to exist in a Malay Muslim country like Malaysia – we have a casino, we have vernacular schools, we have pubs, we have non-halal eateries, we have churches, temples, we have kongsis, we have Chinese-centric political parties, we have beer factories, we have Chinese movies and television content, we have Chinese and Tamil newspapers, we have many more non-Malay billionaires, we have townships that are racially based (kampung Melayu, kampung Cina, kampung India etc).

And best of all, we have survived living with each other for the 65 years of independence and 700 years of being together in the land we call Tanah Melayu. Many of us inter-married, many of us now work together and for each other. Of course we have a few quarrels … who doesn’t? The Malays quarrel with each other too. The Chinese? I know some who are racists within their own race – the Hokkiens, the Cantonese, the Foochows, the Teochews, the Hainanese, just to name a few. Don’t get me started on the Peranakans.

So why are we straining further our ties that should instead bind? We can leave peacefully together. The non-Malays should really respect what the Malays have gone through. We would love to live in this country peacefully and be united with everyone else. But whilst we are always open, you are not. You are closing up. You want what is yours. You want it now. You don’t care how you get it but you want it. You want to shape Malaysia the way you think it should be.

Yam Seng in Malaysia
Yam seng, cheers and you will belong. – Pix by Canva.com

No Sense Of Diversity

Let me give you one last example. Malay filmmakers are always told to make movies that should show the diversity of the country. We cast non-Malays in important and significant roles, we employ the best technicians for the production and we even allow non-BM movies to vie for awards.

Yet, if you see the non-BM movies produced by non-Malay Malaysians, there is hardly any sense of diversity in their movies. All the characters are mainly Chinese. They speak only Mandarin or Cantonese or Hokkien. Their issues are mainly Chinese issues. Their audience are mainly non-Malays.

Basics of Malaysia Unity - Malay films cast other races in important roles to make their movies Malaysian, but does it happen the other way round?
Malay films cast other races in important roles to make their movies Malaysian, but does it happen the other way round? – Pic by Canva.com

Why is that? You are the ones who are the loudest in the fight for Malaysia for Malaysians and yet when you can do something about unity, you become hypocrites. Instead of uniting, you enlarge the chasm between the races. It has become: I am better than you and I make better Malaysian movies than you. Really? Was Ola Bola truly a Malaysian movie? If it was, why make Soh Chin Aun, who speaks impeccable Malay, speak in Mandarin in the movie?

To be united, we should maybe just follow the rules of ABC. Awareness Before Change.

We should be aware of who we are before we change into the Malaysians that we all strive to be. We should be aware of our faults, our weakness, our strengths, our capabilities and our situations.

We should also be aware of the others who make this country unique and great. We can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. Foreign visitors and bloggers are the ones who can see the beauty of our country – the diversity and the wonderful people that they meet. Alas, amongst ourselves, we can’t see that. – New Malaysia Herald

About the writer: Anwardi is a veteran filmmaker and writer who worked as a film critic and journalist with the New Straits Times in the 70s and 80s before going into the broadcasting world. He is a Malay, a Malaysian, a Muslim, a La Sallian and a Sagitarrian.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of New Malaysia Herald.

Together 4 Unity - New Malaysia Herald and Ministry of Unity Malayisa

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