By Bob Morshidi
In 2019, one of the schools I was teaching were putting on an adaptation of Disney’s Mulan for its yearly school Drama production. Having written the script and tasked with being an Assistant Director, I knew the message of the show well.
This school had an interesting policy. Unless the parents officially did not permit them to, every single student performs in the drama production. If they were not selected as cast members, they’d be part of the choir, part of the orchestra, or dancers. Almost every single student in every single class was performing in Mulan in one way or another.
As we neared the production date and the general rehearsing of the shows were done, we started going through the messages of Mulan in the classroom to better push the performance of every student who would appear on stage (An important part of every performer’s rehearsal process: Why are we doing this?). One of the lessons had a social experiment in place that I feel is important to bring up here.
As you read on, you’ll see that students are not racist or gender-biased by nature, and begets the question: When does the division start?
I would choose four students: Two boys, two girls. Three of them were of the same race. If possible, a couple of students had different accessories on them (watches, socks etc). I would then ask the class, “Who is different?”. Students would then start pointing out the differences between the students.
I taught 10 classes in that school, ranging from Primary Three to Primary Six. Out of those ten classes, only one student pointed out that one child was of a different race. The other students only pointed out variations of:
- Attire: Coloured socks, different hues of the uniform.
- Accessories: Watches, Bangles, Hair ties, Hairclips.
- If the student wore glasses.
Next to this one child, who I believe was tipped off by an older sibling who had a class with me the day before, no other student mentioned the differences in race or gender.
Children are not racist or gender-biased by nature. I gave the students the results and they were happy that that was the conclusion.
So now we come on to the elephant in the room.
Children, unless taught to do so, do not look at the differences between one another. Of course, there will be differences and we as human beings know that since we were young, but when were we TAUGHT to look at the differences? And by whom? (Note: As part of the unity campaign by the New Malaysia Herald, we produced this video for Unity Month in December).
Local entertainment media uses stereotypes to sell their products. The Malays are heroes. The Chinese are evil bosses. The Indians are gangsters. The mixed-raced minorities are non-existent. Females are to be protected and males are the heroes. Children who imbibe local entertainment media could be influenced by this and make their conclusion of race and gender on this.
Not all families will influence how we look at The Other in a big way, but it does happen. I support the English Football Team during the World Cup. When I was young, I was at a friend’s place watching England play (my friend is also an England supporter, and was also a great football player). His father came into the room and asked, “Why are you supporting the colonists?”
Now we are not ignorant. We knew our World History and what Great Britain has done to its colonies. However, that line of questioning didn’t matter for us. England had David Beckham. We supported David Beckham. If he was Irish we’d support Ireland. If he was Afghani we’d support Afghanistan.
And if Malaysia qualified for the World Cup we’d happily and proudly support Malaysia.
My friend’s father was not attacking us when he asked that question. He was simply unconsciously asking something based on his own bias. However, this question can grow and stick to someone as they age. My favourite comedians are British, the NHS is a healthcare system that every country should adopt, but I still find it weird that Canada and Australia have the Queen on their banknotes. Was it based on my knowledge of history, or was it based on that question from my friend’s father?
Our Own Experiences
Could our own life experience lead to our biases? Did our high school sweetheart break our hearts, and just because they were of a particular gender or race, lead us to start stereotyping? Could we have had a tragedy caused by someone who led us to believe that the person’s particular gender or race will always be the cause of trouble?
I was once robbed at the side of the road, with a Parang shoved to my face, and since then I’ve had a fear of walking alone (which, for someone who uses public transport, is a fun fear to have). I’m also very scared whenever I walk alone and I see a car driving aside me with three men in them. Again, did my bad experience lead to this bias?
Children inherently have no bias. When they’re in kindergarten, they’d happily hold each other’s hands (Before social distancing life, of course). As we grow older, we’re taught one way or another that certain situations are not acceptable and bring us up to be biased.
However, Unity means that there’s nothing wrong with eating a meal with someone of a different race at the same table. Blood transfusions should be accepted no matter what race the donor and the people who need it are. Kindness should be gender and colour blind.
If our children don’t grow up together, we, as a society have failed them. – New Malaysia Herald