Malaysia is an excellent example of both what to do and what not to do when it comes to racism, on a state level. America could pick up some lessons by observation.
America is a multi-racial society but it is, by and large, a relatively culturally homogenous one. There are many small cultural islands, but they often bend and sway to the majority, and are encouraged to take that identity. Even when people rebel against it, they’re also buying into it. It’s an odd entity, indeed. They may be black or white, but there’s something culturally American which binds them together.
But they don’t have the huge separations between Malaysia’s races.
Malays are the majority. They are mostly Muslim, and as in other Muslim countries with large minorities, they were traditionally the peasants, landowners, and royalty.
Chinese have come from all over South China across all over South East Asia. They’re a complex mix which speak different dialects and different Chinese religions. Depending on where you go, they will speak Haka, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, or even other more obscure languages. They formed some of the richer clans and business owners, but not exclusively.
And then there are Indians, mostly Tamil from southern India. They’ve been living in the region for a long time, but their numbers grew after British administration began. And they are mostly Hindu, but there are large numbers of Indian Muslims too. They also comprised their own merchant class.
In the eastern provinces on Borneo, you have smaller tribal societies, most notably the Dayaks, who were traditionally animist and did the headhunting thing.
It’s a huge challenge to bring such a diverse country together, with such extensive minorities. In addition, much like the US Malaysia has hit a watermark as well: just over 50% of Malaysians are now non-Malays, just like whites are now a decreasing proportion of Americans.
What does Malaysia do right? Officially they recognize everyone’s freedom to be what they like. They officially recognize each culture’s major festivals as public holidays. Malaysians in general celebrate Ramadan, Chinese New Year, and Diwali altogether. Each are free to build houses of worship, print their own newspapers, and coexist quite comfortably. A boon of the British colonial period is the use of English as a lingua franca.
What Malaysia does wrong is that in practice they disproportionately favour Malays, who inherited political power. This is because all the old Sultans, the old administrators, and the majority of voters are Malay. In multi-racial societies without comprehensive education, people will generally favour regional or racial parties, to “support their side.” This is evident in India today, and I have a strong feeling that if a “black party,” “hispanic party” or “white party” were ever to form in America it would be the same.
The perceived economic and social gap between Malays and the richer Chinese and Indians prompted the government to award them Affirmative Action programs, preference in scholarships, guaranteed government jobs, and so on.
One fundamental thing they do wrong is to assume that race culture is intrinsic. If you register as a Malay, you are automatically Muslim. There is no government interpretation in which you can be Malay and not be a Muslim, though you can be a Muslim and not be Malay.
The government observes two sets of laws: common law for non-Muslims and Sharia for Muslims. The government tends to be disproportionate in its sensitivity too.
During Ramadan, cops will walk around checking if Muslims are cheating. If you have a Muslim friend, he isn’t allowed to accompany you into a restaurant even if it’s his choice. There’s also this lovely ad. They also recently changed the official language to be taught in schools as Malay instead of English.
I’m told as well that government officials make a point of going into the rainforest, telling the tribes that they’re Muslim and where to stamp on government forms to show they support the political party in power.
So, America, if you think you had it bad regarding racism… it’s not a bad thing to take a look at some other countries.