[PERSONAL] Malay and Money: A Reflection

Oh boy. This is a hard article to write.

Right. Let’s start with this. My name is Suraya. It’s an obviously Malay name. Even though technically I am of mixed parentage, I am 100% culturally Malay.

This is embarassing to admit, but when I was younger, I went through a period of being ashamed of my own race. I wanted to erase that identity. So much that when I was living in Japan, I went by Aya. When I was studying in the UK, I took the name Sue.

I’m no longer that person. I’ve learned to accept my Malay-ness. I love my name. In fact, I insist on it – always call me Suraya, not Su, not anything else.

But why was I embarassed of my Malay identity in the first place? How did I eventually accept it? I wanted to pen this essay to just kind of, dive deep into this complicated, complex psyche, through the lens and intersection with personal finance and money management.

Here we go. These are all reasons why I detached from my Malay identity. Read until the end – this article only makes sense if read as a whole.

#1 – Blind loyalty makes us follow bad leaders

In Malay culture, blind loyalty is a virtue.

In the book Concept of a Hero in Malay Society by Shaharuddin Maaruf, the author gave examples how the Malay elite thoughout history – royalty, politicians, statespersons, religious authorities – expect and demand unwavering loyalty from their subjects.

Blind loyalty, in practice, is the voluntary act of deeming oneself as inferior and ‘less’ than a small subset of people, and it is a trait that is entrenched in the Malay psyche (even though it’s directly contradictory to Islamic values, but anyway).

A traitor is someone who so much questions the Malay elite, let alone disobeys them. Think about it – Hang Tuah is considered the apex of Malay hero due to his unquestioning loyalty to the Sultan.

The Malay elites are so protected in this country. Questioning them and demanding accountability is so frowned upon that the Malay elite don’t even need to defend themselves – we have seen examples upon examples how citizens take it upon themselves to attack and punish ‘offenders’ on the elites’ behalf. You’ve probably seen it in action.

This has far-reaching repercussions in Malaysian society. The abuse of power, when it happens (and it does happen), is horrific.

Just look at 1MDB. The money that’s supposed to go for our growth, goes to pay off debt instead. We’ve been robbed because we too many people were blindly loyal.

#2 – State-sanctioned racism make me feel guilty (and angry)

The second reason why I was embarrassed by my Malay identity is due to my uncomfortableness of endorsing, by default, of state-sanctioned racism.

Yes, I’m talking about Malay special rights.

I am fully admitting that I endorse it by default simply because, well, you don’t see me actively working to dismantle it, do you? I can talk and talk about it but I’m not doing anything about it. Inaction *is* an action.

It’s not a good excuse, but I fear repercussions. I want to be braver, but I’m not, I’m a coward, I am comfortable in my current environment. I mean, I’m not going to refuse ASB and Bumi discounts for property purchase, that’s stupid. Plus why rock the boat and invoke the wrath of people who believe in Malay special rights?

I guess that’s the reason why I pick arguments that support wealth equality instead. Go faaaar away from the race discussions. First, because it’s safer. Second, because I personally benefit from the system, which makes me a hypocrite.

However, we can’t pretend that race and economics is not intersected. It is, from the very core. We need to ask the hard questions, like why is it that despite the Malay special rights, the majority of B40 folks are… Malay?

I am pissed off that hardworking Malay people DON’T get economically ahead, despite the Malay special rights which is supposed to help them. If they live in poverty even with these rights, then you KNOW something is wrong.

There is no other explanation for this, except that the poor in this country get opportunities taken from them because of practices that encourage wealth inequality.

For now, I am still going to take advantage of ASB and Bumi discounts. I justify it by telling myself that money is a tool and it’s easier for me to help others if I’m rich rather than if I’m poor. Plus I can also donate the profits to causes I love – that’s one way to take advantage of the system.

#3 – The lazy Malay stereotype makes me want to work even harder to ‘prove myself’

That brings us here. It’s another reason I was embarassed by my racial background. I grew up hearing about the lazy Malay stereotype, and not wanting to be associated with that trait is the biggest reason why I detached myself from my Malay identity altogether.

Where does this stereotype comes from? I wondered for years, finally piecing together clues, here and there.

In the same book mentioned above, the author argues that blind loyalty among the Malays persist because it comes with reward expectations. Everyone scurries to get noticed and awarded favours by the Malay elite, because often, those rewards and benefits are financial in nature.

Ah, went the lightbulb in my head. That’s how the handout culture came to being. That’s where the lazy Malay trope came from.

I have to admit, when the ‘lazy Malay’ trope gets viral in social media, as if often does, I get very defensive. It’s hard not to be when an attack is directed at your core identity.

That’s why I tear up when I see my fellow Malaysians defend Malays. They would share how its the fault of a personality trait (greed), not the race itself. They would share how their Malay friends and colleagues are some of the most hardworking people they know. They would share how some Malay people they know work two, three, four jobs to support their families.

Thank you for that, truly.

It’s actually kind of motivating. I work hard because I want to be THAT hardworking Malay person that you know

I tweeted about this feeling sometime ago. Other people replied saying they felt the same all this while. That made me feel less alone.

Final thoughts

How do I even end this article? I don’t know. It’s just a jumble of thoughts that I’ve had for a long time, bottled up. I don’t have solutions, I don’t have a call-to-action, nothing.

But what use is having a personal blog if I can’t share my own thoughts here?

This is my personal battle and I guess eventual acceptance of my own Malay identity, and how it affected my worldview, including my money and work approach. It started of by my admission of being ashamed of it, then the realisation that hey, I’m never going to be able to erase that part of me, and I don’t want to hate myself, so learn to live with it and do the best in my own capacity.

With that thought, I’m signing off. If you’re going to comment, please be kind.

Author

12 comments

  1. Leaving this here instead of facebook. Racism is real. I dont like the notion that all chinese are considered rich. They are not. My household definitely dont earn more than a middle class malay but because I am chinese, I am assumed to have a lot of hand me downs in terms of assets. Nop. Not true. And for goodness sake, I am born here, not in china. How am I suppose to go back to a place I am not born from? Thank you for your thoughts. I believe everyone is hardworking in their own way. My malay neighbours after their day work goes grab food despatch till 1-2am. If that is not hardworking, I dont know wat is

    1. Hi Vincent,

      Racism is used to get power and control, which really really sucks for multiracial country like ours.

      Thank you for your comment. Much love from a fellow Malaysian

  2. Being in a multiracal country.. we see racism in many forms… We all have been racist.. one way or another..
    What i enjoy here is… how despite so many aspects we can be different about .. we unite under the umbrella of personal finance…

    1. Hi Harvinthran,
      Your comment made me laugh a bit because yes, you’re right! We’re all united under money topics (of all things!) here!

  3. I have been chinese malaysian for 50years of my life,i dont find any problem giving malays extra benefit but provided it really have to go to the ones that need it.As for my children,i just tell them ,being born chinese in malaysia,you just have to work extra harder,”cause you are what you make out of yourself”.

    1. Hi Jackie,

      Agree with you that help should go to those who need it. Regardless of race. You sound like you’re teaching good things to your children. Much love from a fellow Malaysian

  4. My mom indian muslim my dad Sabahan. Since I look more indian then I am Sabahan I grew up being hated by the Malays. ‘Keling’, ‘Orang Sabah kan takde rumah duduk atas pokok’ and so many other mean stuffs I’ve been called growing up. I ended up hating the Malays even when I’m Bumi Sabah. Growing up my best friends were all Chinese and Indians. Even in college with majority are the Malays I ended up be friending with the foreigners in the University because the Malays were so mean to me. I thought I was at wrong for the longest time I thought there were something wrong with me that I am not loved by this race. I have nothing against the Malays since I’m married to one and my kids are half Malay. But I just hope and wish that nobody else would have to go through what I when. It’s just heartbreaking. I was so insecure for the longest time about my race I even considered the worst. Celebrating our differences can only come when of course scrap this special rights. But I ain’t doing anything about it either.

    1. Your experience is heartbreaking :'( I don’t understand how people can be so mean

      Thank you for sharing here. Much love to you and family.

  5. A good read and a real eye opener. I think we just have to accept things the way it is and not stir up the hornets nest and cause unrest. I am a Malaysian Indian, my ancestoral roots are from India but I have lived in Malaysia since birth and love my country. I will not migrate or talk ill of my Malaysians we just have to accept things the way it is and leave in peace and harmony.

    1. Hi Jeya Kumar,

      Thank you for your kind comments. But… I can’t accept things as the way it is. I may not be able to change the system on my own but I contribute on a personal level. There are things I can improve on, definitely.

  6. My theory of racial stereotypes in Malaysia is that, demographically Malaysia is made up of 50% Malays, 23% Chinese, 7% Indians (Malay = 16,500,000 people, Chinese = 7,600,000, Indian = 2,300,000; numbers are rounded up for sack of simplicity).

    Let’s do the math:
    Assuming by pure human nature, out of 1000 people, 10 people are bound to be lazy or less hardworking (1% is an arbitrary number). Therefore, in an environment of 33,000,000 people, 330,000 people are bound to be lazy (Distribution wise, 165,000 lazy Malays, 75,000 lazy Chinese, 23,100 lazy Indians). Which means on average, you are over two times more likely to interact (in business, team project etc) with a lazy Malay than a lazy Chinese or Indian.

    Example:
    Every Malaysians will have to deal with their personal matters with civil service workforce in everyday life.
    (Facts) Malays made up 80% of civil service workforce (out of 1,710,000 civil servants).
    (Facts) Chinese made up 1.6% of civil service workforce.
    When you have 1,360,000 Malays and 27,360 Chinese in the workforce; 13,600 lazy Malay civil servants and 273 lazy Chinese civil servants (based on arbitrary 1% assumption).

    Well guess which race APPEARS to be more lazy? Keyword: Appears
    You guys see the point I’m trying to make using mathematics? Stereotypes are a result of perceptions and numbers. We don’t perceive things by ratio but we perceive things by amount.

    Civil service workforce is just only one out of MANY examples I can think of. I could do the same calculation for economy, politics, education etc (you get the point).

    I am Chinese but I grew up being friends, classmates, teammates with Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Bidayuhs.
    I am from Sarawak but I studied in West Msia for 5 years, I have as many friends from East Msia as I have from West Msia.
    I grew up with Buddhist influence, but studied in Catholics school which had majority students as Muslims and Christians.
    I might be only 23 years old but it has put me in the position where I have not lost touch with the younger generation and the older generation.
    I am an engineer so I tend to analyze things logically and rationally.
    I observe and see things on all sides and I wish more Malaysians would do the same.
    ps: I believe all humans are lazy, I know I am

    1. Hey Kai,

      That’s one way to look at it. Thanks for your comment.

      P/s – we all want to believe we are logical and rational, but are we really? Human behaviour defies logic, even for the smartest of minds.

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