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
Confession: sometimes I get so defensive over the ‘lazy Malay’ stereotype that I overcompensate by working hard
Sometimes it’s tiring but that’s all I can do on a personal level, you know?
— Suraya Zainudin (@surayaror) September 13, 2019
I tweeted about this feeling sometime ago. Other people replied saying they felt the same all this while. That made me feel less alone.
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.