The “R” Word

I grew up in a place where your skin colour is a factor.

I grew up in a place where people also excelled based on their merits, in spite of their skin colour. You just have to work much harder.

Confused? If you are a Malaysian, you should understand what I am talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, Malaysians are generally very civilised and courteous people. You don’t encounter people throwing insults around in public just because of your skin colour. We live in harmony.

Your skin colour is only a factor “on paper”. It is justified because it is in the constitution and it is legal. We learnt about it in history during school and so, we live with it. It can get a little frustrating at times, but most of the time we tolerate. Those who could tolerate no more rarely fight back. Mostly they choose to become indifferent and simply leave.

Many weeks ago, I met someone who is pleasant. But as soon as I learnt where he is from, “someone who is pleasant” became “someone who may appear to be pleasant”. Because of his colour, my guards went up and I decided not to give him a benefit of a doubt with regards to his character and ethics. I gently closed my doors on him and decided not to “take any risks”.

The worst part of it all was he saw right through me and told me I am a racist.

I can justify my actions all I want – statistics, observations, instincts, stereotypes. That it was only self-defense. I can even say that I grew up in an environment that taught me to remember that race is always a factor.

At the end of the day, I did judge him because of the colour of his skin.

I realise I can be a racist at heart and I feel very ashamed.

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17 comments on “The “R” Word

  1. nadia says:

    “I realise I can be a racist at heart and I feel very ashamed.” You are very brave to admit that openly, Tien. Honestly speaking, I believe we all racist at heart at one point or another. We know it’s wrong and we even try not to judge someone by looks or ethnicity, but we can’t avoid it either. I guess it’s human nature.

    • Tien says:

      Thank you Nadia. I know no matter how I try to justify it, it is still wrong. I feel horrible and I guess writing it here gave me some sort of closure to this matter.

  2. Emiel says:

    Wow, powerful post Tien. Very honest. I indeed hope this post was some kind of closure for you.

  3. Khanum says:

    Tien, this is one very realistic, deep and honest ! DAMN hard honest post from you ! I am proud to call you my friend blogger man !!!!

  4. 女王 says:

    I can understand how you feel. What a realistic post! I like it!

  5. Claire says:

    Hey Tien. There’s really nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all guilty of racism ourselves. You acted in self-defense, which a survival technique…. and a good thing. If your gut feels something isn’t right, you’re most probably right. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

  6. Well done for being honest. We all make judgements be it skin colour or appearance or accents etc it’s part of human nature unfortunately.

  7. D... says:

    That is a difficult thing for people to admit. Most people don’t want to be racist, but a lot of us have developed prejudices, biases and tend to judge people. I think that it’s human, I think we instinctively try to figure people out when we meet them and the easiest way to do that is categorize them by the way they look. I can’t say that I don’t have those moments, but for me I don’t want to offend people so I try and think of what culturally may be different so I can be respectful. Or if I’d been hurt by someone who acts a certain way, then if someone else comes along and acts the same way my defenses go up. I think my experiences may be different, in the U.S. I’m a minority plus I’m mixed so I don’t have any real group to belong to. I’ve had many experiences where the bias was against me (starting from childhood), knowing how it felt I grew up not wanting to do it to others.

    I have always felt that if we’ve hurt someone, that we’ve also hurt ourselves. Sort of like when a car crashes into a parked car. The parked car takes most of the damage as it is absorbing the impact, but the car that is the cause also suffers damage. I think it’s sad that both of you had to suffer. He feels insulted and you feel ashamed (plus he may be a nice person). But like a car accident you can try to fix it, it may not be the same as new, but if you try to make amends then maybe you can feel less ashamed and he can be less insulted? And maybe by getting to know him it will lessen that feeling of “those people” and just make it more of people. Although if he turns out to be a jerk then I’m apologizing in advance…and then it would be even harder to trust anyone from the culture (and what started out as trying to be helpful turns ugly). Ugh, never mind do what is right for you, I’m shutting my pie hole. 😦

  8. i don’t think you are a racist.. it’s just that because of some stereotypes you might not want to be close to someone. it’s not right. But i would not call it racism either.

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