The Malay Crutch Mentality

As I went my Hari Raya visiting, talking to various relatives of different backgrounds and jobs, it dawned on me that many Malays had what can only be described as the “Malay Crutch Mentality”, which seems to resonate deep within the Malay psyche, remain utterly ingrained into their kerangka fikiran or their mindsets.

What do I mean by the “Malay Crutch Mentality” (MCM)? MCM is a mindset which accepts the blatant racism in the workplace or in any other arena where Malays are involved in to explicate the obvious socio-economic underdevelopment and relative stagnation of the Malay community. Rather than self reflection on academic achievements and personal character, a racial reason is mooted as the prime difficulty towards job promotions and opportunities in all sectors of the economy and in education. By extension, MCM also provides cultural underpinning to Dr Lily Zubaidah’s “cultural deficit thesis” which underscores a cultural explanation for our poor socio-economic performance through the relatively relaxed and unmotivated Malay culture. By this, MCM is testament to the idea that Malays will never progress if this self-fulfilling mindset is a reflection of the whole Malay culture itself.

I have heard of many instances of MCM. For example, rather than base his conclusions on experience versus academic achievements, my uncle chose to view the inability of the Malay workers in his workplace to get promoted as a reflection of the dominant Chinese brand of racism in Singapore today. Even though the older Malay workers are more experienced, the younger more educated Chinese graduates are employed and promoted easily to high positions. Even my cousin’s husband cited on a sidenote that employment would be based on colour no matter what, consciously or subconsciously. In education, my mum used to tell me how many were mortally shocked at her decision to send me to RI simply because it was simply unthinkable to see a Malay student there (or that its too expensive for a Malay or too out of reach academically for a Malay!).

Being fresh out of JC and still rather unemployed (NS is not employed! I only get allowance, not pay!), I was quite shocked to witness such a cynical view of our gracious harmonious meritocratic racist-free society be misconstrued by my “deluded” uncle. But after arguing about it with him for a while, I realised that there may be some semblance of truth but not as what he perceives it to be. Its true that its hard for Malays to get employment and to be promoted easily. Its true that most of the time, the Chinese get the higher paying jobs. But is it because of race alone? I find it hard to accept the fact that there are no other reason why the Malay community cannot progress except that the Chinese have it against us, whether consciously or subconsciously. Obviously there are other reasons, like the emphasis on knowledge and retraining in our new competitive economy which has made many Malay workers perplexed at their uncertain job prospects in the years to come.

I was also quite shocked at the level of nonchalance and utter acceptance of this phenomenon of Malays always being overtaken by the Chinese. It has been continuously inundated into their mindsets such that it becomes a normal occurance in the workplace. Rather than wanting to provoke a violent Malay backlash towards their Chinese employers, what I’m trying to point out is the fact that many seemed lost in finding ways to upgrade and improve themselves to be of the same level as every other non-Malay worker in Singapore. This nonchalance is symptomatic the true Malay dilemma of development. Rather than being culturally inferior, we simply cannot go beyond the defensive racial barrier of being Malay.

The Malay community needs to get out of the habit of having the self pitying refrain of “Melayu ape. Macam mana nak naik?” if we want to progress as a force to be reckoned with. MCM should not be the reason why we simply cannot fight our way up the economic ladder to become the future CEOs or company presidents. This is not to say that the Singapore government’s policy of meritocracy is the best policy for this to happen. Obviously its not. MCM must also not give credence to the “cultural deficit thesis” that rather than our culture is deemed less progressive and totally cynical, we must prove to them that we are beyond such misconstured ideas. Accepting this sad predicament only seeks to perpetuate this endless racist trend of the Malays being cultural inferior to the Chinese. It is imperative that we realise this and work towards removing this wall which ultimately limits our talents and abilities.

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18 Responses to The Malay Crutch Mentality

  1. Tini says:

    You should also look up the ‘cultural orthodoxy’ argument put forth by Tania Li. She asserted that the way the Singaporean population (both Malays and non-Malays)looks at the lack of Malay progress as a consequence of their culture is because we have all been subjected to ideology. The ideology that Malays are deficient and I really think it’s the wide acceptance of this that dampens self-esteem and feeds on the self-fulfilling prophecy – I can’t, therefore I won’t.

  2. Libertas says:

    Is this “cultural orthodoxy” argument an indirect attack on the PAP’s policies in Singapore? Is this “ideology” promoted through policies like meritocracy which serves to justify our relative socio-economic stagnation through our cultural deficiency rather than structural or institutional factors?

    Oh! I have a new book to read. Googled Ms Tania Li and found her book entitled Tania Li, Malays in Singapore, 1989. Its an interesting argument actually. Its a slightly different slant from Dr Lily Zubaidah’s “cultural deficit thesis” which blames the government rather than our culture for our lack of progress.

  3. ~fatma says:

    but there are real cases of discrimination in the real world..like how front desk service staff are not suppossed to wear tudung and employers specifically asking for Mandarin speaking employees (sometimes just as a deterrent as my teacher (a Chinese) told me of this Indidan lady who could speak fluent Mandarin but after telling her name, she was declined a position)

    and i think “accepting” racism exists not only in the Malay community but also in the Indian community..

    and somehow i dont think it is accepting racism..i’d say it’s tolerating. call me a pessimist but i doubt racism can ever be eliminated

  4. ~fatma says:

    hmm i just realised u mentioned “removing this wall” …reminds me of the glass ceiling that women have been trying to break since God knows when..and again there are a number of them who rise all the way to the top while the rest will always complain abt the unbreakable glass ceiling..i guess they do try but sometimes it’s just too hard? feminists have always been advocating for equality but is life ever fair and equal? we’re all suppossed to be equal in the eyes of the law..but how true is that? and meritocracy? there is always a back door right?

  5. Libertas says:

    How can you tolerate racism when its obviously entrenches your meagre second grade citizenship in a so-called “equal” society (by this I am using equality loosing because its an ideal above all)? If tolerating means not fighting for what your worth is then the Malays will never ever succeed.

    I guess what you say of reality is most definitely true, the progress of the Malay community is a two way process. We cannot succeed if the Chinese don’t allow us to succeed. I shan’t comment about the tudung issue because its more religious than racial.

    Feminism and Malay development! Who would have thought of such an analogy! Hahahah. The fact that there’s no effort to remove that glass ceiling is what worries me, not the fact that’s its unbreakable.

  6. Tini says:

    Meritocracy sounds like an illusion. Poaching the ‘already’ smart complete with material luxury and leaving behind the weaker and impoverished ones. Hmm..It sounds a bit dramatic but you get my point. I hope.

  7. Tini says:

    What causes racism? Ideology. The belief that one ethnicity/race is more superior than another. I’m a pessimist too.

  8. Libertas says:

    Racism is also a means of self protection. In this case, for a particular group to rise above the rest (for the Chinese. Hence the pessimism?). If all groups are on a level playing field, then this issue would not be such a problem. The problem now is the Malays are disadvantaged in many socio-economic and political ways that it makes them hard to succeed..

    But, positive discrimination (like favouring the African Americans) also doesn’t solve the problem. So how can we uplift the Malay society to the same level of the other races, breaking through the barrier of racism while at the same time not use it as a convenient “excuse” for our failures (Malays) or successes (African Americans)? It simply brings us even more problems. That’s why I personally believe above all something internal within the Malay psyche needs a paradigm shift of thoughts and outlook rather than be entirely cynical or hopelessly pessimistic. Heeheehee..

  9. jen says:

    Affirmative Action! that’s what we did out PW project on, and whether it would work with the Malays in Singapore. BTW, ever since coming here I’ve been more disturbed about how Singapore is perceived, and yeah it’s true that it’s predominantly a Chinese country and everyone thinks that Singaporean=Chinese like singaporean is a race – and the seditious bloggers issue added on to all this, it just makes me think EVERYONE, including us minorities, think of it as the Chinese people’s country. when they’re not even the native people and have been there just as long as the indians. i don’t know, just something that bugs me sometimes when i think about it, cos i’ve always been very patriotic you know? and thinking about things this way makes me wonder if i’m actually seen as a Singaporean or a good minority who has integrated into the society and deserves a pat on the back!

  10. Libertas says:

    And the fact is that we’ve been wired so deeply to think that Singapore is a multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, multireligious that when people say Singaporeans are racists, or that Singaporeans are purely made of Chinese, we are totally shocked and unable to respond. And sometimes, we try to deny this issue from surfacing to the extent of being in utter denial or merely succumbing to comforting platitudes to solve all problems. And there’s simply no discussion of why the seditious bloggers, though not hardcore racists, had been racist towards Malays (evidence of subconscious racism in out mindsets? JEN! This can be your research thesis for psychology!).

  11. jen says:

    definitely subconscious racism in our minds… haha. is this psychology or sociology? and plus, i don’t know if i’m doing psych anymore, i’m just happily floating around doing whatever i please because i am directionless. not so good.

    race/racism is my favorite topic (conversational and for reading) btw and i have only just begun to see it’s yours too, haha.

  12. jen says:

    and you’re right in that we’ve been wired to think we are so multiracial that our gut instinct is to deny it vehemently when someone insinuates our society is racist. good job, government. and that’s not to say people are hardcore racists, as you said – it’s not the actions our outward hatred, but the little workings of the mind, like how you view the other race, whether you would marry a person of the other race, whether the picture that comes to your mind first when the word “indian” is said is your indian friend or a generic construction worker. i have a chinese friend here whose words give away the fact that in my definition of it, there is racism evident in her thought process but she denies it so much. and it’s not their fault really, cos we can’t accuse them of hating other races! but as far as equal treatment for all races goes, all races should get equal treatment in people’s thoughts and views of them as well – in order to say someone isn’t racist.

  13. andee says:

    i personally dont think that you can blame the government for the racism that is inescapably inherent in all Singaporeans, or more specifically in all people. And I mean ALL. We are all subconsciously racist. racism is a product of an imbalance in the portrayal of the different cultures. if anything I blame the media and people’s general lack of independent and discerning thought. For example, the whole Black=Bad thing. Research has shown that people tend to think worse of darker skinned people compared to their fairer skinned counterparts. A person’s attitudes toward two people of the same standing may be different on the sole basis of their skin colour. The difference in attitude may not be a drastic one, like open nastiness or obvious prejudice against that person, but this subconscious bias may manifest itself in more subtle ways. People may involuntarily assume the worst of such a person, without good reason, simply because they are to some extent “brainwashed” into judging individuals based on the group that they are stereotyped and typecasted into. For example, the whole “all Indians are construction workers” or “all Indonesians are maids” mindset. People need to stop classifying and start seeing each individual as being exactly that. Indviduals, not members of stereotypical groups expected to think and act in a preset way.

  14. Libertas says:

    Its when race is equated to socio-economic status (or economic classes like the first estate, the bourgeoise and the san culottes etc) that these stereotypical groupings manifest themselves in our minds. Bringing back this whole discussion back to the Malay community, that the Malays are incapable of business entrepreneurship, or that we are only academically and culturally fit for blue collar jobs (like labourers, engineers), or like in the army, all malays are drivers, medics and sergeants (yes me included). This is the essence of the problem, when we try to explicate why a racial grouping is prone to a certain characteristic and so on.

    And I totally do not agree that the government cannot be blamed. Media does play an important part (we see so much Chinese celebrities in CH 5 and sometimes we fail to wonder where did all the Malay talent go?). BUT! In the army for example, why the special “underprivileged” treatment of Malay soldiers? And why is the underdevelopment of the Malay community accepted as a cultural and even genetic phenomenon (MM Lee ever commented on this about the state of the Malay community)? And why pay no attention to the constitutional right of the Malay community who are the indigenous people of this country (Article 152, if I’m not mistaken)? Equality in treatment? I don’t think so.

    Trying to keep its positivist meritocratic lingo whilst at the same time supressing our development goes nowhere. In the end, so-called multiracism remains to be a comforting platitude to lull ourselves to a state of complacency and the issue perpetuates itself to eternity (and in doing so entrench their own power base).

    Opps! Lengthy response. Andee you finally engaged in online intellectual discourse! Yey! Looking forward to hearing your response.. 😀

  15. andee says:

    Why attach characteristics to racial groups at all? Must all Malays be incapable of business entrepreneurship? Such off-handed racial classifications are such handicaps to people, who must factor these expectations into their decisions. If it were true that all Malays are doomed at being entrepreneurs, which Malay in his right mind would even consider venturing in that direction? Take away such stigmas, which logically cannot be true, and you are in effect removing the veil of inferiority that is such a powerful psychologial barrier preventing many minority races from daring to continually strive for success no matter how many others like them have failed before.

    That said, I do agree that the goverment does play a part in maintaining racial divisiveness by perpetuating stereotypes. For example, favouring Malays for certain jobs, as seen in the SAF. However, I wonder about the cause of this trend. Was it a conscious effort on the part of the government to segregate the population into groups? Again, it might be the case of over-simplified classification. A possible theory: In the beginning, the proportion of Malay servicemen best suited for jobs as drivers, medics and sergeants was high. This statistic was taken to be law, instead of a measure of an isolated sample, and it was decided, wrongfully, that most Malays are suitable for these jobs. The stereotype is in place. It is self-sustaining and the prejudice continues to persist. The cynics among you will probably have a hard time accepting this as a possiblity.

    In my opinion, the whole idea of the “constitutional right of the Malay community who are the indigenous people of this country” as an argument in support of “equality in treatment” is counter-intuitive. How can special rights given to any one group of people ever serve to encourage equal treatment of ALL people, across all racial groups? I think that’s your biased Malay-ness talking Nizam. 🙂 Stop contraining yourself to live up to or to break away from racial norms. In an ideal world, something as unrealistic and useless as a racial norm would not exist.

  16. andee says:

    oh and btw, i left a comment on the post above this one, but its awaiting your moderation! i resent your censorship. 😀

  17. Libertas says:

    That’s precisely the problem andee and the overall aim of my entry about the Malay Crutch Mentality! That we need to “take away such stigmas, which logically cannot be true, and you are in effect removing the veil of inferiority that is such a powerful psychologial barrier preventing many minority races from daring to continually strive for success no matter how many others like them have failed before”. We cannot fall back on the culture deficit thesis as a justification for our underdevelopment, or solely view discrimination and subconsicous or conscious racism in the workplace as a barrier to success!

    However, its idealistic to not attach characteristics to certain racial groupings since at most times, such characteristics are indicative of prominent trends within the community or are intrinsically part of their culture. That is not to say negative characteristics cannot be changed. Culture is fluid and dynamic of course. But it is up to the community to realise this and change their mindsets towards certain issues.

    I would postulate that the reason why Malays are mostly drivers, medics and sergeants is because of the inability to clear security clearance, not solely because of the fact that we are more suited for these jobs. Our loyalty has always been questioned due to the proximity of Singapore with other Muslim Malay states. This I find highly stupid and unsubstantiated. Another reason would be the fact that we’re too stupid for certain vocations, a sentiment which was actually expressed by some of my Chinese friends!

    I did not mean to use the Malay constitutional right as an argument in support of equality in treatment. What I’m trying to say is that in justifying equality in treatment the government therefore ignoring the Malay constitutional right, which is against the LAW! Why is the history before Raffles totally de-emphasized and not taught in the education system? Why is there a conscious need to remove any semblance of Malay indigeinity in our country?

    I couldn’t find your comment on moderation! I had already blacklisted a few key spam words which would automatically delete them the moment they appear! There’s a lot of spam in the comments nowadays..

  18. jamx says:

    “I would postulate that the reason why Malays are mostly drivers, medics and sergeants is because of the inability to clear security clearance…” I agree with you fully. Security clearance is one of the major determinants. Look on the bright side, for the drivers by the time the complete their service; do could already be skilled in driving. As for the medics, the skills are important if they wish to volunteer their services to disaster relief efforts.
    I agree with you too that “the Malay community needs to get out of the habit of having the self pitying refrain of “Melayu ape. Macam mana nak naik?”. I have been hearing this for time immemorial (I am now 39 years old). Discrimination…definitely it exist. No one can deny that but if we fall into the trap of “Melayu ape. Macam mana nak naik?” we tend to stop to do what is needed to move ahead or even be on par with the rest of the community… it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sadly until our dear uncles and parents and etc remove this attitude now, it will never go away

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