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.