I never know I’m different from others as my father never talked to me about ethnicity or race

The story of racism didn’t only apply to America.  As a minority in Malaysia, I too face racist slanders from fellow Malaysians. I never know I’m different from others as my father never talked to me about ethnicity or race.

It’s funny when many Malaysians condemn the ill-treatment and injustice inflicted on George Floyd when they are the same people who have been proudly mocking and abusing the Rohingya people.

Let’s not talk about Rohingyas who are NOT Malaysians.  Let’s talk about what happened between us, Malaysians. Growing up, I never know I’m different from others as my father never talked to me about ethnicity or race.  When I was in a primary school, my teacher set me up with a group of Hindu kids and asked us to perform for Deepavali. So I did.  I memorised some Hindu’s ritual hymns.

When my father found out about this, he wasn’t happy and he went to see the teacher and explain to her how it’s inappropriate for me to engage in other religious rituals as I’m a Muslim.  She was confused.  She asked my father if we are Indians? And my father said yes.  And she asked again “Didn’t Indians celebrate Deepavali?”.

I assured you she was not the only Malaysian who was confused as the narrative we’ve been told and taught even in our school textbook is that the Malays celebrate Eid (or we Malaysian call it Hari Raya), Indians celebrate Deepavali and Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year.  Well, for the Chinese people, the attribution is accurate as the celebration is about a cultural celebration.  As for Eid or Hari Raya and Deepavali, they’re religious celebrations, not cultural.  

Why does this happen?  Clearly it’s because we fail to understand and appreciate each others’ differences.  We focus on our unlikeness and we fear people who are different from us.  We have also been hiding from the truth about cultural and religious segregation in Malaysia and pretend like everything is normal.  It’s quite a Malaysian thing not to discuss differences in a healthy manner, just so we don’t offend others, not realizing that we have created a huge gap between facts and myths.

I have a friend who would tell me to just claim that I’m a Malay in order to fit in and that it doesn’t matter what my race is.  This is supposed to be a privilege.  Would this friend of mine be okay to say she’s an Indian-Muslim which is lesser than the 7% of the Indian Malaysian population?  And I kept hearing people telling me not to be proud as Indian-Muslims are not physically beautiful given their  dark skin colour. “Just say you’re a Malay”, they said. 

Only privileged people would have the luxury of conveniently dismissing other people’s ethnic backgrounds and then insert the I-have-friends-from-other-culture-too statement to make them sound fair and just.

The only way to walk out of this racism is to acknowledge and celebrate our diversities.  We can’t say enough of this, but until we really do, the same old “Go back to where you came from” would still be heard by minorities like me.  Each time I heard that call, I really wanted to say “Where to?  My mother’s womb?”

Let’s really get to know each other.  

Do you know that not only Chinese people have different dialects but Indians too?  Not just dialects, but languages.  So don’t ask us if we can speak Tamil to Shah Rukh Khan as he’s not a Tamil.  Open your eyes and see the beauty of these diversities.  It’s a beautiful and unique feature that we Malaysians possess.  Don’t ruin it just because you fear your own ability to feel and be secured in our homeland.

I’m Farwina, and I’m proudly a Malaysian Indian Muslim. 

Farwina Faroque is a Malaysian-Indian-Muslim and an activist.  She’s also the Content Producer for

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