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Black Lives Matter: How Is It Relevant to Malaysians?

The issue is much closer to home than you think.

As long as you’ve been using the Internet or any form of social media for the past week, you’re bound to have seen this hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. 

The death of George Floyd, who was killed by cops in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been the catalyst of a series of global protests against police brutality and racism in the United States. It’s also gained major international attention for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Despite it not being a new movement (it was started back in 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of Trayvon Martin), it’s taken the world by storm for the past few weeks. 

So what about it? “It’s a US matter; it has nothing to do with us.” — or so you think.

I’m here to tell you otherwise. But first:


Why Black lives? Don’t all lives matter?

On the surface, the slogan “All Lives Matter” seems like a unifying quote that calls for equality, which is what we should strive for, right? That’s where you’re wrong. In reality, it diminishes and redirects attention away from the urgent message behind Black Lives Matter: that Black lives matter just as much as others do. 

“Black Lives Matter” does not undermine other races’ struggles; it means acknowledging the history of violence and discrimination that Black people face, up to this day, that other races do not - that there is a disparity in treatment despite the fact that we are all human. It is understanding that Black people have been oppressed for so long, and that they should be given the rights they deserve. 

The burning house analogy by webcomic artist Kris Straub, and the equality vs equity picture below are good illustrations of the difference in the two slogans:

Image via Kris Straub/Instagram

Image via Mary/Off She Goes


How is this relevant to Malaysia?

Malaysia is a multiracial country; a melting pot of culture. And where there are differences, there is bound to be conflict. 

Through educating ourselves and acknowledging the struggles of Black people, we are condemning racism and taking the time to reflect on the internal problems of our own country’s system. 

As Shanthi Dairiam puts it:

"It makes us think about the responsibility that we have to stand against the exploitation, discrimination and oppression within our society." 

Shanthi Dairiam, a Malaysian human rights and women’s right activist. She was involved in the lobbying for the enactment of the Domestic Violent Act in the mid-1980s.


Systemic racism

Malaysians have a long history of institutional racism embedded in our society. It is deeply rooted and has been present since the era of colonialism, when economic disparity and biased actions by the British set the races apart and created a racial divide between Malays and the then-immigrant Chinese and Indians. 

This mindset is still very much present in Malaysia today, where Malay nationalism and Malay-Muslim supremacy runs strong, with comments commonly calling non-Malays to “balik negara asal” (return to your home country).


Negative stereotypes and implicit bias

There are many stereotypes and prejudice against Malaysians, by Malaysians. Every citizen of Malaysia, regardless of their race, has experienced some form of discrimination as a result of their ethnicity. Some may seem less severe, but they contribute to everyday racism. Common examples are: 

1. Indians often facing difficulty in finding places to rent as they are denied tenancy because of their skin colour. 

2. Chinese are made fun of for the features of their eyes and are commonly assumed to be “calculative”, “arrogant” and “rich”.

3. Malays are discriminated against when job-hunting due to the demand of “Chinese-speakers” and the stereotype of them being lazy. 

4. Anyone else who does not fit into the category of Malaysia’s “Big 3” races, which include the indigenious people and mixed race, are required to tick the “lain-lain” (others) option on official forms. 

Image via Good Choice Good Planet/Instagram


A Mirror of Our Own Race-Driven Policing 

The Black Lives Matter movement also reminds us of the police brutality in relation to the racism that exists in our country and mirrors the racism and discrimination against people with darker skin that is prevalent in our society.

Malaysian Indians, migrant workers, and Black foreign students are by far the most common victims subject to this cruelty, but their cases commonly go unheard. 

One controversial incident that happened just last year, was when a Nigerian PhD student died in police custody while being detained for 14 days, despite him being able to produce the necessary valid documents. 

The worst part is, deaths in police custody are seldom questioned in our country. According to Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT), Malaysian courts report a lack of credible investigations conducted by the police regarding these deaths. 


Ignorance Towards Black Culture

The oppression and disenfranchisement of Black people is not taught in Malaysian schools, and as a result, the n-word is regularly uttered by Malaysians who do not understand the history and meaning behind the term. For example, during the 2018 GoodVibes festival in Genting, Malaysians did not think twice about singing the n-word alongside SZA, a black artist, whose lyrics contained the word. 

Image via Brandy Chieco/Instagram


The First Step: Education

Shanthi Dairiam also says that “We have to fight for a comprehensive human rights legal and policy framework in this country. Because the struggle is not only to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race but to also empower those who have been disempowered on the basis of race or any other ground.” 

Keeping that in mind, it is essential that we do better to educate ourselves regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and take the time to reflect upon ourselves about our actions that have been discriminatory to not just Black people, but our fellow countrymen of other races. With the power of the Internet and social media, there is an unlimited source of knowledge for us to educate ourselves and the people around us on the topic. 

As Koreangry on Instagram put it, it’s okay if you didn’t know because of a lack of education. What’s not okay is if you choose to continue to be ignorant. 

Image via Koreangry/Instagram


The Takeaway

Read up, speak up, and use your voice. It doesn’t have to be on social media - Black Lives Matter is NOT a trend. Start a conversation with a family or a friend. Even if you manage to educate just one person, it’s still a difference. Because Black lives matter: In the US, and all around the world. 

So reflect and think how racism affects our society and most importantly, take action to fight it. What’s the point if we don’t practice what we preach? We’d just be all bark and no bite then.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” - Angela Davis

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