Racial politics

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Racial politics is the practice of political actors exploiting the issue of race to forward an agenda.

In Malaysia

Malaysian politician Chang Ko Youn put forward "Malaysia has practised racial politics for 51 years and we know it is divisive as each party only talks on behalf of the racial group it represents... When all races are in a single party, no one person will try to be the champion of the party.... It is easy to be a Malay hero, a Malaysian Chinese hero or a Malaysian Indian hero but it is difficult to be a Malaysian hero.... The country is facing economic problems now and it is important that the Government and political parties come up with a Malaysian agenda on how to unite the people and face these challenges..."[1]

On August 13, 2008, a letter was sent to The Star[2] with the title "Why we can't get our experts to return" saying:

Writer A. Asohan wrote: "...you started to grow up, and race increasingly became a factor. You became aware of race politics here. Insidious people would hint that being friends with the "Other" made you a traitor to your own race. The racist rot seems to have intensified over the subsequent generations. The bigotry we learned as adults are now being picked up by our primary schoolkids. Our leaders may, in a fit of progressiveness (by their standards), talk about racial tolerance, but acceptance and appreciation for other races and cultures seem beyond their ken. Racial intolerance in the country is getting worse, we tell ourselves, looking back to a more idyllic past. Bah, what crock! We Malaysians have always been racists. Heck, the entire human race has always found some illusive basis for discrimination. Race, religion, colour, creed, whether you were born north or south of that artificial line called a border – we spend an inordinate amount of our time and resources on delineating our differences rather than celebrating our similarities. If you married someone from a different race in the old days, you faced severe social censure and were treated as an outcast. Parents wrung their hands and tore at their hair, wailing "What did we do wrong? Aiyoh, how can you do this to us?"[3]

Marina Mahathir wrote: "...The same thing happened in our country. Unfortunately, race politics has not really died down yet, and some people reacted as if ethnic cleansing had just taken place...."[4]

Politician Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham when he was asked "What do you dislike most about Malaysians?", he replied: Racial politics.[5]

Chris Anthony wrote: "...After 50 years of living and working together side-by-side, the people have voted to do away with racial politics but unfortunately the politicians are far from showing signs of heeding their calls for multiracialism...." [1]

Philip Bowring of International Herald Tribune wrote that the political organization of Malaysia has long been largely on racial lines, Islam has at times become a device for use in racial politics, a yardstick for measuring the commitment of competing parties to Malay racial advancement.[6]


According to many historians, the root cause of this strife between the ethnic communities and Malay nationalist sentiments like ketuanan Melayu was the lack of assimilation or amalgamation between the Malays and non-Malays. Because most of the migrants came as "guest workers" of the British, they felt little need to integrate into Malay society. (The Straits Chinese, most of whom were rich merchants instead of manual labourers, were an exception and managed to assimilate reasonably well, with many of them habitually speaking Malay at home, dressing in the Malay style, and preferring Malay cuisine.) Few bothered to even learn the Malay language; the census taken at independence showed that only 3% of Chinese aged ten and over, and 5% of Indians in the same age group, were literate in Malay. The comparable figure for the Malays stood at 46%.[41] The British educational policies, which segregated the different ethnicities—providing minimal public education for the Malays, and leaving the non-Malays to their own devices – did little to help matters. The Malays, who were predominantly rural-dwellers, were not encouraged to socialise with the non-Malays, most of whom resided in towns. The economic impoverishment of the Malays, which set them apart from the better-off Chinese, also helped fan racial sentiments.

This failure to assimilate or amalgamate has in turn been blamed on the British. George Maxwell, a high ranking colonial civil servant, credited the Malay aristocracy for its acceptance of non-Malay participation in public life, and attributed political discrimination to British colonial policy:

"With thirty-five years service in Malaya, and with intimate friendship with Rulers over two generations, I can say that I never heard one of them say anything that would tend to support [the exclusion of non-Malays from administrative appointments]. From the very earliest days of British protection, the Rulers have welcomed the leaders of the Chinese communities as members of their State Councils. Other [non-Malays] are now members of the State Councils. The policy of keeping [non-Malays] out of the administration owes its inception to British officials, and not to the Rulers."

On the basis of these policies, historians have argued that "Given the hostility toward Chinese expressed by many colonial officials and the lack of physical and social integration, it is not surprising that most Malays formed the opinion that Chinese were only transients in Malaya with no real attachments to the country."

Another contributing factor to ketuanan Melayu, according to historians, was the Japanese occupation during World War II. One states that the war "awakened a keen political awareness among Malayan people by intensifying communalism and racial hatred." This was widely attributed to the Japanese policies which "politicised the Malay peasantry" and intentionally fanned the flames of Malay nationalism. Racial tension was also increased by the Japanese practice of using Malay paramilitary units to fight Chinese resistance groups. Two Malay historians wrote that "The Japanese hostile acts against the Chinese and their apparently more favourable treatments of the Malays helped to make the Chinese community feel its separate identity more acutely ... it was also the beginning of racial tension between the Malays and Chinese."[44] A foreign commentator agreed, stating that "During the occupation period ... Malay national sentiment had become a reality; it was strongly anti-Chinese, and its rallying cry [was] 'Malaya for the Malays'..."

The rich

In the year 2006, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on his release from 6 years of prison said in a number of interviews that the NEP should be abolished and that all races should be given equal opportunities[7] and also that the NEP was bad because only the cronies of UMNO party became rich from it, however Khairy Jamaluddin from UMNO party hit out at him (Anwar Ibrahim) for saying that. Khairy said: "What cheek he has to speak" and also said that Anwar Ibrahim was the greatest UMNO party member of all and a very rich one too.

In United States history

One of the Racial politics in United States is to describe racially charged political actions by Abigail Thernstrom, the vice-chairman of the U.S. commission on civil rights. The practice has been a major part of American government since its creation, and often divides the Republican and Democratic parties.

The United States Government has since the time of its creation been divided, and in many ways developed based upon issues of race. In 1861 the Civil War between the Northern and Southern states of the nation was fought partially over the abolition of slavery. Furthermore, the tension between the Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats continued for many years after as the South created Jim Crow laws and continued the segregation of individuals of color. The Northern Republicans realized that the South would not simply erase the strong racial divide that existed despite the abolition of slavery, and so in hopes of having a functioning Government allowed for such restrictions to exist.

In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that the, "separate but equal", doctrine was constitutional in the case Plessy v. Ferguson. Segregation was legal, so long as the segregated schools and facilities provided to whites and blacks were equal. Plaintiff Homer Plessy, whose ancestry was 1/8 African American, was persuaded by civil rights activists in New Orleans to test a new law that required separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads.

In 1954, the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court determined that the establishment of separate schools for whites and blacks was inherently unequal and unconstitutional. This was a major success for civil rights advocates, including the NAACP.

In the current day United States

Perhaps the most glaring aspect of racial politics today is the re-drawing and shaping of district lines to seclude minorities in certain areas.[citation needed] In doing this, Republicans and Democrats alike ensure certain trends in voting patterns and constituent concerns, as they place a high concentration of minorities within a voting district. This is a crucial aspect of modern-day politics and is often a major factor in elections.

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-08-14. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-08-14. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-06. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-06. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  6. ^ "Breaking News, World News & Multimedia". www.iht.com.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-05-18. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  • Thernstrom, Abigail. THE NATION Racial Politics, As Ever Democrats will be demagogic; when will Republicans counter them? March 19, 2007. National Review. 2007
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