Delicate balancing act of race relations in Malaysia


I am a fourth generation Indian – Malaysian. My grandmother’s dad was born in Malaysia in 1916 after his father moved to Malaysia from India.

My great-grandfather, my grandmother, and now my mother have lived their whole lives in Malaysia.

Yet, we are first and foremost Indian. As a 20-something on the dating scene, I am always initially categorised by my prospective dates by my ethnicity.

But how do I answer them?

I was born in New Zealand. My parents moved us to Malaysia when I was a few months old, and then I moved back to New Zealand on my own at 19. At 25, I am now back in Malaysia.

I dare you to ask me how often I am asked ‘Are you Indian?’ on dating applications.

Here’s the thing: Why not just say yes? I am ethnically Indian. Why deflect, why say no?

Because stereotypes. Trauma, from years of hearing things like ‘smelly Indians’ or ‘dirty Indians’.

If you never heard those phrases, you didn’t grow up in the same Malaysia that I did. We can pretend that these words didn’t matter, that it was racial prejudice manifesting itself in mindless insults.

We can make all of those claims, but you hear something over and over again, you start to believe it. I heard it all growing up, because race relations is a delicate balancing act in Malaysia.

So I grew up struggling to shed the identity of ‘Indian’ and all the stereotypes that come with it and I’m still scarred by the experience.

Right now, I am allowing myself the time to uncover my identity in relation to India more organically – armed with a better grasp on human politics, psychology and socio-economics than I was before.

‘Are you Indian?’ ‘Are you Malaysian?’ ‘Are you Kiwi?’

I’m all three and neither; a human being in a steady, evolutionary relationship with multiple cultures and identities.

Aren’t we all?

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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