By calling footballers ‘awang hitam’, was Kedah MB ignorant or insensitive?

“Pemain yang sama yang bermain dengan Kedah pada musim lepas dikekalkan. Yang top, top tu lah. Dua awang hitam tu lah. Sekejap nanti orang kata saya hina orang pulak tapi depa memang hitam pun.”

Those were the words of Kedah FA president Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor during a Kedah FA press conference on Dec 24.

So what was more disturbing?

a. That a state leader called two of its foreign players “awang hitam” – a term also used by certain dailies to identify African criminals; OR

b. Those in the room laughed at what the state leader had said; OR

c. The name/term “awang hitam” is a misrepresentation of Panglima Awang, also known as Panglima Awang Hitam, Henry the Black or Enrique de Malacca, who some historians believe is the first Malay and perhaps the first man to sail around the globe between 1511 and 1519; OR

d. All the above.

A quick Google search (news) on ‘awang hitam‘ will see the following results:

  • Habis duit simpanan ditipu ‘Awang Hitam’Harian Metro; May 29, 2020
  • Stop the ‘criminal blacks’, says daily in calling for action against Africans (in reference to Sinar Harian‘s editorial ‘Apa jasa awang hitam kepada Malaysia?‘) – Free Malaysia Today; Aug 1, 2019
  • Geng awang hitam yang aktif lakukan jenayan pecah rumah tumpasAstro Awani; Aug 24, 2020

Sanusi’s remarks became a talking point among several fans.

Some brushed it off, saying people should not be overly sensitive. Others said it was unacceptable for a menteri besar or anyone to identify footballers in such a manner.

For the record, Tchetche Kipre from Ivory Coast and Liberian Kpah Sherman played for Kedah in the Malaysian Super League last season. The Hijau Kuning squad was placed second in the league with Tchetche and Sherman having scored the most goals for the squad (seven and six goals respectively) this year.


Did it sound racist? Yes.

Can it be deemed insensitive? Yes.

This, however, is not addressing the issue. Perhaps Sanusi is not used to working in a multi-cultural, multi-colour environment.

To him, perhaps, it was an innocent remark with no malice. As he said: “... tapi depa memang hitam pun (but they are indeed black)”.

Sanusi, just like many other Malaysians, grew up in an environment where they, unfortunately, addressed people based on their skin colour and not by their names.

It’s like the everyday conversations where you identify those living next door as “the Malay neighbour” or when an accident occurs, you would want to know if the victim was a “Chinese or Indian” – as though it made any difference.

It’s not a problem exclusive to Kedah or Malaysia. It’s a worldwide issue.

UK’s Kick it Out, an inclusion and diversity organisation, reported that abuse in the professional game went up by 42 per cent in the 2019-2020 season (446 incidences) compared to the previous season and that racist abuse rose to 53 per cent (from 184 to 282 reported cases).

The only way to eradicate such thoughts is by educating the masses and it starts with the folks running Kedah FA.

Perhaps Sanusi should have a chat with Tchetche and Sherman about such matters. Or even better, perhaps Sanusi could spend a week or two with people of different ethnicities to understand them better.

We could all do with some education.

It’s no longer about being tolerant. It’s about respect and appreciating each other as human beings regardless of colour or creed.