opinion : Farouk A. Peru

Time for everyone to rise up against toxic racism

Farouk A. Peru

JULY 11 — There is something so counter-intuitive about racism. 

Even when racism was the norm, racists found a need to explain themselves. 

They would come up with different theories as to why some races were superior to others. 

They would feel the need to explain why segregation was important. 

Think about it — do we ever have to explain why being united and transcending racism is important? No, because these attitudes are intuitively good. 

There is something about them which we know, deep down, is correct and we gravitate towards them. 

Yesterday, I read a very disturbing news report about Astro and how it treated one of its customers. 

A woman by the name of Madhavi Rai was told by Astro’s customer service that ethnic Indians and foreigners were only allowed to use auto-debit service as their payment option.

Rai, who is of Malaysian Nepali and ethnic Chinese parentage, had complained that her application was rejected as she did not choose the auto-debit payment option after she was allegedly informed it was her only payment option as she is “an Indian.” 

How did they know she was an Indian? They simply guessed from her name!

It is true that my outlook on these matters may be out of touch with reality in Malaysia but I refuse to believe that this incident is acceptable where ever you are. 

In the UK, even where the majority population is overwhelmingly white, an incident such as this would receive condemnation from the entire population except a marginal one or two per cent (who are the far right, neo-Nazi types!). 

Racism is simply not acceptable and I learnt that from my earliest days here. A police chief commissioner at the time made the mistake of calling a convicted criminal a “black bas***.” 

Had he just used the second word, it would have been ok but the first word made it racist. He then lost his job. No ifs, no buts. That incident left a lasting impression upon me. 

Since Astro has not denied this incident—but have apologised unreservedly—it is safe to assume that this policy must have been known to its management. 

There is certainly no way lower level management, let alone the employees themselves, could have put such a policy into operation. 

The strange thing is, according to Ms Rai’s account, they simply offered no explanation at all. 

A customer service representative even admitted that the policy sounds racist but “has nothing to do with it.” Quite a puerile explanation, if you ask me. Sounds more like a denial even though the facts are clear. 

Worse still, Ms Rai’s Chinese heritage was invoked. She was told that if she were to register as a Chinese, she would be able to choose other payment options. How utterly demeaning to our Indian brethren!

In Malaysia, we are relatively lax about these things, especially when they happen to non-Malays. We simply see them as realities in 21st century Malaysia but even so, we forget that realities are not made without our consent. 

It is because we tolerated incidents such as these that they have become the norm. 

Imagine the humiliation Ms Rai must have gone through! However she chooses to define herself, racially speaking, it should not have any bearing on her being able to choose any particular payment option. 

Pegging payment options to race only says one thing — that some races are either economically disadvantaged or worse still, morally inept. 

Either way, this is extremely insulting and all right thinking Malaysians cannot afford to ignore this deeply troubling incident. 

It is not enough for Astro to apologise. They need to give compensation to Ms Rai for her mental anguish. 

If not cash, then free Astro service for an extended period. Even so, that is getting off lightly. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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