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The Loving way to end racial classification

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Unity in our country will remain skin deep as long as classification according to race is officially endorsed, writes Teo Chuen Tick.

I just watched the movie Loving on television. It is based on a true-life story of how an interracial couple’s landmark fight for their right to wed made history.

The year was 1958, more than 180 years after America’s independence. Yet, Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested in an early morning raid by county police in their own bedroom. The offence: their union was not recognised in Virginia, which was one of 24 states in the United States then that banned interracial marriage. The couple had been lawfully married in Washington, DC.

Perhaps, our Baba Nyonya tradition have given our nation a head-start. From the word go, no such law was in our statute books. This is one fact that we can be proud of.

Americans were finally free of such an obnoxious law in 1967, when the Lovings’ case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. The judges in a unanimous decision struck down that law.

This case turned my thoughts to the bumiputera-non-bumiputera divide in our nation. The change in government after 9 May gives me hope that the toxic racial dialogue encouraged by the Umnoputras in their divide-and-rule strategy under their reign will give away to a more inclusive dialogue.

It would be unrealistic to hope that unity will take place overnight. But we must make a start. This should also be part of the agenda for change embraced by the new Pakatan Harapan government. Identification of the rakyat by ethnicity in all official forms should be done away with unless there is a specific reason for it to be stated.

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It is said that beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa began when the classification of the citizens as whites and non-whites via the Population Registration Act 1950 was repealed in 1991. The use of the word apartheid is very loaded because of the South African context.

But unity in our country will remain skin deep as long as classification according to race is officially endorsed.

No thinking rakyat will object to a needs-based affirmative action programme. But how can one ignore the “us versus them” mentality when even multimillionaire bumiputeras get a 7% discount on their property purchases for investments just based on that classification. Meanwhile, the average wage-earner who is not a bumiputera does not enjoy any such discount even for their basic house purchase.

This may seem an extreme example but it goes to the core of what is wrong with how we classify our people.

Surely after more than 60 years of independence, all rakyat should be regarded as equal in our own country.

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