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‘Many nations do not collect ethnic data’

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It is sad that after five decades of nationhood, our politics and policies are still heavily based on ethnic identity. Lim How Pim speaks to Andrew Aeria.

Photo courtesy of parenbonjour.com

KUCHING: The Malaysian government should change its mindset to practise the international standard of not collecting ethnic data, said Assoc. Prof Dr Andrew Aeria, a lecturer of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

He disagreed with Deputy Works Minister Datuk Yong Khoon Seng’s statement last Sunday that the race column would be essential for census and survey purposes.

“You do not need ethnic identity for research. His view is incorrect or perhaps he has not been properly briefed or informed. Many western European countries do not collect ethnic data and in fact they are not allowed to do so by law.

“For instance, in the United Kingdom, France and Holland, their governments do not collect ethnic or race data. So his view that it is practised across the globe is inaccurate,” he said in response to the minister’s remarks here yesterday.

Dr Aeria pointed out that many western European countries complied with international standards of not discriminating along an ethnic or racial basis.

“There is little justification for collecting ethnic data. If some parents want to register their newborn as ‘Anak Malaysia’ or ‘Malaysian’, just allow that. Why does the government want to classify what ethnic box people are?”

He noted that despite most Malaysians not questioning this ethnic identification classification since the country’s independence, it does not mean that they support its continued practice.

“For the last 50 years, people don’t question because they are so used to it,” he quipped. “But, there is a growing sense that this ethnic identity classification serves little or no purpose.”

Citing for examples, he queried why Malaysians had to be asked for ethnic background when they applied for telephone and internet services or even Astro facilities.

“Tell me, why do you need to state your ethnic identity when you apply for a telephone, internet or satellite TV service? It is nonsense. Issues such as poverty, medical care and unemployment cut across all communities, so why are we even talking about race?”

Hence, he backed some quarters’ call that the government should remove the race column from its registration and other official forms.

“It is sad that despite 50 years of nationhood, Malaysian politics and policies are so much based on ethnic identity. This is 2011, it is time we stop talking about ethnicity and look at true issues like human rights and good governance. It does not make any sense for the government to continue to refuse taking out the race column. Just classify the child as a Malaysian, enough. Why put Chinese or Indian or Malay or Iban or Chindian or whatever?” pointed out Dr Aeria.

He felt that race and ethnicity is a very ideologically loaded concept.

“Much debate about race and ethnicity is based on discrimination and racial supremacy. It is a very old, outdated and imperialist concept,” he noted.

He was quick to enlighten that “in today’s day and age, it is inconsequential for researchers to carry out studies based on race.”

He also disagreed with Yong, who said retaining the race column did not obstruct the 1Malaysia spirit.

“In fact, it undermines the 1Malaysia concept. If you talk about 1Malaysia, just put Malaysian in all official documents,” he said.

“After all, what’s the use of classifying Malaysians according to ethnic or racial categories, of deliberately telling people in official forms that they are all different and will be treated differently according to their ethnic identities when you want to forge 1Malaysia? Is this not a glaring contradiction?” asked Dr Aeria.

On Sunday, Yong said the government might consider removing the race column from its official birth registration forms only if there is a dire need.

The Stampin MP opined that it was inappropriate for Malaysians to charge that identifying a newborn’s race went against the 1Malaysia spirit, reasoning that the race column was still essential for agencies such as the Department of Statistics to carry out census or survey.

“We need the composition as far as census is concerned. If you do not put down your race, how is the department going to do the composition?” he added.

Source: Borneo Post

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Philip Khoo
Philip Khoo
30 Jun 2011 6.12pm

I’m afraid that Andrew is wrong in claiming the UK does not collect data on ethnicity — it does: go to census uk. While Holland does not directly collect data on ethnicity, statistics holland does gather and report data on foreign-born, including first- and second-generation (meaning one parent or both parents are foreign-born, although the person may be Holland-born). In the case of France, there has been a debate about collecting data on ethnicity. More importantly, it is not the collection of data on ethnicity that is the problem. It is the policies. To suggest that many western European countries comply with international standards on anti-discrimination along ethnic or racial lines is, at best, a cruel joke on minorities. For instance, a study in France — getting around the non-collection of data on ethnicity by proxying it with names — found that a north African gets only 1/3 as many responses to job applications as a comparable white person. There should be no need to remind people of the huge discrimination suffered by the Roma. Nor should there be a need to remind people of the… Read more »

29 Jun 2011 1.58am

I think any country that has experienced colonial occupation descends to race based data ultimately. I am from India, and out there, I am sure you know, everything is race and religion based. I think there is something in Asian and African genes that makes people always nit pick at race and religion. Of course there are people that dont do that, but those are not sitting in the chairs that govern in any Asian or African country

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