The TV3 blooper signals the racism that is ingrained among some of us, as reflected in the way Malaysians of different ethnic origins treat each other, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
The recent triumph of Kamala Harris in breaking the glass ceiling in American politics was celebrated the world over, especially by people who cherish the remarkable advancement of women and minorities in important areas of life.
However, Harris’ ascent to the US vice-presidency was abruptly distracted temporarily in Malaysia when the country’s oldest private television, TV3, made a faux pas in its news report recently, claiming that her mother was an undocumented immigrant in the US.
The incorrect account of Harris’ family background and poor journalism to boot, predictably created a storm, particularly on Twitter when people demanded an apology from the station.
For a moment, this journalistic blunder almost overshadowed the political significance of Harris’ meteoric rise in an American society that has been severely polarised along racial, religious, class and ideological lines, particularly under the Trump presidency.
TV3 swiftly offered a public apology for its slip-up, presumably after fearing this error had an international dimension and could grab world headlines for the wrong reason.
But the journalistic slip-up may well be a Freudian slip if one were to situate it in a larger Malaysian social context. It is a slip-up that expresses the overt as well as hidden sentiments in the minds of some Malaysians.In other words, the ugly racism and xenophobia of certain quarters in our midst have found expression in the TV3 reportage.
It was only a few months ago that the nation bore witness to what could be described as unkind treatment meted out to migrant workers at the beginning of the pandemic by the authorities when they were herded for Covid-19 screening.
The crew of international broadcaster Al-Jazeera were even hauled up by the Malaysian authorities for having documented and aired the alleged mistreatment of the foreign workers, an action rights groups deemed as state censorship.
Some Malaysians cheered on such an action, especially those who don’t think much of these workers as full-blown human beings deserving of decency and respect, even though they have collectively made huge contributions to our nation-building.
Some of these Malaysians, ironically, may well have been a part of the crowd who frowned upon the TV3 bungle.
To be sure, the vulnerability of foreign workers, particularly the undocumented, has often been exploited to the fullest by unscrupulous Malaysian employers, knowing fully well that the former don’t have legal protection nor political clout.
It is not uncommon to hear of, say, domestic help being physically or sexually abused or foreign security guards being slapped or punched for merely doing their job.
Of course, this is not to negate the fact that there are indeed black sheep among these foreigners, but they do not represent the rest of their communities. You can’t tar the rest with the same brush.
The TV3 blooper also signals the racism that is ingrained among some of us, as reflected in the way Malaysians of different ethnic origins treat each other at various levels of society.
After many decades of independence, the ethnic and cultural diversity in our society has at times become for certain groups a bone of contention rather than a boon that ought to be a badge worthy of our collective pride.
It also does not help that in the dark recesses of the minds of certain Malaysians, non-Malays are still perceived as “pendatang” or immigrants despite them being many generations of Malaysians, contributing to national development and prosperity.
Such a warped mindset is, of course, not spawned in a social vacuum. The politics of race and religion peddled by certain political parties plays a significant role in magnifying the differences between the ethnic groups to the point of creating unnecessary fear and suspicion, as well as hate.
The similarities that are found in these diverse ethnic and cultural groups should instead be harnessed and celebrated for the common good of the people.
The political victory of Kamala Harris should remind Malaysians that, while it has taken the US so many years before such a phenomenal change could occur, a start has to be made somewhere so that we can move towards a Malaysia where Malaysians of calibre and grit can eventually realise their dreams, particularly at the higher level of society.
In higher education, for instance, the government may want to consider appointing well-qualified Malaysians other than ethnic Malays to helm public universities.
This is as good a start as any if the country is serious in moving forward, armed with a rich reservoir of talents from diverse groups in our society.