Archive for June, 2008


Friday, June 13th, 2008

This update is one month overdue. But my tardiness is excusable. As some of you might have heard, my life has been seriously mad in the last couple of months.

If you haven’t the foggiest what I am talking about – here is the skinny: I initiated an anti-racism national unity project a couple of months ago called ‘Malaysian Artistes For Unity’. It involved the making of a multi-artistes song and music video entitled ‘Here In My Home’. Both the song and the video were released as free downloads in mid-May.

I won’t describe the project in detail here [please go to the official project site for that]. Suffices it to say that the project has taken the country by storm and we’ve been inundated by emails since it went public. Numerous people admitted to weeping with relief when they first heard the song and hundreds offered help with anything we might require. Meanwhile, radio stations put the song on hourly rotation, tv stations broadcast ‘the making of’ nationwide, telcos and music portals climbed onboard to help with distribution, the official site alone transmitted 120,000 downloads in a month, and the project video became the third most viralled video in the world for a week.

Not bad for a zero budget production.

Yet, in one of the most astonishingly out-of-touch bit of journalism I have ever read, a youth magazine called All The Rage claimed that there is no racism in Malaysia – at least not enough to justify our effort to address it – and therefore the project was no more than an excuse for a bunch of desperate celebrities [who were inexplicably deemed ‘overseas educated’ and therefore have no legitimacy] to get ‘their 15 minutes of fame’.

Perhaps the writer [one Ian Yee] has taken in too many ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ ads. Fact is, whatever apologists might call it, race discrimination has been institutionalized in Malaysia for decades. We have politicians who sprout race supremacist rhetoric and racist editors who viciously attack films about inter-racial romance on grounds of ‘race purity’ [very reminiscent of Nazi rhetoric]. Hell, just look at how people sit separately by skin color next time you go to an office canteen. Or read the racist hatred [‘Malays are pigs!’] sprouted on numerous Internet forums by Chinese or Indian students aggrieved by how the government’s scholarship programs have been executed.

No racism in Malaysia?

Or is it a case of racism becoming so insidious and internalized over the years that some people have taken it to be unexceptional and unworthy of address – as in the case of many South Africans who were conditioned to believe Apartheid was absolutely normal?

I don’t know. Perhaps the writer’s problem is simply that he does not like the idea of homegrown artistes attempting something with verve and social significance [it’s ok when foreign pop stars do it, of course]. Either way, I do hope he was being flippant when he said he was stupefied by how positively the Malaysian pubLic has embraced the project. I can only add that I was far more stupefied by the nonsense he’s written.

Thankfully, that sort of sheltered fantasy was untypical of the feedback the project received. The overwhelming majority acknowledge and decry the existence of racial prejudice fostered by racial polarization and bigoted politics in Malaysia. Yet they are willing to arise above it [or are trying to] to grasp the crucial importance of racial unity. These varied from kindergarten kids, to college students, to MPs and media editors as well as political analysts [including Wong Choon Wai, the chief editor of The Star, a group that ironically owns All The Rage]. Thus, much as folks have claimed that our project has given them hope, it is perhaps more correct to say that they have given all of us hope with the depth of their love for our country despite her many flaws.

Inevitably, there were genuine doubters too. Some view any talk of racial unity in Malaysia as nothing more than government propaganda, and others merely feel helpless [and hopeless] about the situation. Through it all, the undeniable fact is this: after 50 years of independence, many Malaysians still don’t feel they ‘belong’ in Malaysia. It is not hard to feel a sense of unease over this – particularly as this group tends to be racially defined – yet the question remains: what have we done as a nation to make such race-based alienation possible? Perhaps it is a clear case of ‘hard to love a country that doesn’t love you back’?

Be that as it may, the project has pretty much come to an end for me. By that, I mean I have taken it as far as I can and it is now up to the community to keep it going. There is only so much a song and a video can do anyway. You see, beyond the hype and media feeding frenzy, the project is ultimately about us taking ownership of our own fate as a nation. We can’t be strong without unity yet unity won’t happen unless enough people are wiling to do their bit to make it happen. And none of it would happen unless people take ownership of this issue.

It only remains for me to to convey my thanks and admiration to the tireless Albert Law [without whom none of this would be possible], the hundreds of people who contributed their time and effort to the project, and the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who took it to their hearts. Perhaps one day we will get to the point where the song does not need to be sung anymore. But till then, each of us owe it to ourselves to put in a little effort.

You reap what you sow.


FREE DOWNLOAD: everything generated by the ‘Malaysian Artistes For Unity’ project – including song, music video, making of video, recording stems, wall paper, banners, ringtone etc – are available for free download at the official project site. Click HERE.