The Racism I Experienced Dating In Malaysia

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Malaysia is perhaps best known for its diversity. With its official tourism slogan of ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’, you’ll find people of different ethnicities and backgrounds living here.

Unfortunately, it also comes with complex and multifaceted acts of racism. Not all of them are as explicit as assault or harassment, but more subtle forms of racism.

I find that Malaysians, like most people everywhere, are more concerned with being called out on their racism rather than dealing with it.

And I guess that’s why I’m writing this! Because I’m fed up with all of the casual racism I’ve been seeing on dating sites.

So if you do these things – yes, you are racist, and you should be aware of it. Sorry – not sorry.

“I’m just not attracted to x group.”

I have had many people try to justify this to me. Because I am mixed race, I have people guessing my ethnicity just to see if it was safe to date me, so it didn’t screw up their racial dating history.

How can you be coincidentally not attracted to an entire group of people? There’s some choice there, honey, and that choice is ingrained racism.

This kind of statement often stems from the grouping or confining ethnicity to a single monolith. What do you not like about them? Go deeper and examine why and what led you to those conclusions.

Microaggressions – the new face of racism

Racism is no longer the act of calling out racial slurs at someone on the street when you see them walking by, nor is it the rude acts of strangers; it’s now the acts of friends, partners, colleagues, or even family members of a different race.

So it makes sense that people could be racist in their romantic relationships as well.

Microaggressions are often unintentional slights that are made against a minority group. An example of a microaggression would be “kau dari mana?” or “you bangsa apa?” which are questions every Grab driver asks me.

I know they sound like innocent questions, and they may even come from a place of pure intentions, but they’re questions better not asked.

They assume that people who come from a particular place or ethnic line would look a certain way. Why is this such an issue? Because it invalidates the fact that ethnicity shouldn’t be generalised.

“My parents wouldn’t approve.”

I knew someone who liked my sister and whose family is on friendly terms with my family. But he was too scared to confess to his mother that he was crushing on a non-Chinese girl.

The reason? His mother wouldn’t approve.

It kinda shows that you can be friends with someone of another race, and still hold racist principles.

Why are you supporting your parents’ racism? I understand that they’re your parents, but shouldn’t you recognise toxic behaviour and not support it?

Colourism

There’s a trend towards liking fair skin in Asia – have you seen those bleaching beauty items (keyword: whitening) littered all over our pharmacies? What about brands like Fair and Lovely (the name itself squicks me out!)?

There’s this idea that fairer skin is prized and considered an indicator of beauty, the same way that thinness is an indicator of health (spoiler alert – it isn’t, but that’s a whole ‘nother article).

This idea does a lot of damage to dark-skinned people and it causes people to view them as inferior or less attractive.

I’ve actually personally seen how terrible this perspective is firsthand. One of my sisters is darker skinned, and I’ve seen how people treat her just because of that (and her curly hair).

My mother also used to buy her lots of whitening products when she was a kid too, something she didn’t do for the rest of us lighter skinned children.

“I don’t see colour.”

I know this is a surprise for some of you, but this is a form of racism. It’s one that sees one’s experiences as the default, when that’s not true across the board, especially when one is from a more privileged group. It makes you blind to your privileges.

This line of reasoning is often super flawed because you don’t take into account how someone being different in terms of ethnicity and colour could be different than you.

I know plenty of people who profess that they don’t see colour, yet they also hold certain racist beliefs. There’s a joke that goes “you know they’re at least unconsciously racist when they bring up non-existent skin colours.” You know, like “I don’t see colour – whether it’s black, white, brown, yellow, green, purple…” Um, okay, cringe.

“I’m not racist but…”

This really speaks for itself. If you need to clarify that with a “but”, you kinda are racist, buddy.

Unless of course, the riding statement is something really good like “I recognise that I’m a beneficiary of institutionalised racism, and I’m working to dismantle that.”

Plus, we all know that one person who starts to say something with that statement and it usually ends up being the most horrifically racist thing.

It’s particularly cringey when it’s followed by racist jokes. Like yeah, sorry, you actually think we’re in a position to make racist jokes when people are still awfully racist (rental racism is a disgustingly real thing, guys)?

It’s honestly pretty terrible how unconcerned the average Malaysian is about the racist acts they perpetrate. Racism seems to be commonplace and accepted, provided you clarify that you’re not actually racist.

But then again, it’s not like we have a quantitative way of determining that someone is racist. It’s not like “your score is 14%: congratulations, you’re only a mild racist – you enjoy racist jokes because according to you, they’re just jokes and really not a reflection on racial stereotypes and how they’re enforced through the social veneer of humour”.

It really is like that sometimes though.

For more stories on racism, read I’m a Chinese Girl Raised in a Traditional Chinese Family. Here’s My Story, and What’s It like Growing up Mixed-Race.

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