Racial discrimination in Malaysia

From this Wall Street Journal article (full text here):

To give you a brief background, Malysia is 75% Malyasian and 25% ethnic Chinese, but the Chinese way outperform Malaysians at things such as making money and attending college, in much the way that whites outperform blacks in the United States, with the difference being that the Chinese are the minority in Malaysia.

This situation flies in the face one of the standard explanation for black underperformance in the United States, that discrimination against blacks by the majority prevents them from doing well. In Malaysia, there is legalized discrimination against the Chinese minority, but the Chinese just keep continuing to outperform the Malays.

To the extent that affirmative action is legitimately different than racial discrimination, it should be applied to a majority giving a helping hand to an underperforming minority. To my mind, when the majority discriminates against the minority, that’s just old fashioned racial discrimination like the kind we abolished in the Jim Crow South.

Of course this is interesting because while the majority is institutionally privileged, the minority continues to outperform it. This nicely unpacks two arguments for affirmative action, namely:

  1. We should help consistently underperforming groups at the expense of consistently high-achieving groups.

  2. We should help a discriminated-against minority at the expense of the privileged majority. (In this case, this is even clearer because there is no mistaking systemic discrimination against the Chinese)

So, I ask supporters of affirmative action, what do you think should be done here? Should Malay racial preferences continue, cease, or reverse, to make up for the decades of discrimination against minorities?

The history of blacks in America is tied to slavery. And any disucssion usually results in some sort of “mental disenfranchisement” of the American’s African American community.

The problem comaparing studies is you have to really use like against like. For instance, if you compare a glass ceiling between the sexes, of men who are childless it must be against women that childless. Because when you raise children it takes away from your career. Indeed the gap between earning in women w/o kids and men w/o kids is much smaller.

Certainly there has been legal discrimination against other minorities in the USA, such as Asians and the Chinese or Japanese exclusion acts, but they were never slaves.

In Catherine Reef’s book “Poverty In America,” (A great book btw) she points out the Southern Infrastructure was built not by slaves but by Irish immigrants. And the poorest of the poor in the south were the Irish. And it makes sense, factories and building railroads were very dangerous and it wasn’t uncommon to lose limbs. A healthy male slave could bring anywhere from $100 - $300. That’s a large sum and if he was injured he was a burden. If he was killed, he couldn’t reproduce and the slave trade was stopped… A “shanty trash, Irish immigrant,” could be had for a few cents a day and if he died so what? Baltimore and NYC were full of Irish immigrants.

But the Irish immigrant could say “Srew you,” and leave and go elsewhere, the slave could not. So even though the slave wasn’t the poorest of the poor and in reality had better conditions than these “shanty Irish,” they were “Mentally disenfranchised.”

Also remember the Malaysia solved most of it’s “Chinese problem” simply by kicking out Singapore, which is overwhelmingly Chinese. This way Malaysia still beneifted from the Singapore port and industry but didn’t have to deal with the problem nationally.

What is unclear is specifically why the Malaysians are not performing as well as the Chinese in the same environment. They (Malaysians) are not genetically inferior so it stands that there is some kind of suppression/oppression taking place by an external source that we are not being informed of.

This can’t be a mere coincidence.

For years in America similar untruths were perpetuated about blacks… until it became politically correct to acknowledge that there was a racist system actually contributing to this disparity.

So you are saying that they’re being oppressed, in their own country, in a political system that they dominate and explicitly skew in their favor? That’s some pretty amazing oppression you’ve got going there.

Don’t Asian Americans often out perform whites (like in school settings) in America? We don’t say that there’s any oppression going on, though.

I’m just saying that there’s got to be more to this than we presently know.

If not, then please give me one good solid reason why Chinese are outperforming other Asians in the same environment.

The most common explanation is that disparities between blacks and whites are the result of disadvantage via past discrimination, not current.

Probably the reason Jews typically do better even though they really are a minority.

As a culture, they have a better mindset/approach to life that pays off better. Not genetics for the most part, just a better attitude/workethic/approach to life.

Underperformance by blacks in the U.S. was the direct result of unequal access to education and employment opportunities. It still exists in the inner city schools where we have 5 children sharing a single book and only one can do their homework etc.

This was what I was implying could be occurring in the Malaysian situation that is not being honestly stated in the article.

We don’t have a Jew for President, now do we? :wink:

I suspect the reason for the difference is that in malaysia, the Malays are primarily living in the context of a traditional society in which the majority of them come from a peasant farming background. The ethnic Chinese on the other hand traditionally performed many of the roles of the middle class - they were the shopkeepers, assistants to Malay aristocrats and the like. In the modern world, the mind-set and culture of shopkeepers etc. makes for greater success than that of the peasant farmer.

I noted the same situation in Indonesia when I was there, decades ago now. An illustrative anecdote: at the tourist site of Borobodur, there were dozens of food stalls, all selling much the same (crappy) food for the same price. There was another place that was much superior in quality and cheaper - a sit-down place. I was talking with the owner (who spoke excellent English) and I asked why the other places were all more or less exactly the same. He said that it was, basically, because no-one dared to produce a better product or a cheaper - it was sure to lead to jealosy and bad feeling; all the food stand people were related or neighbours, where would they be if any were more successful than the others? No-one would like them any more. Moreover, there was no point to making lots of money, as one’s extended family would be sure to demand it. One could not of course slack off, because then one’s family would be annoyed - so the ideal was to do exactly as everyone else does.

I asked the fellow why his place was better and cheaper, and he laughed and said that he was part Chinese in background and so these rules don’t apply to him.

Now this makes sense!:smiley:

Yep, and there’s an old Buddhist saying that it is better to be in line with your peers as opposed to passing them or lagging behind them so as to deter envy. (<—I’m paraphrasing here)

Cite that they have unequal access to education and employment opportunities. Cite that it’s the fault of other people.


And when I’m done doing all your research for you, shall I read it to you as well?

He has a point, imack. You seem to be assuming that the very fact that a disparity exist proves that there’s some sort of oppression going on. Not necessarily the case.

How long will the reason of “because they were slaves 150 years ago” continue to hold water, though? The USA has made leaps and bounds in civil rights in the last 50 years, and I think that trend will only continue as we become more socially aware and integrated as a society.

Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But when in the social progression do we as a country say “OK, that worked for awhile (affirmitave action) but it is no longer necessary”?

There was a thing called Jim Crow. Have you have heard of it? The oldest public university in the US, the University of Georgia, didn’t start admitting blacks until 1961. For the math impaired, that’s only 48 years ago.

Gee, thanks, I was totally unaware of that little tidbit. So how long do we hold onto that as a reason for affirmative action? I’m not necessarily against it, but is there any governmental directive that dictates how long this should go on? What results should we expect to see before we can truly say we are all equal, since affirmative action by it’s very existence implies otherwise?

I think we can safely say that institutionalized racism was rampant against Blacks in the US until circa 1970. Since then, institutionalized racism was been mostly eliminated, even if racism on the personal level hasn’t. The idea that Blacks have been “free” in the US for 150 years is simply untrue.

Now, we can argue about what good policy is going forward, but let’s at least accept the fact of very recent institutionalized racism in this country. I’m a middle aged guy, not that old, and I can certainly remember those days very clearly.

Not very different from Thailand, ethnic chinese absolutely dominate the business and government areas.
I suppose a tighter networking structure among the Chinese community and a lingering feudal mindset of knowing your place and staying in it, plus budhist complacency indoctrination in most Thais may be the cause.

You can draw parallels between different societies, but still there are differences that can’t be glossed over to extrapolate situations as you did in the OP.