Opinion

The ugly truth

Tasneem

Tasneem teaches primary school English in a national school down south. She loves turtles, Bukowski and orchids.

MARCH 11 — Cici, a colleague of mine asked if there were any houses for rent in my area. She was looking to rent a house, preferably in an area nearby. I had moved into my current house — which I am sharing with two friends — a couple years ago. The house is situated in a quiet neighbourhood that is not too far from work for all three of us. The crime rate is pretty low thanks to the presence of a newly-built community police post nearby.  So far, it has been pretty good living there. 

My next door neighbour just moved out so I told Cici that she should give the real estate agent a call. She was interested in the house since the single-storey terrace house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms was perfect for her small family of three. She was also excited about the prospects of not having to worry about her son falling down the stairs like she does now, living in a double-storey terrace house. Her son is just learning how to walk so he is always trying to climb the stairs to explore. 

I told her it would be nice if we were to be neighbours. I am an avid baker and would bring my cakes/cookies to work sometimes. She always jokes that we should be neighbours so she would be the first to sample them. 

Cici is also an English teacher and has more teaching experience than I do, so we would often trade teaching and learning tips. She has always been very supportive of me at work and “keeps it real.” I enjoy her friendship because of that. It is a trait that I appreciate because just like other people, I too can be oblivious to my own faults. I also know her husband who is a pastor at a local church and I have been to their home many times. 

I gave her the number advertised on the notice board hanging from the gate of the house. She promised she would give the agent a call. 

I bumped into Cici at work one day 

“Did you get the house?” I asked. Her face fell and I knew something was wrong. “You tak call?” 

“I did,” she said. 

“What’s the problem? Was the rent too high? We are paying RM500. You should have asked around the same amount,” I told her. 

She sighed. 

“It’s not the rent. I called. The agent was really nice. We talked and she said we could get the house since nobody had asked about it.” 

“So when are you moving in?” I asked. 

“We are not. The agent called back and she was really upset. She said the landlord wouldn’t rent the house out to us,” she said. 

I was puzzled for a second. I didn’t understand what was going on. They could afford the rental. I knew Cici and her husband. Both of them were people of good character. I didn’t think they would trash the house or run away in the middle of the night without paying the rent if that was what the owner was worried about. 

“Does the agent need someone to vouch for you? I can do that. I can call her for you,” I said. Cici gave me a sad smile and said, “No, it’s okay. You can’t help me. The Chinese owner refused to rent it to us because we are Indians.” 

My jaw literally dropped. I couldn’t believe what she just said. She shrugged her shoulders and told me I would have to bring my cakes to school like usual because we wouldn’t be neighbours after all. I gave her a hug and told her how bad I felt about it and that she should complain. 

“Complain to who? Never mind lah. I dah biasa. I’ll look for another place. Thanks for your help,” she said. 

It saddens me that in this day and age, such practices still exist. I told Cici she should fight it, complain, tell whoever would listen but she refused. She said her husband wouldn’t agree to it anyway. They were used to being discriminated against. Complaining wouldn’t change anything. 

This is the ugly truth. I know these things happen and that makes me mad. Yes, there have been cases where tenants trash their rented houses for whatever reason before running off in the middle of the night without paying rent, but why blame only a certain race for it? I’ve heard of horror stories involving bad tenants and landlords and they are of all races. 

Painting everyone of the same race with the same brush is unfair because the entire race shouldn’t be blamed for the mistakes of a few. People are people. If a person decides to be rude and disrespectful to another, it is not fair to blame his race for his behaviour because there are so many factors that contribute to a person’s personality. 

To decide not to rent a house or hire someone due to the colour of their skin and language they speak is discriminatory. It is also just downright racist. Such things should be banned and those guilty of it should be slapped with a hefty fine.  I wish there is something we can do but with my friend refusing to take any further action, there is not much I can do about it except write and try to create a dialogue about this issue. 

We need to talk about this for the sake of our future generations. I am aware that my young pupils use racial slurs to hurt each other, something I know they probably picked up from the people around them. Yes, we can blame the parents for not teaching them properly and all that but really, as a society, all of us are equally guilty. They see, hear and watch these words being used in the media and so, think such things are acceptable. 

I feel that such practices are doing nothing but causing further disunity among us Malaysians. Despite the widespread racial unity campaigns, we all know that racial unity is something our country is still struggling with. It doesn’t help that there are certain groups that like to cause tension among the different races in Malaysia, hurling racial slurs as if they are so fashionable. 

What better time than the present to prove that we are better than that?

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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