Acts of discrimination: Guilty as charged as always — Sevira Wirawan
JULY 11 — For our small eyes and pale yellow skin, we are often targeted by bullies. We often consider ourselves second-class citizens; in other words, the minorities — the ones who are victims of discrimination. We want to scream, “Hey! We’re Indonesian too, you know!” And you can already imagine the sneer; the mocking look in their eyes when they say, “Perhaps your eyes are not big enough to see how real Indonesians differ from you guys.”
Acts of discrimination have occurred everywhere throughout all the ages up to the present day. When I was younger, I went to a high school where the number of Indonesians and Chinese Indonesians were almost the same.
There was no clear distinction between the majority and the minority in the school because the students were very mixed. We all got along pretty well, and we were a step ahead in being open-minded about race and ethnicity.
Or at least that’s what we thought. Because despite all that, you cannot go one day without hearing jokes made about race and the size of an eyeball.
The jokes can be pretty funny at times, but sometimes they can hurt. Like once, my friend said, “Well, of course, you cannot answer the question, I don’t think the aperture of your eyes are wide enough to even see. Typical Chinese eyes.” The whole class laughed and my friend just smiled politely. I knew that behind that smile, he felt embarrassed; humiliated for a characteristic he was born with, something that he can’t change.
These events were still controllable and manageable because these happened in school where there were ground rules and supervision from teachers and the principal; but what about the real world? We live in a society with fewer control mechanisms and less safety, making our identity seem more vulnerable.
While it may look like we are easy targets for harassment, is it really true that we are the only subjects of such intimidation? What about our own judgments about Indonesians?
When I told my friend about my interest in an Indonesian guy, he would say, “What? You like Indonesian guys? Why? They are just a bunch of lazy jerks. Besides, you won’t be able to marry him. Chinese should be with Chinese and that’s how it should work.” Ha! Apparently, not everyone in the younger generation is so open-minded after all.
We quietly whispered behind their backs, calling them “Tiko” or “Huana”, exhibiting the exact same prejudice and generalisations they had meted out to us. We think of them as lazy people, who want to get rich without working; avoiding having to work or cooperate with them if possible. We, thinking that they would only want to trick us, and make use of us as Chinese, misinterpreted their friendliness and hospitality.
We always have this negative thought about them, which means we ignore the goodness of a human being. Rather than considering one’s personality, education and background, we choose to use race as an excuse to escape from solving this ongoing issue.
Over dinner, for instance, when I had a conversation with my dad about my new roommate, the first question he would ask was not her name, but her race, “Is she Chinese or Indonesian?” Can we really define a person just by their race?
Aren’t we doing the same thing that they did to us? Our prejudice may be silent or deep in our own thoughts, but we are guilty as charged. We commit the act of discrimination, and we are no different from them.
Often, we are overwhelmed with anger when we are labelled with the common stamp of how very arrogant and stingy we Chinese are, but has it ever occurred to us that this image has arisen because of what we ourselves have built?
Let’s look at this issue from another perspective. Some Chinese-Indonesian generations are still very conservative, to the extent that they have become “exclusives”; and by exclusives, I mean they only want to interact and stick with the same race.
They do not want to have anything to do with Indonesians. They avoid doing business with Indonesians, and only make way for their own generation and clan; in other words, creating barriers and concealing themselves from the world.
As an outsider, wouldn’t you think them arrogant Chinese, who only wanted to keep everything for themselves, feeding right into all the long-held stereotypes about the Chinese.
Maybe it’s the old story of the May 1998 crisis that helped build those grudges against them. When we hear or read stories about the 1998 chaos, it brings back old memories and old wounds.
A lot of Chinese-Indonesians are still overwhelmed with trauma, anger, and even agony when reminded about how their forefathers were raped, robbed, murdered, and how they fled to other countries. That’s the story that is built inside mine and maybe your head as well, but are we, the Chinese-Indonesians, the only victims of this bigotry?
There are a lot of Indonesians who died too, murdered in the massacre, some jumping from buildings to avoid being raped. But we choose to ignore this part of the story and emphasise the fact that we are the victims of the tragedy.
Yes, we are victims, but those Indonesians are victims, too. We refuse to accept the other side of the story, and we keep on holding to the part that we were the unfortunate scapegoats.
Perhaps we want to be the victims because it is easier to blame someone than to reflect upon ourselves. We cannot bring ourselves to be critical; for to be knowledgeable and understanding takes more effort. Pointing out each other’s flaws and weaknesses, fantasising on which race is superior to others, turning these racial differences into excuses rather than uniting us as multicultural citizens.
Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher, once said, “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” You have your own free will to do things with what you are born with.
Being born Chinese does not mean you are a second-class citizen; rather, you should stop feeling sorry for yourself and make use of everything that comes out of it. If you don’t want to be treated like a second-class citizen, then stop acting like one. — The Jakarta Post
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.