Thank God we grow up. And if we’re lucky, we grow wiser. 

I hope I’m one of the lucky ones. 

When I was a child, I thought Malays were lazy. And stupid. And derivative. I thought they could not do mathematics and that they were incapable of producing great art, music, or literature. I also thought they were religious hypocrites – Muslims in name, but idle and untrustworthy gossips by nature. They were football mad, but when was the last time a Malaysian team even qualified for the World Cup? 

Have I mentioned that, in Malaysia, I am officially classified as Malay? Never mind that my father’s parents were Punjabi speakers who migrated to colonial Malaya from what is now Pakistan, and that my mother is Malaysian Chinese. 

How does this make me Malay? 

The Malaysian Federal Constitution defines a Malay as ‘a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, [and] conforms to Malay custom’ (Article 160). It also enshrines a ‘special position’ for Malays (Article 153). Successive post-Independence administrations have increasingly translated this as non-negotiable political, economic, and cultural supremacy at the expense of nearly 40 percent of the rest of the country’s population. This is but one of the many legacies of British colonialism that have disrupted and reshaped widespread understandings of race and religion in Malaysia and the public policies that define and regulate them. 

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