Turning the Malay Disadvantage to Advantage


October 29, 2015

DR.Lim Teck GheeThere is no racial enemy standing in the way of Malay socio-economic mobility or success; no quick fix or silver bullet that money can buy. Culture, family structure, social psychology, value systems – all these interact to produce individuals and communities that are successful or need propping up. 

Turning Malay Disadvantage to Advantage– ook at Culture, Family, Social Psychology and Values

by Lim Teck Ghee

An article on “The Asian Advantage” [ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/opinion/sunday/the-asian-advantage.html ] by Nicholas Kristof, a New York Time columnist which recently analyzed why Asian Americans are so successful in America, earning more than other groups including whites as well as having higher levels of educational attainment, should set us thinking along the same lines as to what is happening in terms of the racial socio-economic divide in Malaysia.

The article drew on a recent book “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, which noted that Asian-American immigrants have started with one advantage: they are highly educated, more so even than the average American, and are disproportionately doctors, research scientists and other highly educated professionals.

And the success is not confined to just the highly educated. The kids of working-class Asian-Americans often also thrive, showing remarkable upward mobility. Lee and Min Zhou posit that positive stereotyping may be part of an explanation for the success of Asian-Americans in school. According to one of the book’s quotes ‘Oh, you’re Chinese and you’re good in math.’

This stereotyping is hard on Asian-American kids whose comparative advantage is not in science or math; and there is concern that there is too much focus on memorization, not enough on creativity. However, scholastic success may be the interaction of social stereotypes and self-confidence leading Lee and Zhou to argue that Asian-Americans sometimes ride on the opposite of “stereotype threat,” a “stereotype promise” that they will be smart and hard-working.

The Achievement ParadoxIn contrast, scholars have found that blacks sometimes suffer from “stereotype threat” – i.e. anxiety from negative stereotypes which impairs performance.

Explaining the Malay Disadvantage

It is difficult or contentious to compare findings of racial differences across countries in view of unique or distinctive national features. But some of the key points in that article are of relevance to us as we grapple with the subject of racial attainment and what has been made out to be the non-Malay advantage or Malay disadvantage. They are summarised with my own observations in italics.

  • Any difference in racial achievement or attainment is not driven by differences in intelligence. This is self evident. However it needs to be put into the forefront of any discussion on racial differences because of the belief that racial differences are somehow explained by hereditary or genetically determined factors such as intelligence. Thus we have had the flawed argument of Dr. Mahathir on the key role of genetic factors in explaining Malay backwardness and racial differences in his highly influential book, “The Malay Dilemma”.

  • There is a focus on education. Immigrant East Asians often try particularly hard to get into good school districts, or make other sacrifices for their children’s education, such as giving prime space in the home to kids to study. This explains why Chinese parents have fought tooth and nail to preserve their constitutional right to mother tongue education i.e. access to a schooling system seen as superior to the sekolah jenis kebangsaan. Many Malay parents also know the importance of good schooling: hence the fight for places in the MARA junior colleges which are available to a small proportion of students; and to avoid the SK secondary schools, most of which are seen as of lower standard.
  • Strong two-parent families are a factor, too. Divorce rates are much lower for many Asian-American communities than for Americans as a whole, and there is evidence that two-parent households are less likely to sink into poverty and also have better outcomes for boys in particular. This subject of marriage, divorce, single mothers – and more importantly, small families missed out in the article – as well as other cultural factors, cries out for discussion and analysis in trying to understand the dynamics of educational attainment, socio-economic mobility, poverty and other related subjects in Malaysia. That it continues to be neglected or ignored means that wrong or muddled policies and ineffective outcomes will be the norm; and solutions to bridging the racial socio-economic gap will evade us.

The article ends with an important observation.”Disadvantage and marginalization are complex, often deeply rooted in social structures and unconscious biases, sometimes compounded by hopelessness and self-destructive behaviors….”

One would have expected that 45 years of what is arguably the most wide-ranging, expensive and long lasting racial affirmative program the modern world has seen in the way of the NEP and follow up pro-Malay social and economic actions should have led to more positive and sustainable outcomes for the larger Malay community.

Admittedly the NEP has had tremendous success as seen in the wealth and educational achievements of the Malay elite and middle class. But why so many Malays remain disadvantaged appears to have mystified countless Malay economic congresses and high level meetings. Clearly they have been looking for the solutions in the wrong places.

There is no racial enemy standing in the way of Malay socio-economic mobility or success just as there is no quick fix or silver bullet that money can buy. An ideology of Malay entitlement, preference and handouts is politically and morally unsustainable or justifiable especially since access to the benefits will continue to be usurped or monopolized by those who are already advantaged or privileged.

Culture, family structure, social psychology, value systems – all these interact to produce individuals and communities that are successful or need propping up. Until the government, its think tanks and the Malay intelligentsia place these as the centerpiece of public policy, they will continue to run around in circles ineffectually and fruitlessly looking for the answer to ending Malay disadvantage.

11 thoughts on “Turning the Malay Disadvantage to Advantage

  1. Also maybe it is a deliberate attempt by the malay elites to keep their kind dumb and dumber, forever dependent on handouts and constantly warned of the Nons Sword-of-Damocles hanging over their heads. Folks like that are easy to rule and can always be counted on to vote the right way.

    Why do you think the deepest pockets of poverty are in the malay heartland? Schemes to help them are often heavily hijacked financially and whatever bits that trickle down are enough to just keep heads above the water and to give a semblance of caring for them.

    The enemy is not without. Its in the selimut that the malay hugs on cold nights.

  2. Quote:- “…looking for the answer to ending Malay disadvantage”

    “Malay disadvantage”?

    What “disadvantage”?

    Genetic disadvantage? Everybody said No, unless they were being politically correct.

    Special Positions, Privileges, Rights in education and civil service jobs? Overflowing.

    Nutritional disadvantage that impedes mental development? Hardly any Malay is a vegetarian, unlike Hindus.

    So, what “disadvantage”?

  3. The so-called ‘disadvantage’ is an imaginary one cultivated over the years, by the self-proclaimed champions in UMNO for the Bumiputra underdogs who are supposedly under siege and being robbed by the ‘Pendatang’ who are greedy, undeserving and ungrateful. This is a complete nonsense and a ploy to justify continuation of the inept, discriminatory, arrogant and wealthy leadership in UMNO. The shameful part is, they fool many by carrying it out in the name of Malay Nationalism and Islam. The country as a whole suffers as a consequence.

  4. Dilemma Melayu 2.0 …. to NEP or to not NEP? 😯

    The political elites who favor the abolishment of NEP are the ones most willing to be rid of kleptocracy. Yet the ones who say don’t rock the boats are the ones who are stealing the most from the boat. Poor rural Malays who has the most voting rights are the one who have the most to gain from a NEP implementated correctly. Yet, the same poor rural Malays are the ones who have lost out the most in our distorted NEP system.

    To fight for Ketuanan Melayu is the most loving selfless act to do for a Malay in a growing imperialistic China. Yet, to support Ketuanan Melayu is also the most silly thing to continue the rule of corrupt elites, perpetuating a system of unhealthy feudalism.

    Adui… is there no more place for today’s Melayu? Takkan Melayu Hilang di dunia? Dilemma 2.0.😧

    This pendatang katasayang does feel for the poor Melayus. You are doomed. We are doomed.

  5. Keep the The Malay Heartland dependent on UMNO-Theory? Aren’t these voters residing in the vast stretch of Kelantan, and some parts of Trengganu? And Kedah with the so-called “kawasan bendang”? The record says that these highly dense Malay areas have generally been returning the Malay opposition party (PAS) for a considerable period of time since independent. These are the neglected Malays? Why is Kelantan the last state to get a full-fledged university in spite of the large Malay population compared to say Melaka? What is holding up the completion of East Coast Highway running into Kelantan? If UMNO is really fighting for the Malays welfare and development these are areas that they should give priorities.

  6. These kinds of argument is not going the Malays give up their handicaps and addiction. Even logic that their excuses of genetics, hereditary and even culture is ULTIMATELY FUTILE is not going to make them change. Like it or not, it will take cold hard reality, actua REAL LOSSES perhaps even multiple times necessary to make them change.

    The issue is how much and how often the real losses that must happen to make them change. The Malays are not ignorant, their colonial master and immigrants left a legacy that connected them to the world they cannot walk away from even if they drive all the Chinese and liberal Muslims away from this land..Ultimately they can’t ignore the truth which they are already connected to. The faster these losses they have to pay comes, the less it will be, the longer they delay the losses they have to pay, the bigger it will be..

  7. Studies have shown that the success rate in business is quite low.Only about about 15% of businesses survive at the end of the 5years period.Being new in the business world,it will take quite sometimes and alot of capital injection to create sufficient successful Bumiputras in Malaysia especially at SME levels.The Government wasted alot of money and time by helping the “know who”types of Malay businessmen than helping the more capable ones.On top of that they tried foolishly tried to create super rich businessmen that didnt help the Malays as a group very much.Finally corruption and poor selection of administrators to oversee the various programmes make the success so far in the business field to be quite mediocre.However the Government has been more successful in creating more Malay professionals over the last 40years which hopefully will have a multiplier effects in creating a more wealthy Bumiputras in the future.

  8. /// Abdul Jalil October 30, 2015 at 7:16 pm
    Finally corruption and poor selection of administrators to oversee the various programmes make the success so far in the business field to be quite mediocre.///

    Absolutely. However, the poor selection of administrators is also linked to your next point – more Malay professionals are produced because standards have been lowered.

    /// However the Government has been more successful in creating more Malay professionals over the last 40years which hopefully will have a multiplier effects in creating a more wealthy Bumiputras in the future. ///

    This “success” is largely due to the lowering of entry requirements and standards. And the sidelining of better candidates from non-Bumis. There are more Malay professionals simply because better qualified non-Bumis are either not admitted or have to employ their talent outside Malaysia. It is as good as saying Proton is successful because all foreign makes are subject to exorbitant taxes.

  9. The
    I remembered of my student days in Australia in the 70’s.Most of my Non-bumis friends were not that much better than the Bumi students that were there unless you also assumed that the Australian Government also practiced some form of racial preference for the the Bumi students studying there..Indeed some of my Non-bumi friends failed to obtain any degree despite studying there for 7-8years.Even some of them who later became successful professionals back in Malaysia were struggling to obtain their degrees and took extra years to finally graduated .

  10. 1. I am amazed at this psycho-social analysis and nitpicking argumentation.
    2. On the whole, the Malays have done well over the last almost six decades. All racial groups naturally need some form of help at the beginning, the Malays from the Government, others from other sources.
    3. All racial groups cannot remain toddlers for more than a few years. At some appropriate point, they must stand on their own. The apron strings must break loose. Otherwise they will be forever disadvantaged. Although I am Malay, I am arguing for the ending so-called Malay special privileges. They must appropriately change their philosophical outlook and work harder.
    4. Basically, all human beings are the same. We are all children of Nature. Nature is our mother and teacher. We are all free in a lawful Universe. We are free to administer and change the Universe. That is our given mission that we have freely accepted since coming into the world. We have to work hard to fulfill that freely accepted mission.

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