by TEOH SING FEI
Colouring may not be as simplistic as mobilising colouring tools on the paper’s surface, which is why not everyone is an artist; It is true, however, that the definition of art is philosophically debatable. But beyond all, it at least involves identifying the embedded characteristics of the colours prior to producing desirable effects with them – be they to show delight, anger, dizziness, sadness or something else emotionally eccentric.
Usually – in cautious terms – red, orange, yellow and/or white may be put together to generate an energetic or empowering effect; while purple, blue and/or black would appear en masse should the artist plan to promote melancholia, quietness or nostalgia within the artwork. Yet colouring is a creative moment with a capacity for eccentricity, alternatives and imagination; harmonious colours do not always stay within their respective safe neighbourhoods. Often artists would need to incorporate colours of different emotional categories to perfect an artistic expression; suddenly, cooperation between the colours becomes indispensable.
Despite the socially constructed ideas of certain colours – such as red being the sign of energy, or blue being the symbol of calmness – colours might carry with themselves different intentions and connotations. During Valentine’s Day, red depicts romantic urgency and sexual emancipation. Consider also the blue of American leftists: the revolutionary sentiments of the Women’s March signalled bravery, change and civilian power. As Smith (2017) in his Guardian article puts it well: “the first concerted message of grassroots opposition […]”
What could be observed from the everyday instances of colour is the falsehood of generalising a colour with a socialised idea. Meanwhile, to label humans with stereotypes is to commit the exact same falsehood.
Take the concepts of colouring and apply them to human beings: certainly, the reader could be baffled. Imagine a geopolitical entity within which reside four ethnicities of four different colours: green, red, purple and orange. Constituents of the same ethnicities are arrogant and comfortable within their own colour circles. Hence, a unity of them is virtually unachievable. However, making them love each other is not without a reason.
The colours speak. They have mutual language(s) despite the colour differences: almost all speak English and Malay. They also have linguistic similarities of social importance. They share portmanteaus, such as berkongsi that assimilates a Malay morpheme (ber-) into the Chinese lexical element (Gōng Sī). They share neologisms that include sot, walao, noob, kantoi, chun-chun, gow-gow and syok. They have linguistic particles that encompass lah, mah, meh, lorh. They use mutual profanity that includes sohai, bukima, cibai, babi. While many may overlook and/or despise the role of these shared linguistic elements, these similarities socially connect a colour to another.
The colours eat too: they have different types of food but each of them loves the food of another colour, despite the socio-political incompatibility. Red has roti canai and murukku amongst many others. Green has nasi lemak amongst many others. Purple has tea and char kuey teow amongst many others.
In spite of the cultural similarities within the colourful region, forging togetherness between these human colours of different ethnicities might not be simple. The ambition of human colour-mixing certainly takes more time, patience and effort than the artistic counterpart because human colours have inborn ethnic pride and prestige. Human colours are intrinsically influenced by structural forces of colonial history and archaic contestations.
Intolerance of differences does not happen only in the geopolitical entity as explored earlier. It is a global issue: as international conflicts since 1914 have been perpetuated by military powers and a decreasing recognition of the increasing significance of peace, demographic displacement as a consequence is virtually the most contentious humanitarian crisis in contemporary politics. This could be observed even within the self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’: The United States of America.
The American Dream – the utopian perception of the United States that comprises the soothing nightly atmosphere of New York and Los Angeles, California – might not be the same dream anymore. The three-word fantasy could be the current aspiration of some Americans: the unification of the Divided States of America might be the new American Dream. Hatred and fear became widespread in the region after the collective rise of global populism. Politicians – a.k.a. fearmongers – can easily win the hearts of civilians if they exploit the budding anger of the native populace against war-fleeing asylum seekers; what more if they rhetorically intensify these sentiments into frustrated nationalism. The Divided States of America – without its traditional trait of grassroots togetherness – sounds not that powerful and attractive, after all.
Moira Weigel, an author from Yale University, provides an accurate description of fearmongering in her 2016 Guardian: Long Read article vis-à-vis political correctness:
“It’s an old trick: the powerful encourage the less powerful to vent their rage against those who might have been their allies, and to delude themselves into thinking that they have been liberated. It costs the powerful nothing; it pays frightful dividends.”
In the wake of these global phenomena, the ambitious project of multiculturalism is clearly at war against an impediment that is formed by hatred, separation of families, violence, pain and agony; the majestic name of the impediment is the politics of fear. Nevertheless, eliminating that impediment is not entirely impossible. Consider the words of prominent Indian diplomat Shashi Tharoor from his TED speech in 2009; the following quote of Tharoor with reference to Indian nationalism serves well to postulate an ideal materialisation of nationalism for all nation-states upon the world map:
“In a diverse plural democracy like India you don’t really have to agree on everything all the time, so long as you agree on the ground rules of how you will disagree. The great success story of India – a country that so many learned scholars and journalists assumed would disintegrate, in the ’50s and ’60s – is that it managed to maintain consensus on how to survive without consensus.”
I will be adopting a personal tone in this sphere of expressions – say hello to the first person pronouns! As an Arts Foundation student with a particular focus on foundational political studies, I will share my perspectives on ethnic differences; these perspectives could be applied not only to my dear nation, but as well to an international context.
Chinese and Indians in Malaysia are stereotyped to be ‘good’ with mathematics; but not all Indians and Chinese count well, while some Malays could be mathematics professors and I had Malay teachers for Mathematics years ago. Social discourse stigmatises the Malays with the label of laziness; I nevertheless have Malay friends who work hard in achieving what they love. Indians may sometimes be presumed as a vigorous and fierce ethnicity; my Indian friends are however well-educated, ambitious and caring. Malays are often stereotyped with racism and xenophobia; but the contradictory fact that I actually have Malay friends means that we cannot overgeneralise about an entire ethnicity.
In conclusion: Malays, Indians, Chinese and all further races of Malaysia are essentially diverse within themselves. They respectively have within themselves a combination of criminals and entrepreneurs, school bullies and valedictorians, the poor and the rich, racists and activists, misogynists and feminists. Social behaviours and achievements, hence, do not differ by ethnicities; they differ by individuals.
Such de-construction of ethnic stereotypes has a purpose of telling Malaysians that each ethnicity has successful as well as delinquent members, and we must be humble and patriotic enough to admit that; most importantly, we need to embrace this de-construction as the fundamental of national unification. Upon recognising all these possibilities, it is a truism: Malaysia has no capacity for ethnic, racial or religious generalisation. Every single Malaysian has a different story to tell, and there is every reason that we should listen to the story as a Malaysian – not an Indian, a Malay, or a Chinese.
From presenting the cultural similarities amongst Malaysians while alluding to the politics of fear in the Global West, to de-constructing the stereotypes that stigmatised each Malaysian ethnicity, to suggesting a fresh idea that Malaysians should view each other through the vision of a Malaysian (instead of a particular sect), this essay could not conceal its ambition of suggesting an ideal form of Malaysian nationalism. With a helpful analogy of colouring, this piece of writing is a political vision of Malaysia: the author apologises to Fine Arts enthusiasts!
In the face of demographic globalisation, multiculturalism is not a choice, it is instead a necessity. Following is the unifying call of the prime minister in response to the North Korean intimidation:
“I want to call on all Malaysians, including the leaders of the government and the opposition, to unite in giving us full support towards all efforts that are ongoing to resolve this problem.”
The main issue of these words nonetheless is not the North Koreans; instead, it is Malaysian unity. Unification of humans is a miserable process exactly because the ambition requires identifying the embedded characteristics of the nation prior to producing desirable effects with its people. The natural bondage between humans should not be distracted by rhetorically constructed arrogance, hatred and fear. Malaysians can and will soon become satu. Malaysia Boleh! Malaysia Boleh! Malaysia Boleh!
Chow, E. and Latiff, R. (2017) ‘Malaysian PM Najib Calls for Unity Amid North Korea Row.’ Reuters. [Online] 10th March. Available from <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-malaysia-kim-idUSKBN16H0MY> [12th March 2017]
Smith, D. (2017) ‘Women’s March on Washington Overshadows Trump’s First Full Day in Office.’ The Guardian. [Online] 22nd January. Available from <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/21/donald-trump-first-24-hours-global-protests-dark-speech-healthcare> [25th February 2017]
Tharoor, S. (2009) ‘Why Nations Should Pursue Soft Power.’ TED.com. [Online] Available from <https://www.ted.com/talks/shashi_tharoor?language=en> [1st March 2017]
Weigel, M. (2016) ‘Political Correctness: How the Right Invented a Phantom Enemy.’ The Guardian. [Online] 30th November. Available from <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump> [15th January 2017]