You cannot be what you cannot see

I am currently reading this book that is edited by a friend, whose blurb is written by a friend, and which some of the essays are also written by friends. Can you imagine the pressure to be even half as good as them?!

The book is called Straits Eclectic:

…a collection of essays from young Malaysians who stare straight into the void and attempt to understand the divides that exist between us, whatever East and West Malaysian and the rest of the world, between East and West Malaysians, between Malays and Chinese and lndians and Dan Lain-Lain (and Others), between religion and culture, between past and present, between the person you were when you left and the person you had become by the time you returned.

As the descriptions go, the book is chock-full of experiences of being Malaysians from various walks of life and they all are very very good.

However, it is apparent that the most of the writers come from middle class, privileged, English-speaking backgrounds. If there is Straits Eclectic 2, I would love to hear more stories from the underprivileged kids of Kuala Kedah (where I live) for instance — whose lives revolve around witnessing their parents sliding in and out of the house doing 2-3 jobs every day in order to make a living for their whole family, whose dreams do not go far beyond the 12-hours jobs (that is called ‘menial’, ‘unskilled’, ‘lowly’, much to my chagrin) that pay them as little as MYR5 (USD1) an hour, because that’s the only lives they think they could lead from seeing what their parents and their elder siblings do.

On The Daily Show with Trevor Noah guest Reshma Saujani, an Indian-American lawyer and politician, discussed the initiative to encourage young women and girls to pursue studies and careers the booming tech field, where they are falling behind. Something Reshma said during the show that remained with me was, “People cannot be what they cannot see.

This is why the words of our present Prime Minister, that “Malays are lazy” hurt all of us Malaysians, not just the Malays — and especially these kids — so much. Imagine choosing a leader who is supposed to help elevate us towards better lives, instead we are presented with ideas like this? He bought the myth of the colonials in his book The Malay Dilemma and peddled the idea throughout his over 22-year career. Instead of focusing on the deep-seated issues in the country’s political-economic structure — which is the lens that he and the current government should have focused on today — he continues to blame the citizens’ incompetency on culture and psychology. Sadly, his notion prevails until today and continues to be exploited by many political parties to advance their race-based agenda.

A lot of times I wanted to help these kids and feel helpless when I hear remarks like this making its rounds again and again. But I had to tell myself that I do not have to do something on a grand scale to help someone. I could teach them to read in English (which is something I have already been doing), or giving them the littlest nudge they need to realise their potential.

It reminds me of this wonderful thread on inclusion and opportunity by Mekka Okereke:

Or, if there is Straits Eclectic 2 (or any books of similar kind), I could talk to them and write about them. Give them voices. Amplify their experiences.

The littlest nudge I could give.

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