KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — I remember the first day I landed in this country, so excited. I was so happy to see so many different races and I thought to myself YES such diversity will blend me right in and I will never have to feel like an alien object.
I was even more excited to have a full Asiatic experience. I had only seen Chinese culture through kung fu flicks and Indian culture through Bollywood movies I watched as a child. I was getting a three-in-one cultural expose!
All this excitement came to a screeching halt the day I had my first experience with racism; the day I wept from not understanding what I did to deserve this hate; the day my tears were flooded with seething anger because I know I don’t deserve such hate.
That is the day I realised my stay here is not going to be easy.
I am not writing this to complain or get sympathy or pity. This is me telling the other side of the story; the other side of the coin that has never been told; only one that can be told by an African — a black woman — proud of my brown skin and kinky hair.
Writing this was sparked by a letter written by Ridzuan Condominium in Bandar Sri Subang following annual general meeting, ordering landlords who have African tenants to terminate their contracts because they are deemed a “nuisance” and their presence is “devaluing” the properties.
It is not only a highly uneducated view on property value, it is also illegal. This would not occur in an African country; no government there would allow a race to be banned from any condominium or any other living area, and there would be an international outcry.
In the case of Africans living in another country, it is the opposite.
Until this letter surfaced, I had love Malaysia: I always say I grew up here. This is where I spent the crucial years of my development, learning to be independent of my family and being responsible for myself.
That led me to want to stay here and make Malaysia my second home, all the negative experiences aside, because they taught me to be strong and persevere.
The letter from Ridzuan Condo reminded me of all the contempt when people looked at me; of the time I was asked if I was a prostitute because I am African; of all the stories I hear of Africans being arrested even with valid documents and no criminal activity; of people moving away from me, blocking their nose even though I smell
like roses; of that look of horror on a girl’s face when I tried to help her get to the cashier because she was carrying too much.
It reminded me every time I walked into a store, I would be followed to make sure I didn’t steal anything; of people locking their car doors when I pass by.
This letter brought me back to earth, because it seems I had become disillusioned with the reality that faced me. As far as most Malaysians are concerned, I am just another criminal from Africa.
I will always be defined as just African, despite the fact Africa is a continent of one billion people, 54 countries, with over 3,000 tribes who speak an estimated 2,000 languages.
This does not matter. The compression of culture and such diversity is the order of the day. I will be judged based on a handful of bad apples. It doesn’t matter who I am or what I stand for, I am after all just another nameless black face.
The statistics are there of criminal activities, there is no denying that. But the question here is: Are Africans accountable for all the crime in Malaysia?
The Malaysian media has played a vital role in painting the African populace with one brush. Their statistics, however, do not show how many students are graduating, how many Africans are victims of crime, and there are many, including myself.
The excuse often made is Malaysians are not well-travelled or exposed; all they know is the imagery, the stereotypes they see in the media. This is an excuse, a very weak one at that. Not only are there millions of homes connected to the Internet which provides vast amounts of information, there are thousands of Africans
Malaysians can talk to and learn something about Africa, the individual cultural values, norms and lives.
I get disgusted at the thought of bringing my mother here for my graduation knowing she might be subjected to racist slurs like ‘negro’, ‘nigger’ and ‘nigga’.
Even a happy day is overshadowed by this. The only thing on my mind should be the twinkle of pride in her eyes when I walk up the stage to get my degree.
Some Africans say they are ‘used’ to the racist treatment, but racism should never be accepted. It should never be tolerated and it should never be allowed to occur in any society.
I would have never known Malaysia existed if the university I attend had not come to am educational fair in my country. I would have never come if I have known I would be subjected to racial segregation. I find this extremely ironic in a country that claims racial harmony.
I am a person who deserves dignity and respect as much as anyone else.