What Happened to Kisona Made It Abundantly Clear: We Must Unlearn Racism

Feature image credit: Jon Tyson @ Unsplash

Malaysian badminton player Kisona Selvaduray has reached heights most of us can only dream of. She bagged the gold medal at the 2019 SEA Games and was the bronze medalist at the 2013 Asian Youth Games. Not to mention the numerous open competitions she won over the years, including a gold medal at the Spanish International Challenge this year.

Let’s not even get started on her linguistic abilities. She speaks four languages: English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, and Tamil. Five languages if you count the Chinese dialect of Cantonese. Many Malaysians can barely speak two. 

Kisona is nothing short of impressive. 

But… some people don’t think so. A case-in-point is a certain Facebook user who posted pictures of Kisona on his Facebook page alongside the caption, “BAM kutip india (ke****) dlm estat mana la jd pmain utama MALAYSIA,” referring to Kisona with derogatory language.

This particular Facebook user happens to be the deputy chief of Bersatu’s Pasir Puteh division in Kelantan. Sorry, he was the deputy chief. He resigned from the position following the backlash to his racist slur. Kudos to him for taking responsibility for his actions.

His words leave an ugly taste in our mouths. We can point fingers at this person now, but honestly, I think the language he sprouted was just a symptom of a prevalent disease in Malaysia: racism.

Racism is a disease we all have a role in, no matter how small. Nobody gets to sit on a high horse. Very often, racist behaviours are unintentional. It is so ingrained in us that we don’t realise it.

While it is not our fault that we inherited the racism, it is our duty to identify the racism, call it out, and dispel it from society once and for all.

It is my hope that we, as Malaysians, strive to:

1) Unlearn the racism of our elders

Perhaps it’s the way they react to us dating someone outside our race. Maybe it’s the snide remarks they make about our neighbours with a different skin colour.

Maybe we didn’t know better when we were young. But as we grow older, we must become aware of the racism our elders unknowingly taught us, and unlearn those toxic ideas.

2) Reject derogatory slurs

We know the ones. I don’t feel like listing all the common slurs in Malaysia, so please listen to Nadini from Nadini Says as she list them instead:

The derogatory language by the Facebook user when referring to Kisona? Has. To. Go.

3) Listen when another tells us they feel racial discrimination

When someone tells us they feel discriminated against because of their race, we must give them the floor and listen. Perhaps we are directly responsible for their feeling that way, maybe not. Either way, we must create a safe space for talking about the hurt that racism caused.

Sometimes, we might accidentally say racist things. Maybe we don’t realise that it is hurtful. Only by listening do we learn, so that we can intentionally avoid saying those things again.

Picture credit: Thilipen Rave Kumar @ Pexels

Sharing a Jalur Gemilang means we must learn from each other. It’s the only way forward. The conversation just might be the only thing between now and complete calamity.

4) Talk about privilege

Sadly, privilege is often tied to race. Preeta Samarasan wrote an excellent essay about race in Malaysia, The Race Ladder, for Mekong Review.

Picture credit: Sudan Ouyang @ Unsplash

Only when we are aware of the privilege our race brought us can we be compassionate towards those who do not enjoy the same privilege.

I know that many of my fellow Malaysian Chinese get offended when we’re told that our race has privilege. “My grandparents and parents worked hard!” is a popular response.

Although that is no doubt true — we Chinese have worked very hard — we do not suffer certain setbacks that others suffer because of their skin colour. I worked hard for what I have today, but I know that my race gave me a leg-up by putting me in an environment where I had the opportunity to flourish. 

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I hate to think how Kisona might feel if she saw that Facebook post. Nevertheless, this is an excellent teaching moment for us Malaysians.

We must unlearn racism.


Chow Ping Lee is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Chow Ping Lee
Author: Chow Ping Lee

My guiding principle: The mediocrely courageous live a long, happy life.