Friday, August 15, 2008

RACIAL SLURS AND HUMAN DIGNITY

Can anyone who really believes in a Creator negatively discriminate against His creations?

The following article is used with permission.

RACIAL SLURS AND HUMAN DIGNITY

by Chandra Muzaffar

Letter to the Editor

The Selangor Education Department is taking some action against a secondary school teacher who had used racial slurs and verbally abused some students from a particular ethnic community. She is being transferred to another school in the same district and would undergo counseling.

This is not a solution. If the intention is to reform and to reeducate her, she should not be allowed to teach for a period of time. She might continue to hurl racial invectives at some of her students since she would not have been rehabilitated yet. Besides, some of her students in her new school may regard her with suspicion and may even be antagonistic towards her. It would be better if she is given a desk job --- as an NGO, the Coalition of Indian Non-Governmental Organisations, has suggested --- while she is undergoing counseling. It there is no marked improvement in her attitude towards the community in question and towards other communities, she should be dismissed from the teaching profession. A person who is capable of uttering such derogatory terms --- as reported in an online newspaper --- is not fit to be a teacher.

Racial and ethnic prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions out of which emerge racial slurs abound in Malaysian society. Each and every Malaysian community is both a perpetrator and a victim of ethnic prejudices and stereotypes. These stereotypes condition inter-ethnic relations, often without its perpetuators being aware of their impact. When a community lacks political or economic clout, it becomes even more vulnerable to ethnic stereotyping.

Among the prejudices and stereotypes that are seldom highlighted in our society are those related to 'colour'. (The teacher in the incident had allegedly made disparaging remarks about the skin 'colour' of the community concerned) Almost all Malaysian communities harbour a negative perception of 'dark' skin pigmentation and a positive view of 'light' skin colour. The fact that such prejudiced notions of colour are openly expressed --- and seldom challenged --- suggests that there is very little awareness within Malaysian society of the malignant character of racially rooted attitudes.

This is why there has to be a concerted effort at all levels of society to convince Malaysians that racial prejudices and ethnic stereotypes are vicious and insidious and have no place in a civilized nation. The family and the school, like the media and the community, have important roles to play in combating these destructive attitudes. Religion can also be a major resource in fighting racist thinking since all religions cherish the dignity of all human beings, regardless of colour or creed.

The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) for instance once admonished one of his closest companions for uttering a racial slur against Bilal, the dark skinned Abyssinian slave whom the Prophet literally and figuratively raised above all others by bestowing upon him the honour of proclaiming the azan ( the call for prayer). In his farewell address, the Prophet warned against feelings of racial and ethnic superiority as he proclaimed the equality and dignity of all human beings.

It is this message of the equality and dignity of all one's students --- whatever their ethnic origin or religious affiliation --- that the Malaysian teacher should imbibe and absorb into her outlook.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar,

President,
International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
Malaysia.

9 August 2008.

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