Posts Tagged ‘racial’

Kanye West’s Quixotic Quest

October 13, 2018

The man who once declared a president and a party had no use for black people is now a pawn in a game dedicated to marginalizing those same people.


Kanye West meets with Donald Trump in the Oval Office. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

It would not be a story if a famous black pop star today—or anyone else for that matter, really—said on camera that Donald Trump doesn’t care about black people. There’d be no controversy. Not only is it evident that the president doesn’t really care about a great number of people, it is eminently fair to ascertain from his policies and comments that the president does not spare thoughts for the interiority of black lives. Such a claim against him would neither be revelatory nor would it be especially damaging for his political prospects. Such is 2018.

What to make of, then, the now-infamous defection of Kanye West, a man at least partially famous because of his racial critique of a sitting president, to the umbrella of Donald Trump? After the two had lunch this week, and West delivered a bizarre monologue in support of Trump, much attention has been paid to the inner workings of West’s own mind. Questions of his mental health, of his magnetic alignment along the same poles of misogyny and narcissism as Trump, and his embrace of a hodgepodge of conservative-ish ideas have been the focus. But those analyses are mostly personal and quasi-psychological, often ignoring the currents of history that have propelled Trump and West to a lunch at the White House. Those currents can provide answers, both to how West arrived at this point, and to why he and the rest of the country have abandoned the black people most in need.


It took an unspeakable tragedy to shake America out of its doldrums. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina disintegrated the fabric of thousands of lives. It topped the Louisiana levees, and sent walls of water that turned flimsy homes into matchsticks. It sent toxic sludge into vulnerable neighborhoods, and sparked an exodus that has since reshaped the entire demography of the Gulf Coast. And the deadly aftermath of a slow-rolling crisis that saw almost 2,000 people dead revealed the faults in both local and national society. The faces of the dead, those subject to abuses under de facto martial law, and those who were underserved by the disaster response were most often black. And the faces of the law—the capital-L Law—the authorities that’d crammed people into substandard housing, that decried survivors as looters, and that dithered in providing aid, were most often not black.

Read: 10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans Is Far From Healed

It was not easy to talk about exactly what was going on, then. The language of institutional racism and environmental justice were well-developed, but most often relegated just to the margins of public debate; to courtesy appearances at conferences and weekend slots on commentary shows. If black academics and thinkers gained a measure of prominence, the thoughts of those on the margins—say, those born in the projects in New Orleans—were safely ignored in the mainstream. In the eyes of media, decades of a racial Pax Americana had yet to come to a close. Conversations about race were tolerated, so long as they never became more than that.

Then an unlikely provocateur helped upset the balance. At an NBC telethon and benefit concert for Katrina relief on September 2, 2005, a young hip-hop artist, then just two days after the release of his successful sophomore album, stood with actor Mike Myers to make his direct-to-camera appeal. Standing awkwardly, with hands in the pockets of pastel chinos, the man immediately—at least according to Myers’s reaction—went off-script. “I hate the way they portray us in the media,” he began. “If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, they’re looking for food.” He rambled, he stuttered, clearly overwhelmed in the moment and trying to complete some appeal to an audience, while also publicly working out his own response and responsibility. “Those are my people down there, so anybody out there that wants to do anything to help … with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible,” he continued, still trying to complete the thought. Myers attempted to get back on script, going back to his appeal. But then he was interrupted.

“George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” Kanye West told America.

Read: Bush: Kanye Comment a ‘Disgusting’ Moment as President

Time has moved on. America’s first black president was then still in his first year in the U.S. Senate. Ads for the season premiere of the fourth season of Donald Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice, flanked the telethon. Indiana Congressman Mike Pence had just begun his climb to prominence in the House. Congressional cafeterias still served Freedom Fries. Twitter did not exist, Myspace had yet to reach its peak traffic, Facebook was a year-old website that was restricted to college students, and West’s mammoth single Gold Digger, was still on its ascent through American music charts, where it would soon cement him as a crossover star. Polos with sleeves were in. Telethons were still a thing.

The moment seems ever more distant because of what’s become of the artist. This week, West continued a media firestorm with his public support of Trump, as he went to Washington for a high-profile meeting with the president. The artist, who once rapped about conspiracy theories about Ronald Reagan creating crack to stop the Black Panthers, embraced the president, who once called for the death penalty to be brought back to New York to kill five black and Latino men falsely accused of rape. And when asked about the comments that thirteen years ago caused their own firestorm, West fully recanted.

Read: Kanye West’s White House Visit Was a Paean to Male Bonding

“I think we need to care about all people, and I believe that when I went on to NBC, I was very emotional,” West told reporters. “I was programmed to think from a victimized mentality, a welfare mentality.” In that moment, whatever atomic shifts that differentiated 2005 Kanye West from 2018 Kanye West became fleetingly clear enough to capture in words. His unfiltered, uncomfortable outburst had been the product of a “welfare mentality,” his own deficiency rather than that of a world of cruelties. But the person before him, a president who has called for police to brutalize suspects and has called the deaths of thousands of Puerto Rican citizens under his tenure a hoax, is not the enemy, West claims.

What happened between Bush and Trump? In 2005, the year Katrina hit, Gallup polls recorded the highest satisfaction with race relations among African Americans in recent times. Sixty-eight percent of black respondents said that relations between white people and black people were “very good” or “somewhat good.” The same poll showed 49 percent of black respondents felt the same in 2016.

It’s clear that racial divisions in perspective about Hurricane Katrina were major contributors, both to the national outlook and to views of Bush and of the two parties. A Pew Research Center poll from September 2005 found that 71 percent of black people saw in the disaster proof that racism was still a major problem in the country. The opposite was true of white people, where 56 percent of respondents believed the existence of racism was not an important factor. The majority of black people in Gallup polls from that year indicated that the federal response was slow because of the race of the victims, and only a third of black respondents rated Bush’s response in particular as “good” or “very good.”

Given those data, two things are true. The first is that West spoke not just from the outskirts of debate or the fringes of public opinion, but from within the beating heart of black political thought. He wasn’t particularly eloquent or visionary, but just outspoken enough to utter a frustration that was clearly commonly understood, but until then, still unspeakable in polite company. The second truth is that the sentiment behind his utterance was so passe because it revealed the shaky foundation on which the modern age has been built. If the president, a party, and a people could abandon black citizens to their deaths, and if invisible structures that tended to amplify those deaths still remained in place, could the ideas of bipartisanship or compromising democracy ever work?

To say Katrina was an awakening would perhaps be too hard of a sell for a voting bloc that had never had much love for Bush, but the tragic and public reminder of institutional racism and of what reasonably seemed like public antipathy toward black plights played no small part in shaping the country since then. As Melissa Harris-Perry and James Perry wrote in The Nation in 2009, “the Democratic Party found its voice in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” Bush’s failures, real and perceived, provided a platform for critique against the GOP, and also brought harder systemic racial critiques closer to the orbit of mainstream politics. Those failures also awoke some legacy organizing arms in black communities that had become complacent or rudderless. These were all factors in the election of Obama in 2008, an election that excited West.

Of course, much of the political reorganization in America since Obama’s first election has been a backlash to the very black electoral muscle that got him elected, to Obama’s own connection with the black community, and to the rise of powerful black activist structures such as Black Lives Matter. Trump’s ascension marked the completion of a 50-year process of forging a modern GOP into a party of white men, one dedicated to diminishing welfare, cutting the safety net, and rolling back the Voting Rights Act..

It’s actually seemed at times that the modern GOP has been built explicitly on a foundation of proving the spirit of West’s notorious quote right. As the GOP has abandoned its ambitions of being a multiracial big-tent party, it’s settled mostly for concern-trolling and antagonizing black citizens, instead of making even token efforts to court their votes. Despite polling data showing overwhelming evidence of black fear about voting-rights violations and voter purges, Republicans have made complicating elections, purging voters, and implementing additional obstacles to the ballot a core part of their policy platform. Despite evidence showing black respondents care deeply about police reform, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have laid the groundwork for labeling activism in favor of reform dangerous, and have marked black community leaders who rally against police brutality “black identity extremists.” Last year, as white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, the president could not be moved to quickly and unequivocally denounce hood-wearing Klansmen and neo-Nazis without also blaming people “on both sides.”

As the GOP as a whole has followed Trump’s concern-trolling, dogwhistling strategy of stoking white anger and black pain, a predictable dynamic in the wider discourse has emerged. Anti-blackness has become more and more acceptable within the bounds of standard conservative debate, rhetoric, and policy. America’s innately center-locating system of public discourse thus makes reflexive denunciation of racism among and on behalf of black people more and more unacceptable in debate. The window moves and the center moves, to the point where it’s no longer even remotely damaging to credibly charge, or even for large swathes of the country to believe, that the president harbors ill will toward certain races of people.

More so than any other single thing, West’s lodestar has been a contrarian sort of controversy. Once, that guiding light aligned with what appear to be a genuine concern for black wellbeing, and controversy could be sought and found in pointing out the ways that white policies failed black people. Now politics have changed. Contrarianism dictates now that the political preferences and concerns of ironclad majorities in black communities are to be ignored.

West’s performance in the White House and his rambling, disjointed, attention-seeking political consciousness are all too complicated to truly understand for sure. Perhaps the burden of foresight has corrupted the seer. Perhaps the venality and vanity West often agonized about in his music finally overwhelmed him. Perhaps two decades of his life have been conducted in a media crucible that can only produce warped and bent people. Perhaps he is in some way, less than well. Perhaps these are all true. But it is clear just how the country has changed in the past 13 years, and why West’s comments have been important bookends for an era. It was once difficult for a viewing public to accept an observation that the country had abandoned black communities. Now that’s just part of the plan. It’s a mundane observation. Kanye West does not do mundane.

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VANN R. NEWKIRK II is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers politics and policy.


The Democrats’ Racial Fault Line

June 26, 2018

Asian-Americans challenge party orthodoxy on race-based admissions.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at an 'emergency meeting' on the Specialized High School plan in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, June 6.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at an ’emergency meeting’ on the Specialized High School plan in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, June 6.PHOTO: PETER FOLEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL



“For years we tried to get rid of this darn test and we’re finally getting rid of this test!”

— Eric Adams, June 3, endorsing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s move to boost black and Latino admissions to elite New York City high schools, which are now determined solely by a rigorous entrance exam

“Based on the considerable feedback I have received from communities across our borough, I do not believe the legislation should advance in its current form.”

—Eric Adams, June 15, reversing himself

That sound you hear is the shattering of a cherished Democratic orthodoxy: race-based preferences in education.

Mr. Adams is an African-American who serves as Brooklyn’s borough president and aspires to run for mayor. On almost any issue, he lands where you would expect a big-city black Democrat to land. But when he cheered Mr. de Blasio’s bid to replace the Specialized High School Admissions Test with criteria meant to sneak in a racial rebalancing, he suddenly had a rebellion on his hands.

Asian-American moms and dads made their displeasure known. So after hastily convening a meeting with angry constituents (and, according to the New York Post, threats from Chinese-American donors), Mr. Adams announced that he wasn’t with the mayor after all.

Image result for Bill de Blasio, photos
Mayor Bill de Blasio

He’s not alone. Every elected Asian-American in New York City politics has now blasted Mr. de Blasio’s plans. At the City Council, Peter Koo and Margaret Chin are against it; in the state Assembly, Ron Kim and Yuh-Line Niou are opposed; and in Congress, Grace Meng —a graduate of Stuyvesant, one of the affected schools—says she’s “disappointed” by the mayor’s proposal and was particularly “insulted” by the way his schools chancellor framed the issue. What makes this drama so unusual is that every last one of these pols is a Democrat, part of a larger community that overwhelmingly votes Democratic.

Whites have traditionally been the losers from affirmative action. Proponents sometimes justify this as the price to be paid for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Whatever the merits of this argument, the Asian-American experience is hard to squeeze into the box of racial privilege.

In the 19th century, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first U.S. law to deny immigration and naturalization based on race. In the 20th century, during World War II, Japanese-American citizens were confined in internment camps. To this list the 21st century adds racial discrimination at our most elite universities, which, as they did with Jews a century ago, limit the number of Asian-Americans they admit.

National attention has centered on a lawsuit against Harvard and a parallel investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights into alleged discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions. But the uprising in New York may be more telling, because it signals new pressure on Democrats. The Asian community particularly resented the recent crack by the city’s new schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, that no “one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.”

Wai Wah Chin, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, says the remark didn’t go unnoticed. “Though he didn’t say which ethnic group,” she says, “everyone knows what he meant.”

It’s no coincidence this is happening in New York, which boasts the largest Asian population of any American city. But it’s not just New York. Four years ago in California, Asian-Americans were instrumental in forcing the Democrat-run state Assembly to spike a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal a ban on affirmative action in the state’s higher-ed system.

Though the New York story has received perfunctory coverage in the mainstream media, the Asian-American press and social media are on fire. On WeChat , a messaging app popular among Chinese-speakers, there have been more than 2,000 posts on the subject. Even the New York Times has witnessed questioning of received dogma: Though it predictably found an Asian-American to write an op-ed defending Mr. de Blasio’s plans, many of the online comments generated by the piece inclined sharply in the other direction.

Probably this is because there is no way to hide who would bear the costs of Mr. de Blasio’s bid. As Ms. Chin points out, even if you are an Asian-American with little education, work as a manual laborer, and have no political connections, you understand that an objective exam represents opportunity and upward mobility. You also understand that if merit is replaced by softer (“holistic”) criteria designed to tilt the racial balance (e.g., Harvard has given Asian-American applicants lower “personality” ratings), it will be your children who pay the price. In other words, Democrats are now dealing with an Asian-American community that doesn’t buy the argument that racial justice requires discriminating against a racial minority.

“For us the test has always symbolized fairness and the American way,” says Ms. Chin. “And we’re not going to let politicians take it away so easily.”

Just ask Eric Adams.

Write to

Appeared in the June 26, 2018, print edition.

Netflix’s top spokesman fired over use of racial term ( N-word)

June 23, 2018

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says he fired the company’s top spokesman over use of the N-word.

The spokesman, Jonathan Friedland, confirmed in tweets that he was leaving the company, saying he was insensitive in speaking with his team about words that offend in comedy.

In this Aug. 2, 2017 file photo, Netflix Executive Communications Director Jonathan Friedland poses for photo during a red carpet event in Mexico City. (AP/Marco Ugarte, File)

In a memo to employees, published by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and confirmed by Netflix, Hastings says Friedland used the word twice — first in a meeting of public relations staff several months ago about sensitive words. Hastings wrote that several people told Friedland how inappropriate and hurtful his use of the word was.

Hastings says Friedland, who is white, later repeated the word with human resources staff trying to address the original incident. Hastings wrote the second incident “confirmed a deep lack of understanding.”


London: Lead Surgeon Says Hospital Like Afghan War Zone, Two More Killed Overnight

April 5, 2018

Hospitals in Mayor Sadiq Khan’s London resemble those in a war zone, a senior surgeon working to save victims of the capital’s surging violent crime wave has said.

The shock comments made Thursday morning come after two more men were killed overnight, a couple of days after another night of violence saw a boy, 16, stabbed to death and a 17-year-old girl shot in a “drive by”.

Wednesday night’s killings, both in Hackney, East London, brought the death toll from suspected murder in the capital to 50 so far this year, pulling away from New York City, which London overtook at the weekend.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, the lead surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust in East London, said that knife and gun wounds had moved from a “niche” part of his job to a daily chunk of his workload, and a growing number of victims were “children”.

“Some of my military colleagues have described their practice here as similar to being at [Camp] Bastion,” Dr Griffiths told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

“We used to look after people in their twenties. Now people are often in their mid to late teens and children in school uniforms are being admitted under our care with knife and gun wounds.”

View image on Twitter

Metropolitan Police


Detectives are continuing to appeal for witnesses and information following the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Amaan Shakoor [pictured] in – anyone with information should call the incident room on 020 8345 1570 

He added: “Whereas a young boy being stabbed five or six years ago would have been a horror story, now it’s normal.

“People expect to see people being killed on a daily basis. Members of the public who are not involved in gangs or violence let this pass without comment and you get the society you deserve if you ignore violence.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Khan responded to the crisis by blaming “Tory” cuts to the police, and claiming the crime was affecting other areas of the UK, too.

Meanwhile, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has demanded that social media firms censor online content in response to the crime wave, claiming that deleting videos will help save lives.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Gangs often post videos online that seek to incite violence or glamorise criminality to influence young people.

“The instant nature of social media also means that plans develop rapidly and disputes can escalate very quickly.”

Trump condemns ‘horrible’ anti-Semitism — “We have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said.

February 21, 2017

BBC News

US President Donald Trump (R) gives the thumb-up while visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington

US President Donald Trump with his nominee to be the Secretary of Housing and Human Development (HUD) Dr. Ben Carson, his wife Lacena “Candy” Carson and others toured the African-American museum in Washington, DC on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.  Photo credit REUTERS

US President Donald Trump has condemned dozens of violent threats made against US Jewish community centres in the past few weeks.

“We have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” he said while visiting an African-American museum in Washington.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centres are horrible and painful”, he said.

The FBI opened an investigation on Monday following more threats.

“I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop,” Mr Trump said in an interview with NBC earlier on Tuesday.

Last week, 27 Jewish community centres in at least 17 US states reported receiving hoax bomb threats. On Monday 11 more were made across the country.

No bombs were found at any locations, and normal services resumed following building evacuations.


Malaysia: Government of Race Based Parties Spells Trouble Ahead

October 1, 2015

By Shannon Teoh
Malaysia Correspondent
Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR • The “red shirt” rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur not so much intensified already fractious race relations in Malaysia as brought to light the insecurities felt by the many Malaysians who identify  themselves ethnically, whether they be the majority Malays or minority Chinese and Indians.

Indeed, it was these insecurities that allowed the embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak – embroiled in a financial scandal concerning huge sums of money that flowed into his personal bank accounts – to play the race card, by consorting with the red shirt rally organisers, to gain a lifeline out of his troubles.

The tens of thousands of Malays at Sept 16’s United Citizens’ Gathering – mostly wearing Malay Dignity Gathering red T-shirts instead – had gathered in Kuala Lumpur to galvanise Malays against a supposed plot by the Chinese to usurp Malay political power.

Malaysians gathering for the “red shirt” rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur on Sept 16 to galvanise Malays against a supposed plot by the Chinese to usurp Malay political power. PHOTO: REUTERS

The narrative of the red shirt rally organisers goes that the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) – a largely Chinese outfit – was using a rally last month in the capital, organised by electoral reforms group Bersih, to force the resignation of Datuk Seri Najib.

The proof, they say, was in the majority Chinese turnout at the Bersih rally, never mind that any realistic replacement of the Premier before a general election would have to be made by Umno, the largest party in Parliament. It is part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that also includes Chinese-based party Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Indian-based Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

In speeches by rally leaders, the banners displayed and racial slurs uttered by participants, such as “Chinese pigs”, the red shirts’ message was that Malay supremacy should not be challenged.

“There are those that ridicule Islam as Malaysia’s religion. We don’t want Malays to be under people’s feet but we want Malays to remain as masters of this land,” said Mr Jamaludin Yusuf, president of welfare group Pekida, which is better known for its links to often violent individuals acting in the interest of Malay rights.

Weighing in with his own race-loaded comments was Mr Najib who, at an event two days after the red shirt rally, said: “The Malays have rights too… and we can rise up when our leaders are insulted, condemned and embarrassed.”

Governed by race-based parties that have been plying ethnocentric policies for decades, Malaysia simply cannot avoid the question of race, which must necessarily be read with the subtext “Ketuanan Melayu (Malay dominance or sovereignty)”.

Many Malays see themselves as the original community and “owners” of Malaysia, and only grudgingly admit indigenous tribes as co-claimants. But there is a clear economic gap between them and the Chinese who arrived under British rule beginning in the 19th century, a situation that has improved but persists until now, despite growing Malay political power.

Indeed, the argument for greater Malay political control was based on the idea that it was only through such an instrument that the economic imbalance could be corrected, leading to an increasing number of pro-Malay policies and agencies in government that are justified as part of the inalienable rights of Malays, making political discussion of these policies practically taboo.

At the centre of the racial discourse here is the politically sensitive issue of “rights”. The defence of Malay rights has gone on for nearly half a century, and yet “Malay rights” is still an amorphous idea, just like the ethnic-based rights of other groups.

To be fair, many Malaysians do not identify themselves along the various pillars of “rights” that some feel are inalienable to their race. But for those who do, they bristle when questioned, let alone challenged, on them.

For the Malays who identify themselves strongly as such, economic and religious privileges are sacred, despite none of these being enshrined constitutionally, as often claimed, most recently by key red shirt figure and Umno divisional chief Jamal Yunus, who said “my racism follows the Constitution”.

But the Federal Constitution does not mention “Malay rights”, and instead merely safeguards the special position of the Malays and indigenous peoples – the much-used term “Bumiputera (Princes of the Land)” to describe them is also not mentioned in the Constitution – while also taking into account the “legitimate interests” of other communities. This special treatment includes quotas for public sector jobs, scholarships, tertiary enrolment (introduced in a 1971 amendment) and business licences.

Many pro-Malay privileges were introduced only after the racial riots of May 13, 1969, an episode which still haunts the country today. Tun Abdul Razak Hussein – Mr Najib’s father – implemented the National Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971 to correct economic imbalances by redistributing national wealth via pro-Bumiputera regulations such as setting aside 30 per cent equity for public-listed firms as well as private ones operating in “strategic” sectors.

But even though it was to have ended in 1990, these policies – which in practice often leave out non-Malay Bumiputeras – have not only continued but expanded to other areas of life, such as discounts and quotas for housing, preferential treatment for lucrative government procurement deals and, according to the US State Department, other “opaque” preferences and practices within the administration.

The government has argued that these affirmative actions must continue because Bumiputeras are still not adequately empowered as the targeted 30 per cent equity in business has not been achieved. So pervasive is this protectionism that pro-Malay elements now refer to them as “rights” even when there are no laws or binding agreements outlining them as such.

Just as irrepressible is the growth of privileges associated to Islam, including state funding for the religion and even the restriction of other religious practices, leading many to argue that the “legitimate interests” of other communities have been invaded.

But other communities also hold fast to “rights”, not least that of vernacular education, a hot-button topic for the Chinese. MCA leaders, unable to restrain their Umno colleagues in the ruling coalition from endorsing the red shirt rally, took to lodging police reports against participants who called for the abolishment of Chinese schools.

Advocates insist on a universal right to “mother tongue” education in Mandarin despite most of the community not being able to claim the dialect as part of their ancestry, having adopted it only in recent decades. But as eminent law professor Shad Saleem Faruqi pointed out, there is no constitutional protection for vernacular education.

When caught out on the lack of constitutional basis, “rights” defenders tend to then cite an unwritten “social contract” between Malaysia’s founding fathers. But this is a difficult and often divisive concept, with each corner seemingly in possession of a different draft of the contract.

The good news, perhaps, is that contracts can be renegotiated for mutual benefit. The bad news is that nobody seems ready to do so.

A survey by independent polling company Merdeka Centre in 2012 found that just over a third of Malaysians believed that there was “sincere and friendly ethnic unity”, down from 54 per cent five years prior to it. Respondents also admitted to trusting other races less than before.

According to Merdeka Centre, such mistrust is most likely due to the intensified discourse in the media on race and religious politics as well as the impact of incidents that have taken place since 2008 which included arson attacks on places of worship, public debate over school textbooks and controversial statements by public personalities.

But perhaps the issue might be forced, once pockets start to hurt.

Corporate captains tend to steer clear of controversy but Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, boss of budget airline AirAsia, cautioned an economic forum last week that Malaysia’s positive business climate would unravel if the racial divide widens.

In response, International Trade and Investment Minister Mustapa Mohamed, who is also an Umno state chief, acknowledged that the corporate world was concerned over whether race relations can be “resolved once and for all” and called for stakeholders to “go back to the drawing board”.

There is no clearer drawing board than the Constitution. Pressing the reset button won’t be a simple task, but the alternative – negotiating increasingly bitter racial grudges – is becoming a negative, rather than simply a zero sum, game.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline ”Red shirt’ rally brings out Malaysians’ insecurities’.

Massacre at Chinese coal mine: Knife-wielding separatists blamed for attack in Xinjiang — China says 50 killed in ethnic, racial battle

October 1, 2015

September 18 attack at mine in Aksu, involving mostly Han Chinese victims, revealed as leading official Yu Zhengsheng warns of ‘very serious situation’ facing the region


Malaysia: Police fire water cannon at pro-Najib protesters amid racial tensions at Kuala Lumpur rally — Chinese-run businesses under attack

September 16, 2015

Some 30,000 protesters take to the streets in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday afternoon, but many more are expected to gather for the climax of the rally this evening


Malaysian riot police on Wednesday fired water cannon on ethnic Malay protesters staging a pro-government rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur that has raised racial tensions in the multi-ethnic country.

Police briefly sprayed demonstrators who were chanting slogans denouncing Malaysia’s Chinese minority and demanding access to a tourist street lined with ethnic Chinese-run businesses, witnesses said.

At least several thousand members of the Muslim ethnic Malay majority marched through the heart of the capital to declare support for Prime Minister Najib Razak, a Malay who is facing calls to step down over a financial scandal.

Shadowed by heavy security, the demonstrators also claimed that long-held Malay dominance of the country was being challenged by the Chinese.

“Our Malay way of life is under threat. We want to support Malays, Najib, and tell the Chinese to keep their place,” said demonstrator Faisal Nur, 23.

Pro-government ethnic Malay hardliners wave flags and shout slogans during the rally in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP

He was among large numbers of people bussed in by rally organisers from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) from the party’s rural strongholds.

Many Kuala Lumpur businesses run by Chinese – who make up about a quarter of Malaysia’s population – were shuttered for the day out of fear of disturbances, including the area where water cannon was fired.

A heavy security presence involving hundreds of police and riot personnel were deployed throughout the capital.

Malaysia’s pro-government ‘red shirt’ protestors shout slogans as they march through Kuala Lumpur. Photo: EPA

The rally has been criticised as racially provocative by leading figures in both UMNO and the opposition.

Racial harmony remains a top national concern following deadly sectarian riots in 1969 that are still regularly cited as a cautionary tale.

The demonstration was staged in response to much larger street rallies last month that called for Najib’s resignation and deep reform of a government whose critics accuse it of repression, corruption and electoral chicanery to stay in power.

‘Red shirt’ protesters clash with the police in central Kuala Lumpur. Photo: EPA

On Wednesday, crowds composed overwhelmingly of young Malay men wearing UMNO’s red colours, many blaring on plastic vuvuzelas, marched through the heart of the city toward a planned rally site, paralysing normally bustling districts.

The demonstration, which seemed otherwise peaceful, was one of the clearest public displays yet of what many Malaysian moderates warn is a worrying trend toward racial and religious intolerance among Malays.

UMNO has controlled Malaysia for 58 years, granting economic and other advantages for Muslim Malays, saying they were needed to prevent their dominance by the sizeable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

Pro-government protesters confront riot police during a stand-off in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: EPA

But following a string of election setbacks for the government, party hardliners have increasingly catered to Malay voters by portraying the commercially dominant Chinese as a threat to the Malay privileges.

Najib, who was already under fire over huge sums of money missing from a state firm he launched, has been deeply tarnished by the revelation in July that Malaysian investigators had discovered nearly $700 million in deposits into his personal bank accounts.

His government has called them “political donations” from Middle Eastern sources but has refused to give details. The opposition has called it evidence of rampant UMNO money politics.

Najib subsequently sacked his attorney general and made other personnel moves that critics say have hampered criminal investigations into the funds.



British-backed Kenya Mau Mau memorial opens in rare colonial apology

September 12, 2015


Kenyans attend the unveiling of the memorial dedicated to the thousands killed, tortured and jailed in the Mau Mau rebellion, during a ceremony in Nairobi, on September 12, 2015. Credit AFP / by Peter Martell

NAIROBI (AFP) – A British-funded memorial to the thousands killed, tortured and jailed in the Mau Mau rebellion was unveiled in Kenya on Saturday, in a rare example of former rulers commemorating a colonial uprising.At least 10,000 people died in one of the British Empire’s bloodiest insurgencies — some historians say over double that — and the security operation to tackle the 1952-1960 struggle was marked by horrific abuses.

The guerrillas, mainly from the Kikuyu people, terrorised colonial communities with attacks from bases in remote forests, challenging white settlers for valuable land.

But while attention at the time focused on 32 murdered settlers, the number of Kenyans killed was far higher.

Thousands of Mau Mau veterans crowded into the memorial site, dancing and singing, as the ribbon was cut and it opened to the public.

“It is a special day,” said Gitu wa Kahengeri,

Mau Mau Veterans Association secretary general, adding they “truly believe in reconciliation for a better future.”

Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Christian Turner, said he was “humbled” to be at the ceremony.

“I hope that this memorial will allow us to acknowledge and discuss together the issues arising from a difficult period in the history of both Britain and Kenya, and that it offers us the opportunity to draw a line and move forward,” Turner said.

“This is the right thing to do for those of you who suffered, for Britain and Kenya, and our joint relationship,” he said. “To deal with the present and move forward into the future, we have to recognise and learn from the past.”

British and Kenyan flags fluttered over Nairobi’s Uhuru, or “Freedom”, park, with a crowd of several thousand Mau Mau veterans surrounding the memorial, many still with their trademark but greying dreadlocks.

Many of the Mau Mau veterans, well over 70 years old, were wearing T-shirts adorned with the slogan “heroes”. Turner was given a huge cheer, and many of the former fighters pressed forward to shake his hand.

Thousands suffered horrific torture including sexual mutilation, and tens of thousands more were detained in shockingly harsh detention camps.

“The memorial will serve as a symbol of reconciliation,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said.

– Britain’s ‘first apology’ for abuses –

Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) chief Makua Mutua said that “colonialism was a crime against humanity,” but said that the British apology was accepted.

“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice,” Mutua said, celebrating that now “perpetrator and victim, colonised and colonisers, can be together.”

Turner himself described how his step-grandfather had been Kenyan police chief during the colonial period, resigning in 1954 over the “colonial administration’s failure to address brutality committed by the security forces.”

The memorial features a statue of a dreadlocked Mau Mau fighter armed with a homemade rifle being handed food by a woman supporter. Although a joint project between Britain, the Mau Mau Veterans Association and the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the £90,000 ($138,000, 124,000 euros) bill was paid by London.

“This memorial is a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered,” reads the stone plaque on the memorial.

The commemorative statue follows a June 2013 decision by Britain to compensate more than 5,200 elderly Kenyans tortured and abused during the insurgency. The £19.9 million deal — separate from the cost of the memorial — followed a four-year legal battle.

Professor David Anderson, author of “Histories of the Hanged” — one of the first books to fully document the extreme abuses — said the memorial was “long overdue”.

“This gesture will do far more good than any money you give out,” said Anderson, professor of history at Britain’s University of Warwick.

“It is the first memorial of this kind to come out of this kind of adversarial process,” he said.

Lawyer Daniel Leader, from the London-based Leigh Day firm that represented the veterans in court, said the memorial was “historic” and represented “the first apology by the UK government for abuses”.

While the Mau Mau were ultimately defeated, their struggle was seen as a key step towards Kenya’s independence in 1964.

But the struggle also created bitter divisions within communities — as some of the worst atrocities were carried out between Kenyans loyal to colonial forces and the Mau Mau.

Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta — whose son Uhuru is president today — opposed the violence carried out by the Mau Mau, and the group remained outlawed until 2003.

by Peter Martell

Malaysia’s Weekend Protests Demanding Najib Razak Resign Show Political Fault Lines

August 31, 2015


Bersih Rally: Lower Malay turnout after PAS refused to mobilise backers; Umno set to demonise rally

Bersih’s ability to bring tens of thousands of people to commit to a 34-hour protest is a worrying development for Malaysia’s long-ruling Umno-led Barisan Nasional government, which is used to outlasting political opposition.

A source of comfort perhaps for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Umno party is the low turnout of the majority Malay community.

Mingguan Malaysia, the Sunday edition of Umno’s Utusan Malaysia newspaper, wasted no time in painting the rally as a success for the opposition Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), accusing it of exploiting the split in the Malay electorate. The newspaper called for sterner action to be taken in dealing with the organisers of what the government has called an illegal rally.

Opposition and Bersih leaders were quick to play down the lower Malay attendance, turning to rhetoric that all the supporters were “Malaysian”. The Malay turnout was estimated at less than a fifth of the total, compared with more than half in the three previous Bersih-led rallies.

A supporter of pro-democracy group ‘Bersih’ (Clean) leads a group of native people known as ‘orang asli’, as they march to Dataran Merdeka in Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur August 30, 2015.

“This is nothing racial, nothing communal. We cannot just show our care for votes. It must come from the heart to know each other better,” New Hope Movement (GHB) leader Hatta Ramli told a largely Chinese crowd who had resumed proceedings after a sleepover in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

The GHB is a splinter group from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), a key opposition party that has been at odds with its former partner DAP. PAS refused to mobilise its supporters for Bersih, robbing the rally of tens of thousands that the Islamic party had bussed in to take part in the three previous rallies.

“This highlights the fact that civil society demands are championed by political parties, so when one pulls out, it is very obvious,” think-tank Ideas chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan told The Straits Times.

Several analysts also pointed out that support from parties such as PAS, which has a well-oiled machinery, helps Malays, who are largely poorer than their Chinese countrymen and mostly live farther from the capital, to attend such events.

A pre-rally survey by respected pollster Merdeka Centre found that support for Bersih was only 23 per cent among Malays, 31 per cent in rural areas, and 28 per cent for those earning less than RM3,000 (S$1,010) a month.

“The survey reveals a peninsular Malaysia electorate that is polarised along ethnic and socio-economic lines,” the opinion research firm said.

Umno’s more strident pro-Malay leaders are likely to demonise the Bersih rally on racial grounds, following the cue of the ruling party’s mouthpiece yesterday.

“To discourage the Malays to join Bersih 4, one may just need to warn them, if Malays join in enthusiastically, then not only Najib Abdul Razak will go, Umno will lose power too, and the now politically assertive Chinese will dismantle the New Economic Policy and weaken Islam,” Bersih activist Wong Chin Huat wrote yesterday.

Some observers say it is likely that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who led Umno for 22 years, dropped by last Saturday and yesterday evening to try to take the steam out of such a narrative, as he continues his campaign to get Datuk Seri Najib to step down.

Dr Mahathir said he had met both Umno and PAS members, who told him “they would like to support me (turning up at Bersih) but their bosses said, ‘No, you must be loyal to party leadership’ “.

Mingguan Malaysia made clear mention of Dr Mahathir’s presence in its editorial yesterday, claiming that “feedback especially from Malays was one of discomfort and anger with his appearance”.

Managing editor of the Umno-controlled New Straits Times Abdul Jalil Hamid also wrote that it was ironic for “the country’s once most powerful man, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years with an iron fist”, to support street protests, having lambasted such tactics in a blog posting just last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi appears to have already taken heed of the newspapers’ narrative, telling Umno members yesterday morning not to support “a leader who comes to the rally for only six minutes”, referring to Dr Mahathir’s brief appearance at the rally, and also promised that action would be taken against Bersih leaders despite a peaceful assembly up till then.

But Mr Wan Saiful said the government should be worried about “a politically activated middle class” as they “have the ability to sustain the momentum for significant political changes”.