LAST year, I was having a conversation with two other Malaysians living in Nottingham about our right as Common-wealth citizens to vote during the EU referendum, better known as the Brexit vote, in Britain.
The discussion got heated over whether or not, as “temporary” residents on student visas, we should care about what was happening.
One of them especially was adamant that British politics had nothing to do with us, although I hope I changed her mind by the end of the dinner.
I wasn’t so fussed by the fact that neither wanted to vote — it was a moot point anyway because none of us was registered to do so — but more the fact that they felt this was about “other people’s business.”
My argument was two-fold.
Firstly, we are often affected more than we think. In this case, while none of us has EU citizenship to worry about, I told them that the consequences from the result could affect us with regards to currency, economy (prices of groceries, for example) and education (funding, intake and employment are major issues) among other things.
Secondly, I believe that we shouldn’t only care about things that affect us directly, especially in the face of unfairness and injustice.
As citizens of the world, we have all benefited from the good fights of those who came before us.
I personally felt that by washing our hands of “other people’s business”, we are essentially saying that the only people who matter is us. That is the basis from which discrimination and injustice exist, and speaks to the privilege of the person holding that opinion.
Privilege isn’t always obvious, and doesn’t necessarily involve someone benefiting from a situation.
You don’t have to be filthy rich to have privilege; you just need to be able to walk away from many situations others can’t — discrimination because of what they were born with (skin tone, disability, sexuality) or poverty or systemic inequalities.
To be privileged is to have basically been lucky — and that is all the more reason to not only be aware of the difficulties in the world we live in, but to also do something about it.
In short, no matter what the circumstance, we must always take a stand; especially when we see injustice in the world.
This is not about taking an ideological stance; for me, it is about being a decent human being.
This is why I have been extremely heartened to see the way in which the world has been responding to the recent ban by US President Donald Trump on citizens of seven Muslim countries on the basis of their religion.
In Nottingham, where I live (and in many other cities in Britain), hundreds gathered at the local square to protest against the ban and call for British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was the first foreign leader to visit the current White House administration, to speak out more firmly against such discriminatory action.
I have also seen posters circulating on social media calling for a gathering in Kuala Lumpur to protest the executive order that Trump signed as well.
However, I have seen equally as many comments on various digital platforms of people suggesting that this is not a cause to support because we do not hail from the countries affected.
This is heartbreaking because it makes you wonder what it will take for some of us to realise that our lives don’t exist in silos.
I feel that it is one thing to be ignorant and unaware of the complexities of the issues, but it is another to just not care.
The fact is that I’ve only used examples from the global political situation over the past year — these injustices are being imposed in almost every corner of the world, and in our country as well.
In Malaysia, we have also seen a lot of people speak up for what they believe in.
Protests are not the only way that this has been happening, I know of people who have created petitions, written letters and emails to MPs, writing extended posts on their social networks, boycotts and going down as a group to work with marginalised groups.
It doesn’t matter really what action we take (or if we do all of the above), a good place to start would be to take a stand — and then we move forward from there to fight the good fight. We’ll all be better for it.
Niki is a PhD researcher in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at The University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with online via www.nikicheong.com/news