He has been studying in Malaysia for the past two years and his experience in dealing with the Malaysian public has not been a pleasant one – he gets “dirty looks, open stares and even outright rudeness” whenever he goes out.
All this, he believes, is because of the way he “looks”. Though born naturally dark, he never expected his skin colour to become his enemy. But, obviously it has.
According to him, the fate he suffers at the hands of Malaysians includes no one wanting to “take the seat next to him” in a train, getting “startled looks” when he walks into a shop and not being served immediately by sales assistants.
I felt really sad when I read his words. I felt even more deeply for him when he related that during an internship with a company here, fellow interns from Holland and Japan received a much warmer welcome than him.
He felt “stigmatised” and treated like an “outcast” merely on account of his dark complexion.
The boy is hurt. And he also points out that most of his fellow African students just “cannot wait to finish their studies and go back home”.
Reading his letter made me wonder – we Malaysians aren’t always warm and friendly, are we?
Here is a foreign student who has chosen to study in Malaysia.
He has come a long way from home to pursue his academic dreams.
While he may have been prepared for a whole host of cultural differences, he most certainly would not have thought that his skin colour would separate him from the rest. After all, we do have dark-skinned people here, don’t we?
I guess this is the downside of being the odd man out. As a student, you can go anywhere to study but wherever you go, you may experience both sides of the coin. While you may receive kind hospitality on one hand, you may also encounter hostility on the other. Mark this though. Prejudice, when present, is particularly targeted against those with darker skins.
An Indian student of mine, currently studying in England, has this to say.
When he walks down the roads of the village his university is in, he sometimes gets called all manner of rude names by the local people.
When I commiserate with him, he is quick to point out that he is learning to shrug it off.
After all, even his lighter-skinned Indian mates are guilty of the same prejudice. Behind his back, he knows that he is referred to as the kala (black) guy.
The barbs do get under his skin. But as he puts it: “I just have to learn to deal with this.”
I think he is more hurt than he chooses to admit. Discrimination and prejudice are painful to the recipient.
It brings to mind what Indian actress Shilpa Shetty had to undergo when she participated in Britain’s Celebrity Big Brother show.
Although she was finally named the winner, I don’t think we can forget the racist comments she received from her housemates.
I, for one, was not surprised when it was revealed that someone had asked her whether she lived in “shacks” back home in India.
I mean, some Malaysians overseas have been asked this type of silly questions by those who don’t know any better!
There was a time when some even thought we lived on trees!
Anyway, what Shilpa had to endure made front-page news in a rightfully indignant India.
It also made the world aware of one painful fact – if you are not white-skinned, you are likely to be discriminated against.
No place for bigotry
Even the United States is not exempt from this rule. In an episode of America’s Next Top Model (season seven), one of the participants revealed that she had been called “Blackula” at home.
She took part in the contest to prove that black can be beautiful and that dark as she was, she could accomplish something too.
Interestingly enough, from the economic point of view, there seems to be some prejudice against the dark-skinned immigrants as well.
Vanderbilt University law and economics professor Joni Hersch discovered this when she looked at a government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants and found that those with the lightest-coloured skin “earned an average of 8% to 15% more than similar but dark-skinned immigrants” from around the world.
I was even more struck when I read the following in a daily: “If two similar immigrants from Bangladesh came to the United States at the same time with the same occupation and proficiency in English, the lighter-skinned immigrant would make more money on average.”
But forget about Britain and the United States. Just think about what is happening on our shores and in our schools.
Even here, dark-skinned students often complain to me that they are looked down upon and called names by their fairer-complexioned classmates and teachers.
While I may not have facts and figures to support what I say, I know I am speaking the truth. You see, students talk and if you lend them a listening ear, there is a lot that you can learn from them. They will tell you what is in their hearts.
If a Kenyan student such as Mohamed Maalim can be made to feel an “outcast” here, do you think that ordinary dark-skinned pupils do not encounter prejudice in school?
Anyway, notwithstanding all these, Malaysia is still keen to bring in more foreign students to study in local institutions of higher learning.
To achieve this, there are already plans in the pipeline to market and promote Malaysia as a study destination for foreign students.
In fact, with so many students coming from Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Yemen, it is time that we, the public, seriously re-think the way we treat those who “look different” from us.
We already have over 50,000 foreign students in Malaysia and are aiming to achieve a target of 100,000 by 2010?
While I mull over this, my mind turns to the possible plight that dark-skinned students who make it to our shores may face.
Please, since we call ourselves educated people, let us not discriminate against them.
They deserve their place in the sun too.
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