Racism just below the skin

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2006, 12:00am

The first serious survey of race relations in 50 years has revealed that behind Malaysia's facade of ethnic harmony, racism runs deep.

The survey of 20,000 Malaysians also found that the various races which make up the country's multi-ethnic society find more comfort and security in their ethnicity than a common Malaysian identity.

'The findings are not at all surprising,' said social scientist Chandra Muzaffar. 'This is partly because ethnic boundaries are real in our society and almost every sphere of public life is linked to ethnicity in one way or another.'

The survey by the independent Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research found that racial stereotyping was deeply entrenched.

Minority Chinese and Indians see the majority Malays, who make up 60 per cent of the population, as lazy.

Malays and Indians in turn perceive Chinese as greedy, while Chinese and Malays consider Indians untrustworthy, the survey said. It was commissioned by the semi-official New Straits Times newspaper and supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

'Malaysians are also shockingly ignorant of each others' culture, religion and values,' said Merdeka Centre's head of research, Ibrahim Suffian. 'The survey gives an honest picture of the country's situation and inter-racial perception.'