Racial stereotypes are arguably a human nature that has existed since colonial times, more so, in a multi-ethnic society like ours.

Charles Hirschman, a social demographer with interests in race and ethnicity, had said in his journal entitled The Making of Race in Colonial Malaya: Political Economy and Racial Ideology, the conventional interpretation of the ‘race problem’ in Peninsula Malaysia is a product of the inevitable friction between ethnic communities with sharply divergent cultural traditions.

In fact, every Malaysian, regardless of race, knows what a particular race is generally labelled as, although we take careful measures not to say it out aloud due to the respect that we have for each other.

Arguably, we are familiar with the stereotype that the Malays are lazy, the Chinese are greedy and Indians are drunkards, although the origin behind these stereotypes are very vague.

Yayasan 1Malaysia Board of Trustees chairman Dr Chandra Muzaffar argued that stereotypes, most of the time, 'have no basis'.

Chandra Muzaffar said that stereotypes, most of the time, have no basis. - Astro AWANI

He said stereotypes exist in all communities and sometimes these stereotypes are directed at others while other times, stereotypes are directed within the community.

“Stereotypes, most of the time have no basis and are not based on fact, because it is very easy to be proven wrong such as the myth that all Malays are lazy or all Chinese are greedy or all Indians are drunkards.

“The essence of stereotype is generalisation. Generalisation is very dangerous especially in a multi-ethnic society," said Chandra.

“You must never ever generalise because most of the time when people generalise, it is negative and it becomes deeply entrenched and turns problematic in terms of ethnic relations,” he told Astro AWANI.

So, are all Malays lazy, Chinese greedy, Indians drunkards?

A general interview among Malaysians of different races found that none of them agreed with the stereotype that all Malays are lazy, the Chinese greedy and Indians drunkards. The respondents however acknowledged that such generalisation exist.

Azraei Idros, 24, insurance executive:

This sort of racial stereotype is human nature. If we take it negatively, the impact will be negative. The perspective that Malays are lazy definitely exists. In fact, my boss had previously labelled me as lazy, but I took it as a challenge although I feel angry about it.

I believe everyone will be lazy if given the opportunity to relax and laze around, not only the Malays.

There are lots of Malays who are hardworking. To change the perspective that all Malays are lazy, the Malays have to change their mindset first.

Mohd Nazrin Faiz, 25, teacher:

I agree with the stereotype that Malays are lazy, but this only applies to 75 percent of the community. This is because the stereotype is not about all Malays, as there are many of them who are hardworking. Those who are lazy is because of the subsidy given to them.

However, the subsidies are to help them to go further in their lives and not to be dependent on it. There are hardworking Malays such as Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Shah Syed Nor Al-Bukhary. What is important, is the Malays have to change their mindset to make do with what they have to improve their lives and not be dependent on subsidies.

Suresh Kumar Karapiah, 30, IT executive:

Not all Indians are drunkards, although a fraction of the society, do drink. The perception that all Indians are drunkards may have come about following the small number of Indians who get drunk and cause trouble. Labelling all of them as drunkards is unfair.

In order to avoid this sort of stereotype, those who do drink have to do so responsibly. Indians themselves have to change their mindset. The government can also play a role by creating more job opportunities and conduct motivational talks and organise more sporting activities, so people do not find the time to drink and keep themselves occupied with good activities.

Vincent Anthony Samy, 35, business owner:

Although I agree that Indians drink not all of them are drunkards. Even those who drink mostly are social drinkers. There are teetotallers and pious people in our community that do not touch alcohol. So, calling all of them as drunkards is totally unacceptable.

SK Durai, 29, blogger:

Not all Indians are drunkards because it is based on perception and anecdotal evidence. If you look at the actual statistics, it may tell a different story. Generally, the public like to hear all the negative things and not the positive ones.

When one or two cases get highlighted, it is normally blown out of proportion and it is repeated many times by the public. When you ask someone, they will say, yes, all Indians are drunkards. But when you ask them to show the proof, they just point to the one or two cases.

Let’s look at the percentage of how many Indians are drunkards, chances are, we are no different than the others. It is merely a myth and even technically, there is no data to prove it.

Tan Suet Ling, 28, admin officer:

I admit that there is a perception out there that all Chinese are greedy and even selfish. However, this is not true at all. Maybe one or two people in the community are greedy. How can that represent the whole Chinese community?

Lee Suet May, 35, accountant:

I have personally met many people from the Chinese community, who make it a must to put aside a portion of their monthly income to donate to charity. They do this voluntarily because it is good deed and with the intention of helping those in need.

On the other hand, I have never met a Chinese who is as greedy as the perception that exists in society. So, is calling all Chinese greedy justified? I don’t think so.

'Breaking the stereotypes'

Chandra opined that the way to handle relations in multi-ethnic societies is to look at human beings as human beings.

“If you find that an individual is greedy, then, that is the individual who is greedy, not the community, you don't have to generalise.

“We should correct stereotypes through education, awareness building and through socio-economic changes,” he said.

Citing Cuba as an exemplary country that managed to curb racism and racial stereotypes, he said serious effort is needed to overcome the problem.

“Cuba, which has a very serious problem of stereotypes, has fought it very effectively. Everything changed after the 59th Cuban revolution, after a concerted effort to get rid of stereotypes.

Fidel Castro, was so committed to the idea of unity -File Photo

“Its leader at the time, Fidel Castro was so committed to the idea of unity and he demonstrated it through his policies, education and changes to the socio-economic pattern of the country and today you find that Cuba is a country where racial stereotypes have no place at all,” he added.