I live fairly close to a mamak and for as long I’ve been interacting with the Bangladeshi workers there, there was not an instance where I thought I should be wary around them. Patrons at other tables, though, were quite different. Barking orders at them and getting irritated when they mess up due to the language barrier, then turning and laughing and telling their Ang Moh friend (also a foreigner), that “These stupid foreigners here are dumb lah. Bloody banglas, right?” I cannot tell you how much that upsets me, because these stupid foreigners are here doing their own thing, working to make an honest living. But why do we seem to hate them? Do we really hate them? Here are some thoughts that were shared:
Roger Liew Jin Hua
Depending on the community of Malaysians we are looking at, a majority do not hate Bangladeshis: at best we are sympathetic (to the stereotype of them usually being desperate low wage workers fleeing economic deprivation from their hometown) and at worst we fear them. A very large percentage of us however are simply indifferent and definitely do not hate Bangladeshis.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” -HP Lovecraft (I Googled for this!)
There are few, if any, attempts to integrate them into local culture and no one can exactly be blamed for this. The lack of integration and cultural assimilation gives rise to the fear of the unknown, which easily translates to resentment and at a larger degree, probably hatred.
Malaysia has a large proportion of people (probably not the more liberal city-dwellers) who hold a conservative, Us-vs-Them mentality. I am not talking about the white collar worker who has a foreign talent as a colleague; I am talking about people who still hold stereotypes such as Orang Asli’s living in trees, Westerners being decadent, booze-drinking infidels, and Africans, sometimes Bangladeshis, are perceived as ‘dirty’ people.
This is very much anecdotal, but people close to me have said things such as: ‘Don’t eat at this restaurant, they employ Bangladeshis and therefore must be quite dirty, have you been to Bangladesh, if you have been there you would not want them near you, see they are lazing under the tree all the time.’
When we want to condemn the government, some people actually gripe about how the government is being too lax in allowing immigrants (including Bangladeshis) in, supposedly at an ‘unsustainable’ rate and when they begin ‘taking over’ public spaces (such as shopping malls) simply to spend their hard-earned break, there is an air of NIMBYISM and unease. Some of us espouse the narrative that ‘Malaysia is a nation of immigrants, a cosmopolitan’ only when it is convenient. We even have ‘Donald Trumpets’ amidst us. ‘Immigrants/ Bangladeshis/ Dark-skinned people are murderers and rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. But the vast majority, you cannot trust.’
Like almost every other country, Bangladeshis, who represent foreign immigration of low-skilled labour, were becoming scapegoats of the country’s woes. Crime? Unemployment? Election fraud? Blame it on them, man. I hope this answers your question.
P/S: Here is a harrowing account of a Bangladeshi PR growing up in Malaysia. Naturally I want to be optimistic and dismiss this question with a non-answer: ‘Malaysians are really a peace-loving bunch!’ Anti-immigration sentiments do not define a majority of us, but unfortunately, we cannot neglect the implicit assumption of the question.
Yes many of them hate Bangladeshis from the core of the heart. The hatred towards Bangladeshi people started from 90s when the Bangladeshi people joined the Malaysian workforce as guest workers. At the time, Indian Malaysians (Majority Tamil descendants) along with some Malays and Chinese saw them as threat to their bread and butter. Bangladeshis were targeted for structured propaganda and humiliation. Posters, festoons and online propaganda can be seen with little query. Bangladeshis are often called home wreckers for marrying some locals which is also done by other nationalities/ethnicities (Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Orang Putehs, Pinoy, Africans, Indonesians and so on) and their numbers easily exceed Bangladeshi, yet Bangladeshis are targeted for propaganda. They are the easy target for humiliation for racists bigots.
Some propaganda cartoons and reality can be seen below:
There is no reason for us to hate Bangladeshis. There are good apples and there are bad apples in every community. Same goes to Bangladeshis. However, having said the above, I must reluctantly admit that it’s not all rosy out there. Indeed, there are some scepticism where Bangladeshis are concerned. And not just because they are foreign workers. For example, I can tell you that the Nepalis are held in higher regard compared to the Bangladeshis when we compare foreign labourers in Malaysia side by side.
Why is this so? I am not sure as I have no first-hand experience dealing with Bangladeshi troublemakers. But to answer your question, yes. It’s not hatred, just maybe scepticism on your competency to do the job assigned to you.
That being said, here are some ways we, as Malaysians, could try to make things better for them, or any other foreigners for that matter:
- Drop the double standards
A.k.a extend the same courtesy as you would to anyone. As a friend beautifully puts it, “Ang moh you treat like kings, but bangla you look also tak nak.”
- Be empathetic
They’re all just also trying to make a living. It’s not their fault that they have communication breakdowns or language barriers. And not all are bad.
- Be polite, especially to those who work for you, or serve you
A friend says, “Acknowledge them. Make eye contact. Say hi.” Saying hello, please and thank you is common manners, and we’d like to think we’re quite a polite bunch, no?
- Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine yourself showing up in another country to get that dough, and people just seem to treat you badly. How would you feel?
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