From my reading of Out in the Midday Sun (yay all done!), I’m getting  a strong sense  that colonialism happened to us out of, as Alexander Hamilton said (see previous post), “accident and force” more than the deliberate manipulations of any single evil mastermind. Imperialists and colonists were men of their own time, and therefore trapped in the value systems and political narratives of the era.  Values were also a lot more community-based and less individual, which I imagine would have been less conducive for individual independence of thought. Whites also thought for a very long time that non-whites were genetically inferior – how many clever souls borne of that world would have known any better? We have had the benefit of time to reflect and develop a supposedly more enlightened perspective, and so perhaps it’s easier to look in from the outside and moralise about colonialism, or in our case, adopt accusatory tones. From the writings that Margaret Shennan curated however, some old British Malayans genuinely believed that they were benign or constructive.

But okay, still, intentions aside. Perhaps they did create and perpetuate the lazy native stereotype (Or did they really? And was it lazy native, or lazy peasant native? Had it always been a class rather than ethnicity issue? I would have to dig a little deeper on this one – The Myth of the Lazy Native next!), which arguably had a lasting impact on our consciousness as a society. But then, what is the cutoff time for this anyway – when we say perpetuated, do we mean they started it? Or are we angry with the continuation of the stereotype? For if we mean continue, then you and I and my aunt and numerous op-ed columnists in Malaysia today are equally to blame, given how much we talk about it. In any case, are the people who non-deliberately (don’t yell – I’m not well-researched on this one) perpetuated it to blame, or should we really be glaring at the people who are actively manipulating it still for their own self interest today?

All this to say, I still don’t (not yet, perhaps?) really understand the anger at “them”. In fact, it seems to me that for most of the duration that “they” were here, up till at least WWII, there wasn’t even really an “us” – we seemed more a bunch of disparate kingdoms sharing a geography, than a country with a shared sense of identity (okay, other than along ethnic lines). In fact, the postwar era seems to have actually precipitated our sense of nationhood. In which case, if we’re going to blame the British Empire and imperialism for mucking us up, we should also recognise the part that British ineptness in fending off the Japs played in setting us on that path to nationhood. Come to think of it, was there a sense of nationhood, or was it a pragmatic pact among races to get rid of a common foe?

In summary, I am still quite confused (and ignorant…) and cannot decide what I feel about this.

What I do observe for sure though, are my own double standards. While I am forgiving about sins of the past – chalk it up to moral relativity, whatever, olden days, poor things didn’t know the gravity of their offences – I am a lot less forgiving, a lot more personal and accusatory, about the present. Could one also use the same line of argument to justify the current establishment? Oh, don’t blame them, they just have a different perspective on what is considered an acceptable level of competence. Oh you know, that’s just how business works. It’s just entertaining. Oh you know, it’s hard to think beyond the confines of your peers’ ideology, bigoted or chauvinistic though it sounds to you, they’ve never known any different, they grew up in this party, this environment, this generation, this era… Yeah, right. No. I expect a lot more personal accountability, a lot less stupidity (if ignorance is the excuse), because – How the fuck can people be that stupid?! How the hell can people be that greedy, that corrupt, that evil!? 

Why is that, I wonder?

 

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