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Thursday, January 31, 2019

You can’t have ‘racial preferences’ in rentals and still want ICERD

Landlords are coming out, saying they should have a choice of who they want to rent their properties to. On the other hand, some of those who want to be allowed to list their “racial preference” on rental properties also want the government to ratify the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
In an earlier letter to the media, I pointed out that the need to set race as a precondition to renting out property to someone is extremely xenophobic, and thus against the spirit of ICERD.
As such, the community bans on not wanting to rent to Africans, the cases in Penang and Petaling Jaya where there was discrimination against Chindian individuals wanting to rent, and even the bad choice of words by the chief minister of Penang in saying migrant workers should live in hostels because “some of them cause social ills”, really need to be considered.
Because – let us be honest here – I believe the idea of ratifying ICERD was not to stop racial discrimination in all shapes and forms against everyone but only to remove Bumiputera privileges which many see as institutionalised racism.
Not everyone wants to have equal treatment with Bangladeshi and Indonesian construction workers, do they? Does everyone believe in the concept of equal renting opportunity for everyone, inclusive of those from the African continent?
Why not?
After all, ICERD means to remove “all forms of racial discrimination” – not just the Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera divide, but also for everyone in the country including foreigners, from branded expats all the way to migrant workers and even domestic housemaids.
Now, some have used religion and culture to justify this discrimination – that it is a matter of “hygiene” and wanting to maintain harmony in communities. Honestly, this doesn’t make it sound better than any racial stereotype out there.
Plus, it really sounds condescending because I am pretty sure that with all Malaysians, and even foreigners, you will have slobs, you will have troublemakers, but you will also find people who buck the trend and prove you wrong.
Case in point, this was written by someone who recently went and backed letting Israeli Paralympic athletes into the country.
I understand why landlords do it, though.
It is easier to list it out rather than having to go through the process of meeting would-be renters one by one to gauge who will be good for the property like hosting a job interview.
However, it is only through these interval actions and follow-up visits that you will in time see that there are people from all races who deserve a chance to be considered beyond their skin colour and even their religion.
Plus, having an interracial or inter-ethnic renting home has its own advantages – if you can imagine it. Having a vegetarian, a chef who loves pork and alcohol, and a devout Muslim, all in the same house for a prolonged period of time would be a continued social experiment to navigate the Malaysian issues regarding religion and culture.
Of course, this is a highly imaginary case in current-day Malaysia because landlords try to avoid such scenarios. An anti-discrimination law on renting out property, coupled with landlords who insist on opening their homes to such scenarios, could indeed happen in the future.
Of course, there will still be landlords who insist on keeping their racial discrimination on the down low, but at least it would not be as overt as it is now, as part of the listing preference. In other words, it is removing one’s “racial preference” from being a listed formality.
In the end, Malaysians should consider anti-discrimination laws for everyone, including the non-Malaysians who live and work here. If this is too much of a problem, perhaps we should consider this: are we really not racist and xenophobic, or do we just want things in our own favour and not for others?
Hafidz Baharom is an FMT reader.

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