Minorities always suffer. Is this necessarily true in today’s world?

In any society, it is inevitable that there will be a minority population. Globalisation and the relentless progress of technology have combined to diminish the physical geographical boundaries of today’s world. Migration rates have increased, enabling heterogeneous societies to be established all over the world. Many minority populations lament the perceived discrimination and suffering they face in societies, which cater to the majority for convenience’s sake. However, in the midst of their self-pity, they fail to recognize the myriad of opportunities and advantages available to them, by virtue of being the minority. Minorities do not necessarily always suffer as the onus is on them to turn their situation around and gain the upper hand.

Governments and authorities do institute policies which favour the majority simply because it is more convenient to do so. However, if the minority are able to harness their community spirit and work around the system, they are the ones who stand to benefit. In Malaysia, the Chinese make up a relatively large racial minority, constituting 15% of the population. Yet, the Malaysian government has insisted that the school curriculum be taught in Bahasa Melayu, including subjects such as Science and Mathematics. The Chinese are deprived of the opportunity to learn their native tongue, and have to grapple with a foreign language. Their community leaders recognize the value of preserving the Chinese language among future generations, and hence, set up Chinese community schools which have produced trilingual students proficient in English, Chinese and Bahasa Melayu. As a result, the Chinese have an upper hand in language skills. Now that the Malaysian government is back-pedaling on its language policy and introducing subjects taught in English, Chinese students have an advantage and are able to outshine Malay students. As such, minorities are not necessarily constrained by rigid, unfriendly policies as they prove themselves to be resourceful enough to transcend such restrictions to turn the tables on the majority.

Governments will implement policies that protect the minority, because it is the majority who will re-elect the government in democratic societies. This short-sighted concept would lead to a well-fed, complacent majority, and allow the hungry dissatisfied minority to exploit the situation and succeed. The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir, implemented the ‘bumiputra’ or ‘princes of the land’ policy during his tenure. This policy gave Malays priority when entering universities, starting businesses, owning land and a whole host of other processes. His aim was to give the native ‘princes of the land’ a head start in life, and ensure they would have a comfortable livelihood. Naturally, the implementation of this policy led to the disgruntlement of many Chinese. Meanwhile, the Malays were content and satisfied that their government would provide for them, and settled back to enjoy their blissful lives. The discrimination spurred the Chinese to work even harder than before, and gave them a strong motive to succeed. They grabbed whatever remnant opportunities the complacent Malays had passed on, and made the best of them. In present day Malaysia, it is common knowledge that the richest and most successful people are the Chinese. Dr. Mahathir himself has expressed regret at the implementation of his myopic policy, and before stepping down in 2003, slammed the Malays for their lack of hunger and desire to succeed. Therefore, for minorities, the suffering, prejudice and discrimination they face can be a form of motivation to improve their lot in society.

Although governments and societies tend to favour the majority, most want to be seen as tolerant and accepting of diversity. Nobody likes to be accused of discrimination. Minority populations could exploit this potential source of embarrassment, and manipulate government policy and societal perception to be more considerate and pliable toward them. In France, a Muslim schoolgirl was vehement in her fight to be able to wear her Muslim headscarf to school. She saw it as an expression and celebration of her faith. Muslims are a religious minority in predominantly Catholic France. Her story attracted international attention, and placed France in the glare of the media spotlight. It was revealed that while the Muslim girl was not allowed to wear her headscarf to school, practitioners of other faiths were not permitted to accessorise themselves with such open displays of their faith either. However, France was desperate to maintain an esteemed profile in the eyes of the world. Neither the French government nor the French people wanted to be seen as intolerant and elitist, and the French courts finally relented and allowed the girl to wear her headscarf to school. Therefore, minority groups can leverage on the media-consciousness of most governments to secure recognition of their rights.

Minority populations can find safety in numbers by banding together to establish communities with strong bonds among members. This will lead to the forging of community spirit, and create a heart-warming enclave that gives support and strength to its members. Homosexuals are a sexual minority in the human race. They have long been discriminated against by proponents of ‘family-first’ movements, Bible-toting Christians, and anybody and everybody who finds their behaviour unnatural. However, in San Francisco, America, homosexuals have established their very own community, to create an environment where all its members can feel comfortable in, and engage in their activities without fear of hate crimes and discrimination. They organize Mardi Gras parties, and celebrate their diversity, providing protection and support for all its members.

Unfortunately, minorities still remain an easy target for violence and discrimination. It is easy for the majority to band together and blame the minority for a myriad of perceived crimes. This sad story has repeated itself many times in history, from the farms of the American Southwest to the ghettoes and slums of Nazi Germany. Most recently, it has emerged in Singapore, when junior Minister Balaji Saladisavan blamed homosexual man for the AIDS scourge. It is sad that such discrimination and intolerance still exist, but it is likely that as society matures as a whole and accepts heterogeneity as a mark of a progressive community, minorities will not be prejudiced against and hated, but rather welcomed and celebrated.

Minorities do have a historic legacy of discrimination, and in some instances it continues to this very day. Yet, they must use their own resourcefulness, diligence and quick wit to be able to turn their situation into an advantage. The oppression and discrimination showered on them should only serve to motivate and spur them on to succeed.