By Kelly Anissa

What is race and religion?

On one end, it sets the foundation for the people we bloom into – It can be seen in our values, priorities, the way we eat, whether that is with chopsticks or using your fingers, whether we sit on a mat or on a table, the kind of food we feel more inclined towards.

On the other end however, its a powerful tool people use as a justification for the things they do, be it to hurt or to judge others.

Funny how two simple words can have such a dichotomous impact.

Every race has its own unique identities and every religion its own practices. Based on the family background and upbringing you come from, that alone will differentiate you from others who come from the same ‘category’ as you, if you could call it that at all.

Those two factors not only make us the person we are today, but it’s also most often the reason we are judged by society. Yes, there are people who actually judge you based on how conservatively you dress, the length of the beard you grow and the name you’re given.

Despite what people tell you, it’s not our differences that make people alienate us. No. Instead, it’s what we have in common with others. By the end of this short article, you’ll get what I mean.

It’s 2015 and the fight for racial equality and religious tolerance is still happening. Old habits die hard I guess. And it doesn’t, and will not get better by starting your sentences with, “I’m not racist, but..”

Saying you’re not racist before making a prejudiced statement does not mean you’re not the person you say you aren’t – If anything, it only means you’re in denial.

When will we ever feel the need to stop associating people to the color of their skin and beliefs? Whenever something unfortunate takes place, we’re quick to say, “that Muslim man” / “the Chinese girl earlier” / “the indian lady” / “that White police officer shot a black male” ..

Here’s my take on it : When you keep identifying a tragedy with a specific race or religion repeatedly, people are going to start seeing others who are unwillingly associated with that race and religion the same way.

For example, had we not labeled those awful people years ago as ‘Muslim terrorists’ but instead as just ‘terrorists’ or ‘people who committed acts of terror’, western TV shows won’t be naming their characters who play suicide bombers ( or anyone associated to bombs, really) Abdul or Muhammad. Muslims wouldn’t have to be double checked at airports.

Maybe, acts of terror committed by non-Muslims such as cinema and school shootings would be labeled as terrorists too. Because, that is what you call a person who brings terror to others, right?

Perhaps, had we stopped labeling horrible people by their race and religion, but for the monsters they truly are, a lot of hate could have been sparred today. Many hate crimes could have been prevented and plenty of innocent lives wouldn’t have gotten lost in this fight that could have been avoided.

Like I said earlier – It’s not our differences, its the things that unite us as one. As inspiring the latter might have came off in a different scenario, today its a problem we need to fix.

I don’t mean to offend anyone but I thought that the terrorist example was the most appropriate.

Identifying a race or religion based on how intelligent their people are is no better than the negative connotations we have today either.Stigmatizing is still what it is – good, or bad.

I read a post on Facebook recently about how this girl was harassed at the LRT by “a (race) man” . And of course, it started with the same sentence I mentioned above.

As Malaysians, we of all nationalities should know better. In a multiracial and multi-religious country like ours,we can’t afford for something like this to carry on further. Words don’t have the power to divide, but people do.

So, can we go without race and religion for a month? Can we go one month without referring to someone by their race and religion? It won’t be easy, seeing as how we’ve grown used to it. Wanting a better future for Malaysia starts with this. You can’t fight for reform by day and turn into a bigot at night.

One month. There you go.

Big things starts with little steps.

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