Racial Quotas In Malaysia: Grim Warning For America

Over the course of several trips to the South East Asian country of Malaysia I have been struck by how similar Malaysia's race relations are to America's—despite the obvious enormous differences. The official Malaysian policy of dispensing privileges by race may even be a warning of what the future may hold if our current policies and demographic trends continue.

Malaysia is about 60 percent Malay, 25 percent Chinese, and 8 percent Indian. In the 19th century, the British colonial government found that the native Malays did not want to work in tin mines or on rubber plantations, so they imported people who did: Tamils from India. The British also worried that smart Chinese immigrants would dominate the country. They therefore deliberately steered business to Malays and recruited them for government jobs. They feared—rightly as it turned out—that Malays would turn ugly if they thought Chinese were getting too far ahead.  The British wanted Malays to keep getting a leg up even after independence in 1957, so when they drafted a constitution for the new country, they included Article 153 specifically to "safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives" through relatively mild preferences in education, the civil service and business licenses.  

The races rubbed along without too much friction until 1969. That year, Chinese political parties nearly upset the ruling Malay coalition and held a victory parade through Malay neighborhoods in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. The Malays didn't like Chinese flaunting their power, and rioted, killing hundreds of Chinese. [Race War In Malaysia, Time Magazine, May. 23, 1969]

Violence works. The government responded with a new, stronger pro-Malay preferences program called the New Economic Policy (NEP), designed to increase the Malay share of national wealth. It is also known as the Bumiputra Program, from a Malay word that means "son of the soil" or "native."

All Malaysians are officially divided into bumiputras, who get preferences, and non-bumiputras, who don't. "Bumis" must be Muslim Malay stock, though they need not be from Malaysia. This means an immigrant from Indonesia gets preferences over Indians or Chinese who have been in Malaysia for generations. Some of the specifics of the NEP are that Malays get a 60 percent quota at universities, discounts on real estate, and a guaranteed 30 percent of all new issues on the Malaysian stock market. The civil service became a bumi reserve, companies owned by non-bumis were barred from government contracts, and it became even harder for Indians and Chinese to get business licenses. The NEP set aside millions of dollars to pay for overseas training for Malay students and executives.

The Bumiputra Program does not take class into consideration, so the children of Malay millionaires get the inside track on boardroom posts, overseas scholarships, business licenses and plum government jobs. Minorities don't like the system, but there is little they can do in a country that is majority Malay.

The Chinese are thriving despite the quotas. They keep quiet about their wealth but work harder than ever. Are they shut out of universities? They send their children to school in Australia or the United States. Can't join the civil service? They get better-paying jobs as lawyers, accountants, and doctors in private hospitals. Have to sell 30 percent of the company to bumiputras? They still keep control, and use their legendary commercial skills to dominate the wholesale and import/export trades.  

The Indians get the scraps. Many had lost their old jobs as rubber tappers or oil-palm farmers, as plantations were converted to housing estates and golf courses for rich Malays and Chinese. A few Hindu temples have been torn down to make way for highways, which makes Indians furious. But their biggest complaint is the quota system that keeps them out of universities.

The general sense among Malays is that this is their country and this is the way they will run it; Indians and Chinese are lucky just to be citizens. As the governing Malay party's Youth Information Chief, Azimi Daim, famously pointed out in 2003:

"In Malaysia, everybody knows that Malays are the masters of this land. We rule this country as provided for in the federal constitution. Anyone who touches upon Malay affairs or criticizes Malays is [offending] our sensitivities."  [Abdullah stirs a hornets' nest,  By Ioannis Gatsiounis, Asia Times, October 2, 2004]]

Most of the time, Indians and Chinese don't make a fuss. But all whom I spoke to privately said the system was unfair, and they look down on Malays as lazy and spoiled. They have no kind words for Malays who glide into top schools, cushy government jobs, discount housing, and cut-rate car loans just because they are bumis. Beneath the surface, the country is divided by race, and Chinese and Indians do not feel emotionally Malaysian.

What does this suggest about the future of the United States? Most Americans can hardly imagine preferences for the majority and—if they even think about it—assume that racial preferences will fade away as the U.S. becomes more diverse and they become a minority.

They shouldn't count on it. As Malaysia proves, groups don't have to be minorities to develop a taste for preferences.

The crucial factor no one talks about—either in Malaysia or in the United States—is IQ. The average IQ for the Malays and Indians is about 87 while that of the Chinese is around 103. That is why the Chinese thrive despite the Bumiputra Program but the Indians don't.

Preferences for bumis were supposed to be temporary—just as in the United States—to give them just enough of a boost so they could compete with the Chinese. The trouble with preferences is that they don't raise a group's average IQ, and temporary programs become permanent.

In America, blacks and Hispanics will not lose interest in preferences just because they become the majority. On the contrary, once they have enough political power, I suspect they will not hesitate to legislate in favor of themselves. Racial preferences may seem to be on the wane now, but when the balance of power shifts they will be back.

Jared Taylor (email him) is the editor of American Renaissance.  This article, carefully shorn of all references to IQ, was adapted from a longer version that appears in AmRen's current issue and submitted as an Op-Ed to over 500 newspapers. Not one accepted.