Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Cutting Through The Racial Factor

If your race or nationality is different from the person you are interviewing, you'd better watch out because this can mess things up.

Writers write for their audience: mums, cat lovers, golf fanatics, you name it. In Malaysia there's also the fact that some publications tend to appeal to one race more than another. 

A competent writer can write for all sorts of audiences.  Basically, you' work out your angle and get the questions set up to get the info your readers are interested in.  During the interview, you efface yourself, and let the person chat away.

However, I hear things like, "You know Malaysian always..." or "We Chinese/Malays/Indians..." and the real killer, "We Malaysians live happily together in a multicultural society...." I know that they're over-thinking the race issue, and talking to me as an orang puteh foreigner.

This is a problem because it means he or she isn't talking naturally.  And the good stuff always comes straight from the heart.

Most of the time I can get us back on track by having a cup of tea and telling them about my obsession to find the best roti canni or dim sum.  Talking about a mutual passion, and most Malaysians are passionate about food, usually smooths things over.

If that doesn't work, I nod and smile, say thanks, go away, and then a week later send a "follow up" question or two over email.  Once they don't see my face, they answer perfectly normally.  And that's the stuff that I take for the piece.


BeadedTail said...

Very interesting and pretty clever to follow up with an email question or two to get their true feelings!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

The whole "1Malaysia" and "multiculturalism" thing is so contrived and artificial. Whenever I hear anything beginning with "1.." on the news, I press the mute button. The ones in the public sphere who talk the most about "multiculturalism" are usually the ones with very few friends of other races. Go ask any of the local 'celebrities' or offspring of our politicians how many of the guests at their weddings are of a different race and religion and they will probably hang their well-groomed heads in shame. Food, schmood. Food is a superficial issue. It gets people to talk, sure, Malaysians love food and shopping -- but they also love to imagine that other races and religion are inferior to their own.

Cezar and Léia said...

Well done Ellen, very interesting subject and post!

Boo-Bah AKA Iris said...

Speaking from the heart is always best. Your posts are interesting as always.

Angel Ginger Jasper said...

I agree with Beaded tail, very clever to do a follow up.. Interesting post.. Hugs GJ xx

Mishkat said...

Sometimes I'm really amazed at what other white people here will say to me because I'm white (or at least they assume so!) I've heard a lot of things I'd rather not hear. It's the other side of the issue.