A few months ago a friend called me up and announced with a voice of doom that she'd been promoted. To understand why, you need to know two things: she's Malay and Malaysia has an official policy of positive discrimination.
The whole thing is summed up very nicely in "The Price of Malaysia's Racism" by former US Ambassador to Malaysia John Malott which was published in the Wall Street Journal on February 8, 2011.
The thrust of the piece is that Malay Rights, an official policy that gives Malays priority over all the other races in terms of education, government jobs, etc is causing problems.
As Mallot said, "over 90% of the civil service, police, military, university lecturers, and overseas diplomatic staff are Malay" and "almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009.......most were skilled ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians, tired of being treated as second-class citizens in their own country...."
Stupid people think this discrimination is all very clever. It's the clever ones who suffer. Like my friend.
When we had lunch, she said, "I have worked really hard. The company I work for is private, so it's not like I'm in the civil service or anything. I think I deserve my promotion."
But what really bothered her was the nagging feeling that she was promoted as the "token Malay" - someone who can be trotted out when the company needs some government paperwork done, or to attend official functions.
My friend is talented but the sad thing is that it may not really matter. Everyone who doesn't know her will assume she got the job because of her race.
Plus, as she is Malay, she will be trotted out at official functions and sent off to do govt paperwork. In theory anyone can deal with official departments, but the sad fact is that many officials give non-Malays the run-around.
My friends company knows the advantages of having an official face and they'd be silly not to take advantage of it. In fact, there is a great danger that the "token Malay" part of her job will become the sole part of her job.
I really felt for her but I couldn't help but tease. "There's one sure way to prove your worth to yourself," I said to her. "Go abroad and show them what you can do without all your special privileges."
It worked because she laughed. Told you she is clever.