Why the obsession over our race? We're Malaysians

I can't believe it's been 12 years since I started my career. Many workplace veterans still think I am young, but fresh graduates and school leavers are already calling me Uncle.

Still, regardless of my age, I have always seen myself as Malaysian first.

Not long back, a fresh graduate student asked me about my biggest learning curve when I started my career.

I responded in a joking manner: "People are generally obsessed with what race you are. I had a problem accepting that. In many ways I still do."

Back then, when colleagues would ask me "What are you?", I just responded and said: "Malaysian."

These colleagues probed further and said: "No, what are you? What race, mah?"

I responded and said Malay.

"No lah, you not Malay mah. You campur (mixed)."

I then told these colleagues politely that I am Malay, but they refused to believe me.

After a while, I just laughed it off, but this scenario kept repeating itself whenever I met new people - in professional and personal environments.

After a while, it did bother me. I almost lost my temper once and said to this particular someone: "Why are you so obsessed with what race I am? I am Malaysian, cukup lah, habis cerita (enough, end of story)."

I told my HR department about this and informed them that in many countries, you would be violating many privacy laws if you were to ask someone their race.

My HR manager just turned around and said: "Sorry Ben, this is Malaysia. You studied overseas; those laws don't apply in our country."

Today, some people believe that they are their race first, nationality second. I personally never understood that.

So if we go overseas to represent our country and someone were to ask us where we are from, we would respond and say, "Malay-Malaysian or Chinese-Malaysian, etc?"

Until today, I can't find a straightforward explanation to why a certain group of people within our country are known as "Others" - a categorisation which I find weird and rude.

Not long back, the government came up with a tagline of "1Malaysia". The purpose of this tagline was and still is to unite the nation. I thought the idea was good, but I also remember seeing a 1Malaysia TV commercial clearly stating that we are a nation made up of Malays, Chinese, Indians and Others.

My friend who works in advertising jokingly said: "They could have saved a lot of money if the commercial was just about reminding us all that we are Malaysian. The added info just cost them more money."

We are not a perfect nation, but no country is. Europe, Australasia and America have their fair share of problems. When I see the challenges that the people in these countries face, I thank my lucky stars that I am in my home, Malaysia.

But I admire countries like Scotland and Australia. Yes, we laugh at them because they talk funny, but generally speaking, they are patriotic.

"I am Aussie and I am proud of it. I love Scotland. This is my land and I am proud of my home."

I hope we can become like the Aussies and the Scots in that regard.

Martin Luther King had a dream - a dream that we all still hope for. But my dream - which is more simple - is to see a form that does not state race, just nationality.

The form would just say Malaysian and non-Malaysian, and I will happily tick the box where it says "MALAYSIAN".