Anies Must Provide Equal Treatment for All

“We, the pribumi [indigenous people] have been conquered before. Now we have become independent. It’s time for us to be the hosts in our own land.”

The phenomenal speech by Anies Baswedan at his inauguration as Jakarta governor on Oct. 16 quickly went viral and caused controversy. He seemed ignorant of historical and scientific research by the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology that all Indonesians are actually migrants. But he denied he had said anything racist, saying his speech should be seen in the context of colonial history.

Some analysts said this speech was designed to smooth the pace toward his campaign for president in 2019. Whatever the motivation, we have seen the domino or spiral effect in the very short term.

The Gerakan Bangga Pribumi (Proud of Indigenous Peoples) march for example, on Oct. 22, highlighted the dichotomy between pribumi and non-pribumi, terms that were banned in Presidential Instruction No. 26/1998 following the deadly riots that year.

In a video posted on YouTube, supporters of the movement, are seen trying to associate non-pribumi with “Aseng ” (Chinese).

One of the supporters, the scholar, Sri Bintang Pamungkas, said, “The immigrants, Caucasians, Indians, Chinese, are non-indigenous. The original natives were us, we, who then proclaimed the 1928 Youth Pledge. […] There was no Indian, no Chinese, no Arab.”

Perhaps he forgot there were Chinese directly involved in the 1928 Youth Pledge: Sie Kok Liong, who provided the venue in Central Jakarta, and also Kwee Thiam Hong, a member of Jong Sumatra (Sumatra Youth), who then invited his friends Ong Kay Sing, Liauw Tjoan Hok and Tjio Djin Kwie. History also notes that five years after the 1928 Youth Pledge, several Arab youth in the Dutch East Indies swore their homeland was Indonesia.

This is an example of how Anies’ speech potentially triggers tension based on incorrect facts. Unfortunately, many of the reactions over the speech zeroed in on criticism of Anies rather than a constructive critique of the use of the insensitive term.

As a Chinese-Indonesian millennial, the speech and its reaction passed a new milestone in the dynamics of Chinese-Indonesians — we who are identified as non-indigenous or non-pribumi.

The debate over this term should have ended a long time ago along with the official end of the discriminatory New Order regime. In fact, the dynamics surrounding the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election actually show that the Reform era and the 2008 Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Law, has not significantly reduced negative stereotypes of, never mind discrimination against, minority ethnicities.

Instead the recent Indonesia National Survey Project commissioned by the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the Yusof Ishak Institute, surveying 1,620 respondents from all 34 provinces, confirmed that socio-political dynamics during the 2017 Jakarta election reinforced stereotypes against the Chinese. In other words, antiChinese sentiments became stronger.

Casual conversations with some of Generation-Z Chinese, who were about two years old during the May 1998 riots, also shows that the 2017 Jakarta election was their first (hopefully the last) time witnessing directly verbal and non-verbal discrimination associated with their ethnicity. We need more research related to this issue, of course.

Thus the law does not directly reflect that antidiscrimination has been internalized as a principle of life. Just like helmets and seatbelts, drivers will obey, but not necessarily because of concerns for their own safety.

At least three things may explain why antiracism has not been widely internalized as a collective value.

First, there has been no open intercultural communication on ethnic, racial or religious issues (known locally as SARA). We often hear that “we should not talk about SARA” as a condition when discussing various issues.

Perhaps the meaning is “we must respect differences” but then, SARA has become a taboo item to talk about, regardless of its purpose. As a result, we become unaccustomed to communicating differences, which is essential to help build sensitivity, empathy and tolerance.

Without sincere and open communication about various differences, sensitivity to the use of the word pribumi will never be realized so that alarming reactions to Anies’ speech will be considered to be exaggerated.

People often forget that ethnicity is a gift when a person is born into this world. We certainly do not want tolerance to be artificially imposed: harmonious on the surface according to the “Unity in Diversity” motto, but when triggered by particular events, intolerance and bigotry seems to instantly explode, even escalating quickly into a riot.

Another factor is the lack of experiences as minorities from the minority perspective. Ideally, better education is enough to open our eyes — yet a large number of highly educated people remain racist.

There are many things to do about this. Many of my friends deliberately intern in places where they feel they are a minority — a choice that may be less popular but can greatly change one’s perspective in looking at the concept of the minority.

I have even experienced heterogeneity within Chinese-Indonesians in Jakarta. My work, which has enabled me to reach many remote parts of Indonesia has deepened my understanding of so many minorities in Indonesia until I feel that “minority” and “majority” are sometimes confusing terms like pribumi and non-pribumi.

There is also the passive attitude of Chinese-Indonesians in reporting their discriminatory experiences and a similar passivity of non-Chinese, who respect the Chinese but choose to be the silent majority. Both attitudes may stem from reluctance to deal with problems and face trouble. Yet antidiscrimination laws and rules mean nothing in the absence of reporting.

We are certainly not blind toward efforts to exploit longstanding stereotypes and to package them systematically into political commodities. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo must demonstrate his consistency in upholding the law, without fear of being associated with a particular ethnic minority or the accompanying stereotypes. Without it, harmonious life will always be under threat.

Despite his controversial speech, the new governor will hopefully be able to work sincerely as a leader who serves all citizens without exception. Expressing such hopes is the best way to reduce the domino effect of his insensitive speech, as well as to stop the long and exhausting political dramas that never side with the interests of ordinary citizens. (***)

This article published on The Jakarta Post (Wednesday, November 1, 2017).
Photo source:

See Also:
“Ada Apa dengan Pidato Anies?” – On Discourse Building
Chinese-Indonesians Caught Up in the Storm of Identity Politics

One thought on “Anies Must Provide Equal Treatment for All

  1. Pingback: Anies Harus Memberikan Perlakuan yang Sama untuk Semua | Soft Power is Unique

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