Part I – of a continuing series
By Faiz Al-Shahab
Wasp, in a dictionary will normally be described as “a social winged insect which has a narrow waist and a sting and is typically yellow with black stripes”. When it bites you, you will cry, if not die.
This is my understanding of the meaning ‘wasp’ until my university days. A friend used the word ‘wasp’ to describe profile of fraternity boys in a North American university I was studying in. ‘Wasp’ in this context is an abbreviation referring to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, usually tall, blue eyes, well-built boys originating from New England or the more pristine areas of Canada. I kept the laughter to myself about the whole thing and took it just as another stereotyping in process.
I am Malaysian, but my childhood was spent in slumps of Greater Manchester in what was still remembered as the dark 80’s – a bad era of recession in North West England laced with high crime rate and racism. After university, I served in the automotive industry as a manufacturing engineer in a factory in North West England, a career which led me to become an European division manager in this industry. I was responsible for 6 engineers and 14 technicians from different races and religions. At 25, I made a bit of corporate history by being the youngest, non-wasp serving manager in the company. Working in a multi-racial company made me blind to skin colours and learn to judge people by their ability and character. Come to think of it, I did work and integrate with many ‘wasp’ during that time, of which some I love and some I despise till this very day.
Returning back to Malaysia in 2007, I had to quickly adjust to work pace here, which until this very day I am still not completely integrated with. When immersing yourself in business here, you start to notice an evidently clear lack of self-confidence with Malaysians in general, be it private or public sector. Then, you notice that Malaysians will pay twice attention when foreign Caucasian folks talking to them, although half the time they don’t understand what has been said. In other words, they like ‘wasp’.
Malaysians tend to badmouth white folks all the time, prying about past colonial history and how cruel and unjust things were under white rule. But the moment a Malaysian sees a white folk…
“Howdy Sir, how would you like me to tap dance for you today?”
It is a hyperbole, but you get what I meant.
I try to understand this phenomenon so I ask around. Some answered to me rhetorically, most however didn’t have any answers. A rhetorical or scientific explanation was given to me by Tun Daim, former Malaysia’s Minister of Finance. He pinpointed the fact that hundreds years of colonization have embedded the belief that white folks are much more superior race than Malaysians. This brainwashing has been so instrumental that it has become a part of Malaysian DNA whether we know it or not. This is one way of looking at it.
My thoughts are a bit different. I do not see colonial past to be an issue, because our newer generation don’t even know and do not want to know about Japanese invasion that took place in Malaya back in the 40’s. Our generation today is only interested about today. But our generation nonetheless is made up of people who grew up in Hollywood era. We grew up to believe that Rambo, The A Team, Knight Rider, Superman and Spiderman are real. All these fantasies which resemble our idea of Western civilization to some extent have made us believe that a man from the Western land can actually fly. This generation then matures into being top ranking officers in government ministries and agencies, as well as corporate sectors. Hence till this very day, Malaysians have deposited their jar of confidence to the West.
In modern Malaysia, where there are many manufacturers, businessmen and entrepreneurs alike, there aren’t many things that the nation cannot do or build anymore. Regardless of this, Malaysian decision makers tend to look to the West for solutions. This is most evident in ICT industry, whereby decision making in Malaysia has not evolved since the dot com days.
However, that does not mean we are 100% in the right. Many local suppliers tend to cheat and overcharge for ICT because of its subjectivity. Further adding salt to the wound, the solution is delivered in a mediocre manner. This has set a bad precedence to local ICT players, even though there are those who actually put their best into creating a top-quality solution. This cause tendency among Malaysian decision makers to look to the West with excuse that there is no good enough solution in motherland. Perhaps there is a grain of truth to it, but do they look for local solution sincerely in the first place?
As a result of this lack of confidence and inferiority to Western pitch, the country loses a lot of money to foreign ICT players, half of the time to a solution that is not even suitable for the needs of local population.
The funny thing is, given another chance, the decision makers will still choose a Western solution such as Microsoft, IBM, Apple or Google. In systems in particular, it is amazing at the rate platforms are turning to open source solutions worldwide, but not here. Worldwide too, companies like Unilever is financing and using small tech companies to create a better profit margin for them, but not here. Here, we go with whatever the West sells us, it is safer, and ‘unlikely will be risky to your cushy position in the office’.
So this inferiority and attitude of looking up to the West is actually spilling our economy out. In general, there is lack of confidence in personality and belief amongst decision makers in Malaysia. It is palpable in the way they present themselves, the way they talk, and the way they envision something.
To solve this problem, we as a nation must look into the root cause. It is not in the lack of understanding of problems or our colonial past, but in restoring confidence and self belief. With lack of confidence and self esteem, we will continue to make uneducated decisions and will always be a marketing victim to the West, who is overflowing with confidence even during times of economic turmoil.