Multiracial in Malaysia: Categories, Classification, and Campur in Contemporary Everyday Life

Reddy, Geetha and Selvanathan, Hema Preya (2020). Multiracial in Malaysia: Categories, Classification, and Campur in Contemporary Everyday Life. In: Rocha, Zaina L. and Aspinall, Peter J. eds. The Palgrave International Handbook of Mixed Racial and Ethnic Classification. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp. 649–668.



This chapter outlines the historical process of classification in Malaysia and discusses its influence on the contemporary lives of Malaysians with multiple racial identities. Racial categorization is salient in the daily experiences of Malaysians because many social policies governing housing, education, language acquisition, and employment are administered based on a rigid racial classification system that imposes a single racial identity on citizens. While the current system is underpinned by colonial administrative practices, the construction of Malay (and by extension Bumiputera), Sakai (Aborigines), Chinese, and Indian identities in the country has been an evolving process that can be traced back to the second century. ‘Mixedness’ is therefore not new in the region and has been a central feature of Malaysian identity. The recognition of mixed race however has changed over time in Malaysia as will be shown through an investigation of census classifications. We highlight how political processes such as colonialism, independence, and nation-building impact racial classification in the country and the everyday lives of multiracial individuals today. By considering the current political trends and the lived experiences of multiracial individuals, the chapter ends by discussing the potential for changing existing racial classification practices in Malaysia to better reflect multiracial identities.

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