Sunday, January 20, 2008

Don't Call Us 'Indons'

"Why do you Malaysians call us 'Indons?'"

A young woman named Lisa once asked me. There was a deafening silence that followed; pressure mounted as 15 more pairs of Indonesian eyes and ears fixated on me for my rhetoric answer. Ironically, this is not the first time I had been asked this nagging question.

I paused for a minute before mustering my thoughts together to convey them as cohesively as I could. I started explaining to my Indonesian friends in the room that day that the term 'Indon' is used by countless Malaysians to refer to Indonesians partly because it is shorter to say 'Indon' than it is to say 'Indonesian' or 'Indonesia.' In addition, the local media uses the word liberally in news headlines; this alone is a strong contributing factor to the perpetuation of the word. As far as I knew, we do not intentionally mean any type of discrimination or offense by the usage of the word.

In reality however, most educated Indonesians would regard the term 'Indon' as degrading and insulting. 'Indon' has been considered by some to be as racist of a term as 'Chokin' (referring to Indonesian Chinese) or the very crude 'nigger' (African-Americans). The worse part is we as Malaysians are not always aware that the term 'Indon' reeks of derogatory. This, unfortunately for us, translates as ignorance.

So why would Indonesians react so unfavorably about a word that is merely a truncation of the original word? If you can offhandedly call Malaysians "Malays", or Australians as "Aussies," couldn't you call an Indonesian "Indon?" To reach a fair answer, it is perhaps helpful to examine the Indonesian stereotypes of which we are accustomed to.

In countries like Malaysia and Singapore, we have developed this contrived view that most Indonesian workers who enter our borders are coming in to work in blue-collared fields. To a certain degree this is true; most of today's house help and construction workers are made up of people from our neighboring country. As such we have always, for some unfathomable reason, somehow referred to this group of hardworking folks as "Indons."

In relation to this, our perception of "Indons" is further mutilated when our media highlights social ills conducted by some of these immigrant workers, splashing such titles across the newspapers as "Indon woman jailed for abducting baby" (The Star, 3 November 2004, p.6) and "Indon man charged with murder of good Samaritan" (The Star, 25 July 2004, p.1).

We can to a certain extent agree that the word "Indon" is synonymous with the Indonesians who are from the lower rungs of the social ladder. Therefore to be referred to as "Indons" is not only grammatically incorrect as no such word exists in any dictionary; it is also offensive because it is an implication of lower social, economical and educational statuses.

Indonesian writer Nasrullah Ali-Fauzi had once addressed the 'Indon' word usage issue in his article "Perkataan 'Indon'" which was published in newspapers in Malaysia and Indonesia. Apart from his analysis of the subject which was very similar to my views, Nasrul had highlighted the Kuala Lumpur Indonesian Embassy's urge to all Malaysian media to eliminate the usage of 'Indon.' Despite how trivial this 'Indon' concern sounds, the defiance against it is very real, and from higher authority no less.

But there is one other related issue I needed to have addressed; if Indonesian maids and brick layers are referred to as "Indons" in our newspapers and social circles, how are the white-collared and political Indonesians fairing?

To help me answer this question, I started collecting Malaysian newspaper clippings of articles that had the word 'Indon' in the title, just to see how far we had gone in utilizing this word that so many of our Indonesian friends are miffed in hearing us use.

It is perhaps to no surprise that 'Indon' is also copiously used to describe the country's entertainers, politicians and businesses in our newspapers. Forget about social status; it is what we universally term Indonesians as!

There is plenty more where this came from!

I can understand how using the whole word 'Indonesia' might be space-consuming for some headlines. Despite the questionable headlines however, the content of the articles use the proper noun 'Indonesia' in its finer details.

To remedy the 'Indon' syndrome in news writing, Indonesian Singapore-resident Indradi Soemardjan has suggested to me that the proper abbreviation of WNI ('Warga Negara Indonesia' or Indonesian citizen) be used in referring to Indonesians.

Unfortunately such an abbreviation will not translate well in Malaysia, especially in English media. In addition we are not avid users of abbreviations like the Indonesians. The quick and dirty way out to short and concise news headlines about Indonesians remain using the cringe-worthy word 'Indon.' Both English and Malay media are perpetrators of this abuse.

To drive the point of this article home, I for one wouldn't be so jolly if non-Malaysians referred to me as a 'Mal' (just to give you an extreme example of a terribly-truncated fragment from 'Malaysia').

Whether or not you agree that 'Indon' is an objectionable term to use, it does not matter. The lesson that we need to learn is to dispose all assumptions that what we say or do will not offend others. Just because it is common practice or appears printed in black ink on our newspapers does not make it right. If a terminology is offensive to others, even if only one or two people voice their concerns, then we must cease to use it, especially in verbal communication.

Let us start by properly calling Indonesians 'Indonesians.'

Source : MyIndo.Com

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