THE current preoccupation with dignity is a consequence of the recently held Malay Dignity Congress.
Bloggers, spin writers and non-governmental organisations have jumped on the bandwagon to run down Malay self-worth and esteem.
Before proceeding further, we need to know what is dignity and its reference to a communal or ethnic group.
The word dignity signifies the moral values, ethics and self-worth reflected in behavioural pattern and personal conduct.
A truly dignified person is one who has all these attributes, but it is most difficult to find such a person — a person of impeccable character, selfless and most caring.
For no one person can display all such attributes.
A normal person with dignity has varying elements of these attributes.
The dignity of a communal, tribal or ethnic group is dependent on the self-esteem of its composition, mainly the people who form the group.
Of course, we cannot expect everyone in the group to conform to the tenets of good conduct.
For human weaknesses, such as selfishness and avarice, will tarnish the communal dignity.
As such, the dignity of the group should not be judged by the actions of a few, but by those of the majority.
It is good practice to periodically reassess the ethical and moral postures of a communal, tribal or ethnic group, whether it has veered from its traditional ethos or absorbed new values that challenge the dignity of the group or enhanced its prestige and dignity.
For values and traditions are constantly changing due to exposure to external cultural, religious and educational influences.
In rural areas, Malay dignity is tightly tied to traditional norms and values that have remained intact, with only minimal changes over the centuries while the concept of dignity in urban areas is no longer solely based on traditional values.
It has evolved over time and adopted a new set of values that emphasises materialistic accoutrement.
It is from this perspective that we should view Malay dignity that came into the limelight as a result of the Malay Dignity Congress.
The congress exposed the Malays to criticisms of lacking dignity and relying on government handouts while shunning hard work and having poor competitive spirit.
And that the Malays want special privileges without earning them.
A host of other accusations that belittles the Malays was hurled at them by spin writers, bloggers, non-governmental organisations and even politicians.
Because of the actions of these politicians, the whole Malay race bears the brunt of this criticisms and ridicule.
But in fact, the Malays at large are a dignified people.
They have dignity in working, eking out an honest living as fishermen, farmers, rubber tappers, oil palm workers for an income at or below the B40 remuneration.
But the middlemen who are non-Malays reaped the profits from these workers who have long been exploited by them.
Then there are the Malays who serve with dignity in the armed forces, police, Fire and Rescue Department, laying down their lives for a basic government salary to ensure security for the people so that they could live in comfort and peace.
Malay petty hawkers selling nasi lemak, goreng pisang, nasi campur, and other food patronised by customers from all walks of life and ethnicities, exemplify the dignity of honest work.
Likewise, those working in fast food chains, hotels and restaurants, factories do not expect any handouts from the government.
The same for teachers, office workers and those in the service industry as well as those working in menial jobs.
Thus, to denigrate the Malays as a whole as being undignified and lacking dignity because of the actions of some unprincipled academics and the unscrupulous politicians’ greed and avarice for power and positions is truly uncalled for.
For the Malays have never begged. They take what is due to them and even relinquish their rights to accommodate others.
The historical development of the Malays as a people having self-esteem and ready to sacrifice their lives for the homeland and willing to work hard testifies to their dignity.
The writer is lecturer at Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times