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Lisa Surihani opens up about Christmas greetings backlash

The actress calls for the Malaysian education system to create more awareness about racial tolerance

By Andrea Tim | Published: 10 Aug 2016

Lisa: Racial harmony
Photo: Lisa Surihani

Lisa Surihani thinks that the Malaysian education system doesn't sufficiently promote racial tolerance, The Star reports. She addressed the "lectures" she received from social media followers a few years ago after posting Christmas greetings – some comments took aim at how Lisa wasn't being a good Muslim.

"I received paragraph after paragraph of lectures for not being a good Muslim. I had no idea what I had done wrong," Lisa said. "I may not be well learned in my religion but I knew I did not disrespect my faith. I come from a diverse background and have family and friends who celebrate Christmas. I knew I had to be careful about what I post in the future, but I was determined that it should not stop me from being the person I truly am."

Lisa continues to sincerely post festive greetings, but notes that the racial backlash hasn't stopped. Racism is not an unfamiliar issue in Malaysia. The actress credited her upbringing for how she respects other cultural practices, and added that the nation's current education system (which includes Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools) isn't doing enough to instil racial tolerance among school-going children.

"I went to an international school that taught civic studies," said Lisa, who shares an 11-month-old daughter with her husband Yusry Abdul Halim. "It was ingrained in us to respect each other's beliefs. Children should be allowed to mix freely from young. How are they to do that in racially segregated schools? Knowingly or unknowingly, we have allowed such schools to be established and when the children are all grown up, we complain about their intolerance for other races."

In all fairness, Chinese or Indian vernacular schools are not racially exclusive – students of other races can also attend those schools – although a large majority of its students are Chinese or Indian respectively. However, Lisa still has a point about how lack of awareness in children is one of many elements that contribute to poor racial unity.

"Nothing much can be done for my generation but to increase awareness," she added. "But there is still time to make a change in the school system for our children."

Lisa spoke ahead of her participation in the first Anak Anak Malaysia Walk, held with the aim of raising awareness about national harmony during the month when Malaysia celebrates its 59th year of independence. The walk kicks off at Bukit Bintang City Centre this Saturday, 14 August 2016 at 6.30am. Registration fees are RM20 (adult), RM10 (child) and RM40 (per family of two adults and two children).

Related: Lisa Surihani's baby girl is the cutest thing you'll see today
Related: Yuna: "I've faced more racism from my own race than from Americans"


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