You Are (not) What Your Ethnicity Is

“It took 170 years for a catholic, and 240 years for an African-American to be the president of the United States. Thus it would take presumably 100 years for a non-Javanese to be the president of Indonesia,” said Jusuf Kalla, a non-Javanese presidential candidate who had failed in the national election in 2009. The fact that six out of seven antecedent presidents of Indonesia were all Javanese makes the convention of Javanese president even more prevailing. There are two main reasons for this devastating trend taking place. First off, the country’s social demography, which is made up of 40% Javanese, makes the Javanese as a dominant group among voters. Indonesians tend to vote for leaders who are originated from the same cultural background since primordialism still matters in the country. This situation ultimately creates a skew as it only benefits the majority of people but marginalizes the other. Second, perpetuated traditions of Javanese figures playing leadership roles are still ingrained in political and social aspects since the era of Majapahit Empire until the present-day. Both factors, more or less, beget stereotype in which our society perceives Javanese as a hard-working, superior ethnic group in social stratification. The stereotype could not be more wrong, since there’s no such thing as superiority in society, and hard-working is not a characteristic that people were born with. Everyone, regardless of their ethnicities, can take responsibility for forming a particular character so long as he has a nurturing environment for that. Being a non-Javanese doesn’t mean you don’t work as hard as the Javanese. People can’t simply judge a man as a hard-worker until he proves his work ethic himself.

Generally speaking, the act of perceiving one’s disposition and negating one’s quality based on their ethnicities has been a common practice in contemporary Indonesia. Since Indonesia is the largest archipelago, it is without question that the country comprises a large number of islands and tribes. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics or Badan Pusat Statistik, there are more than 300 Indonesian ethnic groups. The inevitable sociocultural diversity among its citizens has generated deep-rooted stereotypes of each ethnic group throughout history. Stereotyping is a way often used to simplify the multitude of individual nature into whichever groups suited best to their attributes, and in this case, ethnicities. Many of the common stereotypes that shape ethnic identities in Indonesia are: Minang are excellent at selling but stingy; Sundanese are gentle but tend to be materialistic; Bataknese are articulate but could quickly lose temper; Papuan are loyal to their root but hostile to other groups, and the lists could go on. Even when it comes to marital affairs, the elders tend to get involved in giving several careful notices on which ethnicity one should or shouldn’t marry to avoid interracial conflicts. If the warned marriage did happen, and the couples eventually separated, the prejudice will always be a familial concern in future marriages. These blatant stereotypes are passed on from one generation to another, making them so pervasive in Indonesian culture.

Although the use of stereotype was first referred to as “pictures in the head” of a particular type of person or thing, the term today doesn’t necessarily mean that the picture is merely inside one’s head. Besides word of mouth in everyday communication, the media also plays a significant role in constructing racial imagery when there is a lack of contact between ethnic groups. Through news reports, articles, photo captions, and many more, people can discern the influence of digital media as an alternative communication tool to portray different groups of people whom they have never encountered in real life and try to make a better understanding of them. Consequently, stereotypes have transformed into social beliefs rather than individual opinions, and thus creating a broader impact in modern society. Some of what we heard regarding the generalization may be true, some of it are just the products of pure conjecture coming from people who may not even have the experience. Yet, these people own the capacity and opportunity to spread information that could be misleading to some people. Due to massive media availability and people’s tendency to take the most practical way, individuals rely on media almost entirely these days. Therefore, digital media that highlight ethnic issues through any form of broadcasting should take responsible steps in doing so, or else they may exacerbate the preexisting racial assumptions and make such assumptions even more upscaled.

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