It all started when I overheard some of my neighboring countrymen refer to an Indonesian as an “Indon”. I never expected that I would hear such word in this campus. To my understanding, there would not be any educated person using the word.
Surprisingly, some Indonesians refer to themselves as an “Indon” on their Facebook statuses. These statuses undoubtedly cause a great number of controversial comments. Many, if not all, criticized the use of “Indon”. Most comments suggested that the term is derogatory to Indonesians. I then did a Google search and found some newspaper articles on the issue.
Interestingly but unsurprisingly, Google linked to some other news about “Indon” that were written either by Indonesians or Malaysians.
The former indicate that they hate being referred to in such a way, while the latter seemed to use the word to mock or disparage a group of Indonesian workers working in Malaysia. The adjectives used around “Indon” ranged from sexy to stupid. Some of the statements were: “I hate Indon”, “Jangan berkawan dengan orang Indon” (don’t make friends with Indon), “Don’t let Indon workers back in” and “Indon please stop ganyang (crushing) Malaysia”.
The media reported that Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur had protested against the use of the word “Indon” in one Malaysian newspaper. The embassy objected to the word due to the negative and derogatory meaning it carries. They were dismayed that the Malaysian Olympic Assembly vice president WY Chin used the word “Indon” during an interview with Berita Harian, Malaysia.
The Indonesian government felt so disappointed that both Indonesian and Malaysian governments have agreed the word is not to be used, including in the mass media. It was decided that the term is humiliating and embarrassing.
Semantically speaking, Urban Dictionary defines the word as: “An offensive term used by Malaysians. It is even used by the government, signifying the biased opinions of the Malaysian government. Used in the same context as ‘nigger’, it is offensive only if used by Malaysians. For example, ‘I’m jealous of those rich Indons,’ said a Malay person.”
Historically speaking, the term “Indon” refers to some Indonesians working and living in Malaysia. Language is about usage and context. Originally, the word was used to disparage this group of people. It is then obvious that the term is not used to respect Indonesians.
Additionally, interpreting from the usage in Berita Harian and other related websites, the use of “Indon” now is also to devalue Indonesians, not only as uneducated, trouble-making workers in Malaysia. It may be safely assumed that it becomes profanity.
A number of Malaysians use “Indon” derogatorily to some Indonesians. Like some Americans that find “nigger” derogatory, “Indon”, for most Indonesians, resonates the same meaning.
In terms of function, profanity has two functions: To buttress solidarity, and to express anger, fear or frustration. Others have described it as a disrespectful nickname for a racial group.
It is then safe to conclude that “Indon” is also a racial slur. Like profanity, a slur is an identity that functions as a vehicle to promote an in-group harmony. However, the effect for the targeted group can be really offensive.
The effect of a verbal abuse is as offensive as the physical blows. Moreover, this term can be safely
referred to as hate speech.
It goes without saying that “Indon” is a profanity, slur and hate speech that can cause a variety
of unfavorable feelings for the recipient. Though it can also function to create a group member’s solidarity, the effects can result in psychological consequences that might be far more dangerous than some physical reactions.
So, my fellow friends, do you still refer yourself with this derogatory term or still call on others with this pejorative term?
The writer is a Fulbright Presidential Scholar and a PhD student at SLA program, UW-Madison, United States, as well as an alumna of department of linguistics, Ohio University.