The Hard Truth about Racism in Singaporean Media

Q: What’s the difference between a Malay guy and a park bench?

A: The park bench can support a family of five.

I used to love telling this joke. I came from a Special Assistance Programme (SAP) primary school, was surrounded by Chinese friends, and had never interacted with a racial minority beyond exchanging pleasantries at the void deck. My mum – whom I love deeply and respect – used to warn me about straying away from home, if not “later you get caught by the appunehneh”. My childhood was one where it seemed normal to deploy racially-charged humour to lighten the mood.

But that changed when I entered secondary school. I made a few friends of non-Chinese descent. And while they’d laugh along with my Chinese friends at the racist jokes I told, their laughter rang hollow. It was the trained reflex of someone who’s been told all their life that they need to “lighten up” and “learn to take a joke”. Someone who’s decided it is easier to play along and feign enjoyment, than to spoil the mood by kicking up a fuss.

Secondary school was also when I met Shrey Bhargava. He was one year my senior and I recall being blown away by his acting ability. He was clearly the most talented actor in school. I remembered his ability to effortlessly segue between accents, be it the lilt of an Irish accent or the guttural undertones of the German tongue.

He would be the last person on earth to call anyone out for putting on an accent. When I read his Facebook post about being asked to “speak with a thick Indian accent … And make it funny”, it was evident that Shrey wasn’t angry about being asked to put on a foreign accent; he was angry that the audience was being primed to laugh at the accent itself – as it there was something inherently funny about being Indian, about being the Other that Chinese Singaporeans can poke fun at.

It is important to understand how Shrey’s experience fits within the broader canon of local media. In a paper on Ethnic Representation on Singapore Film and Television, researcher Kenneth Paul Tan observes that “Indians on film and television seem to inspire three inter-related reactions from the audience: laughter, irritation, and fear”.

Tan further notes, “Although there is nothing inherently funny about (scenes in which Indian characters are played for laughs), for Chinese audiences especially, the unexpected inclusion of Indians triggers their prior perceptions of the stark visual differences between the Chinese and Indians, the melodic inflexions of the Indian languages, and the characteristic gesticulations that accompany Indian speech.

In other words, because the concept of Indian-ness is so far removed from the mainstream Singaporean Chinese consciousness, the incongruity of introducing a thick Indian accent or a garbled burst of Tamil is effective in making people laugh. It is humour that is premised on being exclusionary: That my enjoyment of the joke comes at your people’s expense, because you are not included in my conception of community and society.

Many have argued that mainstream cinema is built on stereotypes. And I agree that not every film can be Moonlight or 12 Years a Slave. Stereotypes are important cinematic shorthand: A filmmaker has slightly less than two hours to tell a story, and the use of tropes is a way to short-circuit the characterisation process so audiences immediately know certain things without having to resort to nuance or excessive detail. For instance, we know that Ivan Vanko (Iron Man 2) is evil because he has an Eastern European accent and looks like an escaped convict. Fewer things need to be established from there.

Crucially, however, not all stereotypes are made equal. Whether a stereotype is harmful or benign depends on how it interacts with the broader social attitude towards race and religion. While it is lazy filmmaking to make Russians the stereotypical villains in many films, it is not outwardly problematic as Russian people (not the country, which gets a lot of stick in the media) don’t face much discrimination in the United States. But if one were to use the exact same process to make Arab Muslims the stereotypical villains in many films, it may become problematic – since it reinforces the prevailing social consciousness that Islam is an inherently violent religion; that Arab peoples should be placed under greater scrutiny and that animus towards this group of people is justified.

Similarly, while the stereotype of “Very Foreign-Sounding and Moustachioed Dark-Skinned Indian Man” may be superficially similar to “Very Ah Beng-Sounding and Tattooed Chinese Gangster”, they are substantively different. It is impossible to deny that Indians, particularly those who speak with thick accents and look like first-generation immigrants, are more discriminated against than working-class Chinese Singaporeans. They find it harder to make friends in primary school, they are laughed at for the food they eat, doors get slammed in their face by landlords who refuse to rent to Indian people because of “the smell”, parents irrationally pull their children closer when they walk by. In this case, stereotypes in popular media contribute to (rather than merely reflect) the social otherisation of already marginalised communities in Singapore.

A further consideration is that while everyone gets stereotyped in a low-brow Jack Neo film, at least Chinese characters get the privilege of specific stereotyping. Notice how being “Chinese” is not enough to distinguish a character – you also need to be “Enthu Chinese kia who wants to be officer”, or “Chaokeng Chinese teenager with girlfriend problems from a rich family”. There is a second level of characterisation taking place. But this luxury is not afforded to an Indian or Malay character. In these films, being a racial minority is in itself substantial difference that it becomes a characterisation. There is no further depth – being an Other in a majority-Chinese environment is enough.

Katha Pollitt writes about this in her 1991 New York Times article on Hers; The Smurfette Principle. She calls out the Smurfs series for how it features “a group of male buddies … accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined.” All the male smurfs have unique, albeit stereotypical, characteristics – some are clumsy, lazy, or smart. But the singular female smurf has no such luxury. She is distinguished by being female – having blonde hair and typically feminine interests.

I understand it is easy, particularly in the current political climate, to immediately dismiss this as another “Social Justice Warrior” piece. It is admittedly hard to see why words, or media, or social attitudes lead to concrete harm. But substantial social science research has demonstrated a clear correlation between phenomena like racist/sexist humour, and racist/sexist tendencies. By normalising shallow attitudes towards people whom we ought to better understand, racist stereotyping only serves to hurt groups that deserve inclusion.

So feel free to disagree. But please do so respectfully, and with the same tact as if you were arguing with me in person. The vitriol being hurled on Facebook is completely unacceptable and unbecoming of grown adults. How is this different from the “SJWs” that people are so quick to condemn?

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33 Replies to “The Hard Truth about Racism in Singaporean Media”

  1. Thanks for writing this. What many Singaporeans, in particular those from the majority ethnic group, lack is an awareness of our context as a Chinese-majority society, and correspondingly, the lived experience of being a minority in a community. My experience living as a minority group while I was in the US, juxtaposed against my lived experience as part the majority ethnic group in Singapore, has been extremely instructive. I think more of us Chinese Singaporeans would do well to have that experience.

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  2. Excellent article. Well articulated. In my experience, Singapore ranks among the top most racist countries in the world, where racism is a way of life — and this from a lighter skinned Indian (lighter skinned) than many Chinese, who has grown up in many parts of the world! It is truly pathetic how the Chinese Singaporeans glibly mouth racist comments and display their racist tendencies, smoothly woven into their everyday attitudes and speech, and equally pathetic how the Indians, dark skinned or not, either join in in the name of tolerance or ‘fitting in’ , or display their supposed ‘big mindedness’ by claiming that this attitude comes from the ‘ignorant’ few who need to be ‘educated’! Yeah right, ‘educate’ someone and smile benignly on an idiot who makes a crack about how you cannot see an Indian in dim light!!!
    Truly pathetic, and amazing how these Chinese think highly of themselves and think others do too. In many parts of India, these very same people of the Mongoloid race are looked down upon and subjected to racism because of their slit eyes, flat noses — which is not ok, but I just point out how myopic and insular the Chinese in Singapore are despite the government trying to bill the country as an international training center and melting pot of races. The Chinese seem proud of their racist attitudes as if this makes them superior somehow, and that others will look up to them, Hard not feel put down if an Indian child has grown up there, i agree. Glad I did not, and glad I pulled my child out of that racist pot in time!!! Cook in your racism, Singapore!!! See how far you go!

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    1. I will have to question when you say “in my experience” that “Singapore ranks among the top most racist countries”
      Because personally as someone who has lived in multiple countries, as well as travelled to many
      Singapore has been the least racist in my opinion.

      Compared to my experience, where the French immigration officers took a look at our group and smirked, intentionally not stamping on our passports as we went by, causing us to have to turn back and specifically request of them to put a stamp on our passports.
      To differing treatments abroad in other countries, which I will not spend my time further describing.

      From the basics of equal treatment (in general lifestyle), to where I’ve freely and openly discussed topics of our differing race and religion in class and learnt more about one another

      It is a definite thing whereby stereotypes and differing views of people is unavoidable and impossible to fully eliminate, however I will have to argue your point that “Singapore ranks among the top most racist countries”
      I will say that you truly have to experience living abroad and/or travelling to multiple different countries to truly experience what a place Singapore is

      It isn’t the best – definitely, but I can say from experience that it is, one of, the top and safest

      Liked by 1 person

      1. agree with you. in fact, being able to take racist joke and poking fun at each other friends isn’t it a sign of racial tolerance? I might be wrong but it is like how a best friend will treat you VS how a friend will treat you. Just my 2 cents worth of thought.

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      2. You must be a Chinese Singaporean that’s why you find it hard to believe and you feel the difference in treatment only when you are out of your own community. Most Singaporean are not racist but we have imported too many that think that Singapore is part of China. Minority race have always have to laugh at the jokes made by racist people just to not offend the majority.

        Just Look at our IC why are Called Malay, Chinese and Indians and even others? Are we not born in Singapore and shouldn’t we be called Singaporean in our IC instead of our race. Is this Racist what the government done. At least the British used to called everyone as a British Subject. Fact in Singapore that we do not share.

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    2. Hi, I grew up in a kampong (village) with neighbours and friends from all the races in Singapore – Malays, Indians, different Chinese dialect groups, babas (peranakans) , etc. I can quite honestly say, I am pretty mult-racial in attitude, accepting and informed about other Singaporeans from a different skin colour, culture and religion.

      However, your post said a couple of things to me:
      1. You appeared to have had a bad experience in Singapore and has now returned to your own native land. I wish you and your family well.

      2. Your reference to having a lighter skin than Chinese Singaporeans tells me that you are also quite race conscious yourself. You had felt frustration during your stay here from a perceived racial slight being continually meted out to Singaporean Indians by the majority Chinese. Your reference to “cannot see an Indian in dim light” appeared to be from an infamous incident where an MP from the ruling party made the callous remark. Let me assure you he was roundly condemned by all and sundry here for it. It is true that such people do not represent the views of the vast majority.

      3. Your reference to the presence of the ‘Mongoloid race’ (Chinese) with slit eyes and flat nose again clearly exposes your own racial prejudices and consciousness. For some reason you appeared to have felt ‘powerless’ while among the locals when you were here. IMO, therein lies a feeling of superiority complex and you have felt suppressed as you cannot fit in. IMO, human beings cannot escape tribalism. What you apparently perceived here happens everywhere there are people. It’s universal. India is a caste divided society with its share of ‘untouchables’ just as Japan has its ‘barakumin’. People ostracized and shun others for all sorts of reasons – the poor are a common example, so are people with certain medical conditions, for example.

      Sorry, but your last sentences speak volumes of your own personal frustration and inability to fit in here for whatever reasons more than anything else. Sometimes one should reflect on whether one’s own behaviour and attitude had played a part to generate such negative feelings about a place and its people.

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    3. Are this equally peeved when a similar and violent attitude is displayed towards muslims in India, who have as much of a heritage of India as Hindus do. It’s easy to be pissed off when you are at the receiving end of it, but little do people speak about when they are the ones gaining from it.

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    4. Sita isn’t it like the pot calling the kettle black. India has it’s own form of racism too. The North Indians and South Indians practise the caste system though the Indian government “officially” or so it seems abolished it. Then again the north thinks it is superior to the South Indians. The young indians even introduce themselves by adding their sect to the tail end of their name.As though this is not enough they dare bring ‘it’ to Singapore. Where most indians have done away with it. So i ask what’s the difference between you and some of the anti-social and ill-mannered chinese, indians and other races in Singapore.
      I say some because most Singaporeans are sensitive each others religion,cultures and feelings.
      It’s good you left Singapore. Your manners are very offensive. We don’t want like minded people like you in Singapore. Whether you be from India, Sri Lanka, China or any other part of the world.

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  3. Skipped to 3rd para for actual discourse. That said, tolerance and understanding comes naturally with maturity and education, which you so eloquently humblebragged thus I’m not completely sure what the purpose of the excessively verbose exposition from your formative years serve, if any.

    For the record, I’m just going to state that there are many, including myself of course, who find no enjoyment in Jack Neo’s absolutely abysmal lowbrow humor undertones. To associate his movies to comedy is simply a stretch (I stand corrected perhaps only to the simpletons). I’d incline to label it more as a drama with pathetic attempts at littering witty quips to poor effect. And you’d actually be hard-pressed to find educated young adults flocking to his films for said comedic delivery, rather the true pull factor stems from his ability to craft a story with an *enticing premise* (YMMV), punctuated with moral undertones that resonate with general sentiments. These days, I always find myself disappointed as he falls short of his trademark heart-warming punches as years pass though. In essence, I have no love for Jack Neo and his ilk, neither have I paid good money to watch any of his repugnant media gracing the big screen.

    That said, let’s first ask ourselves why the casting director used those exact words quoted: “…speak w/ a thick Indian accent, and make it funny”.
    – Maybe because he lacked the emotive capacity to deliver his lines humorously?
    – Could it also be the director’s prerogative to attempt to better differentiate the milieu of Singaporean accents in a large cast? (Chinese need to speak in fluent Mandarin; Malays need to speak in fluent Malay etc.)
    – Or perhaps Shrey lacked the clarity in his speech during the initial performance?

    Point is, there are plenty other reasons why the director said what she said but Shrey along with you and yours chose to interpret it in a way that would fit your skewed narrative – i.e. “I failed because he/she is a racist!” With excellent analysis and pieces prior to this incident about the current context, one was thoroughly disappointed you actually fell for the dog-whistling strategy.

    While introspecting, let’s also revisit the study you quoted by Kenneth Paul Tan dating back to 2003. As any credible voice in academia would attest, papers that span beyond the timeframe of 10 years are ill-advised from being referenced as a source and rightly so as socio-economic and cultural changes, let alone institutional are bound to have taken place, rendering it insubstantial by now. It’s also worth noting that it’s written by a fellow Indian, so I’d take the article with a pinch of salt while stopping short here less I be labelled a racist in the eyes of Shrey’s. While speech patterns by Indians are “primed” for laughs, Kenneth seemingly failed to point out that typical Chinese stereotypes of being loud and obnoxious are also similarly “primed” for frustration, ditto for Malays with their laidback attitude. Seems to me Indians got the better end of the bargain no?

    You then brought up the theme of stereotypes and how they’re prevalent in mainstream media – I don’t disagree. You however lacked objectivity (or simply lazy in your handling of researching said subject) in subsequent examples quoting Arabs on film. Ever heard of the film “The Kingdom” by Jamie Foxx or “Borat” – Infamous Kazakhs’/Arabic impression in helicopter scene? And these are but a handful of media that took jabs at polemic topics, the latter to great comedic outcome. Need more type casted Indian comedians? Here you go: Abed in NBC’s community played by the wonderful Danny Pudi; Raj Koothrappali in CBS’ Big Bang Theory performed by Kunal Nayyar.

    Similarly, how positive are you when you made the blanket claim that Indians are “more discriminated against than working-class Singaporeans”? Would need to cite some source for this one otherwise it’s just hot air from personal anecdotes. As for the usual bullcrap rationale about how Jack Neo’s Chinese characters having the privilege of a multitude of characters ranging from the rich/spoilt brat to ah-bengs…you do understand that this is a CHINESE production by a CHINESE director, acted out in CHINESE/MANDARIN mostly whilst marketed to a predominantly CHINESE audience right? Why doesn’t Shrey cry wolf when pricks like Alfian Sa’at place emphasis on his Malay roots and not other races that made Singapore for what it is today? Lastly, depths for characters, starring ones in particular, usually come with an arc that evolves and pushes the narrative forward, fulfilling the director’s storytelling vision. One doesn’t need to undertake film studies to know this, Shrey would know best I reckon.

    Thank God the majority (based on FB’s comments) saw through the wolf for his true colors. Inferences suggest Shrey may have been afraid of the negative chatter behind his performance and executed a volte-face, effectively shifting the conversation to a controversial non-issue to gain traction for his social status. So very glad his gratuitous endeavors taking to FB with his cantankerous crybaby tendencies is falling flat against the face of reasoning and logic. To be honest, the vacuity of his mindless ramblings are the exact sort of vituperation that’s pernicious toward legitimately concerning racial issues, all the more we be rid of the detritus as fast as possible.

    So yes, this article is but a glorified Social Justice Warrior (SJW) piece masquerading as a portentous critique on the “institutionalized racism” in Singapore when in actuality, is a cleverly concealed façade for Shrey’s insecurities (this incident to be specific). That his apologies were a result only AFTER his antics were called out by Maxi Lim and the similarly deplorable Xiaxue speaks volumes about his inherent character flaws and the extent to which he’d stoop to further his agenda. Feeble attempts to proselytize citizens such as these from apologists alike should also be called out for posterity.

    P.S.: No, I didn’t make a mountain out of Criminal Minds either.

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    1. Thanks for reading. I’ll just deal with each point in turn:

      Para 1 – It’s a matter of subjective preference. I’m a writer, not someone who produces argumentative listicles. It’s fine that you didn’t enjoy the expository lead-in to the piece, but I sought to frame this issue as one of personal interest, and also own up to any conflicts of interest.

      Para 3 – If you take the time to look at Shrey’s show reel, it’s highly dubious that he “lacked the emotive capacity to deliver his lines humorously” or “lacked the clarity in his speech”. Of course, both of us would be speculating, so I’m going on the other Ah Boys To Men films here to make my point. And in those films, the same critiques about racial minorities apply.

      Para 4 – It seems you don’t like claims of social justice, and deeply dislike people who virtue-signal. Which seems like we likely disagree on many deeper issues, beyond the Shrey saga – you’d probably agree with Milo Yann, for instance.

      Para 5 – The paper was the most relevant to the topic at hand. It is true that academic papers beyond the 10 year time frame are less useful – but would you have a countervailing piece of evidence to refute this? If not, a potentially outdated piece of research trumps speculative analysis. “It is worth noting that it’s written by a fellow Indian … less I be labelled a racist in the eyes of Shrey’s” is quite ad hominem, both for the researcher and Shrey himself. Also, if you’d read the paper (which I linked for transparency), Tan did actually point out how Chinese and Malay characters were used in media. So it’s worrying you’re accusing him of an agenda.

      Para 6 – Let’s drill into each film. For “The Kingdom”, the film is loosely based on two historical incidents (bombings in Saudi Arabia) that means there’s a story rationale for portraying Arab Muslims as violent. For the “Borat” helicopter scene, the caricature is self-aware. In other words, it’s actually poking fun at American Islamophobia, and the popular stereotypes of Arab Muslims in a way that’s uncomfortable but also hilarious. Also, note that its main character is Borat, rather than a white guy having Borat as a funny Arab sidekick. For Raj in BBT (I have watched NBC’s community), the accents are not themselves the butt of the joke – actors aren’t making the accent itself “funny”, the character is a fleshed out physician with a unique story arc and a set of dreams and goals. More that can be said for minority characters in ABTM.

      Para 7 – Regarding the claim about racism, it’s well documented. I refer you to an IPS survey in 2016 (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/racism-still-a-problem-for-some-singaporeans-cna-ips-survey-find-7843598) which states “Two-thirds of Malay and Indian respondents who had experienced such differential treatment claimed that race was the basis of such treatment. Among Malays who had perceived such differential treatment, nearly half said they were treated differently because of their religion, or because of their income or education. Among Indians, 62 per cent said they were treated differently because of their skin colour.” Please don’t tell me this is because they are too sensitive – because then I’ll throw back your claim: How do you know? Do you have evidence?

      You further claim that Alfian focuses on the Malay community and not other races. That is correct. But he doesn’t include Chinese people as token minorities in his narrative. In the same way Chinese people don’t often (if at all) appear on Vasantham. But consistently on “Chinese-targeted” shows (which tend also to be for the Singaporean mainstream, because this intends to be a box office hit), minorities are co-opted to serve as the backdrop for a multi-cultural Singapore. No representation is better than caricatured representation in this case – because the latter causes concrete and demonstrable harm.

      Para 8 and 9 – You seem very worked up about this. Why? I wouldn’t impose American conceptions of political divides (the SJW-left against the alt-right) onto local issues. There are truths to be had on both sides of the spectrum – for instance, not all of modern feminist thought or critical race theory should be discarded. And in this case, I feel strongly that there’s enough evidence that a) Singaporean society is racist (perhaps less so than in the USA); b) our popular media reflects and entrenches said racism; and c) there is a reasonably good chance (albeit not slam-dunk) that this saga is one case of this.

      Cheers.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. NT-PC/SJW, you have a strong command of English and it’s clear that you have great skill in constructing an argument in a convincing manner. However, it really seems that you do not entirely understand the message brought across. There is racism that exists in Singapore and platforms like this allow some of those alarms to be sounded. You are right, this a social justice issue ( as it seems from your name, you have devoted yourself to fight against ) but like you, these stories have to come out and be exposed, because sadly, many of us who have lived with it and simply accepted it as a norm, look back and regret not standing up for ourselves when we were discriminated against. And 20years later, you’d meet the same people who are laughing at the same jokes that were not funny then, and not any more funny now. These people end up wondering why no one catches on to their false understanding of what is okay/not okay to say. As you can now begin to tell, yes, I am from a minority ethnic group. We all have our rights to speak out. But as you would behave at a Chinese New Year reunion dinner, you wouldn’t want to unknowingly embarrass yourself to your extended family.

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      2. Para 1 – Funny, this piece reads exactly the opposite of what you’d have it described. Most of the toxic replies by Indians below seem to hail this article as some timely message from God against the torrent of truth out there. It’s a surrender to one’s own guilt (whatever that may be) it seems, perfectly entitled to of course but spare the commiseration from the rest of us.

        Para 3 – I did actually…and I honestly wasn’t too impressed considering he could’ve done better, this opinion stems from the basis that one enjoyed his previous works. In any case, you’re missing the point that which was explained in the following paragraph of mine – “plenty other reasons why the director said what she said”. The same applies to your other fallacious ABTM analogies, which will be addressed shortly.

        Para 4 – Ah yes!! There we have it…the typical liberal go-to-defense: IF I DISAGREE WITH YOU ON XXX matters, I MUST BE XXX. (Insert following: racial/racist; gender/sexist; financial/1%-er etc.) Think you might need glasses as earlier I mentioned that we see eye to eye in your other posts. Btw, I disagree w/ Milo in favor of Ben Shapiro’s mostly rationale arguments. Logic – you should try it!

        Para 5 – Nothing speculative about my counterargument neither did I suggest a rebuttal so to speak. I merely called a spade a spade, that your usage of the aforementioned article is in poor form, as an academic no less. And wait a minute, you’re the one who’s positing a defense of Shrey’s actions, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on you instead of the critic to lay out relevant data/evidence? Seems to me this little bait and switch tactic is not all that exclusive to Shrey, that or you know what they say about birds of the same feather.

        With regards to Paul Tan’s paper, nothing too surprising I can’t already infer from his, minorities were documented as being portrayed in the negative light, vice versa for the majority. Quite certain my hypothesis of Paul Tan’s race (ad-hom but true whether you like it or not) is on point judging by the replies by fellow Indians on most platforms defending Shrey’s disgusting actions. We’ll get to the crux of minorities portrayal in media more below.

        Para 6 – The Kingdom – It was a fictional account of what exactly had happened, still it performed above expectations in theatres. Borat – Sure, but the comedy delivered by Sacha’s over-the-top acting along with his accent as a Middle-eastern. Who’s to say Shrey couldn’t pull the same in the upcoming ABTM4? Didn’t quite grasp your second point about Borat though, were we not talking about using ethnic actors to perform ethnically inclined stereotypes? NBC – Yep and you’d be stupid to compare Jack Neo’s movie to an actual sitcom (see Para 2) but there were obvious jabs at his ethnicity to great comedic effect, the point here is self-deprecating racially based humor that which includes accents. Same for Abed.

        Para 7 – Strange…upon closer examination of the report here (http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/ips/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/04/CNA-IPS-survey-on-race-relations_190816.pdf), nowhere does it seem to depict the grim picture you’d have me believe. If anything, the results were more optimistic. It was also summarized that though “non-Chinese are more likely to believe that there is majority privilege/advantage”, the caveat that “race is perceived not to influence one’s success” is widely subscribed by minorities and majorities alike. I may be wrong upon my initial glance of the report, perhaps you could further shed some light on the matter with a fresh perspective? Also the quote you provided didn’t specify exactly whether Indians are targeted against by Chinese in particular. Has it accounted for scenarios whereby minorities are discriminated against in other minority institutions?

        As for my thoughts on Alfian, you must’ve missed my answer about how Neo was marketing his audience to a predominantly CHINESE market when the former doesn’t choose to exercise the luxury. Also, objectively speaking, money talks. Facts really don’t care about your feelings, neither will studios trying to milk the cash cow. The better the appeal to the major market demographic, the more money it’ll rake in. Probabilistically speaking, the film would also be a success with or without minority representation since most of whom are going to watch the show are local media consumers. I would think minorities be appreciative of Neo for the opportunity is in order.

        “No representation is better than caricatured representation in this case” – So we haven’t agree that we can get away with this if it’s a comedy? Alright then, if so, why didn’t you criticize Shrey when news came to light that he caricatured Arab accents?

        Para 8/9 – In case you haven’t noticed, social media is ablaze by Shrey’s handiwork, sidestepping his problems to a tangentially-related one. That he hasn’t been sent to jail for upsetting our precarious racial harmony is a godsend for this looney. I appreciate your concern for my well-being though. And are you for real? You were the one who injected the term SJW & Milo into the picture and you’re now claiming the opposite? Flipping prata much (no pun intended)?

        As for the cases you made: (a) Find me a place where racial biases don’t exist (b) See Para 7 above (c) Nope. It’s convenient how you keep avoiding the obvious elephant in the room, i.e. Shrey’s antics relating to his persecutory delusion (he’s ok with laughing at other accents but not ok with other people laughing at his?). Pretty telling actually about your own character too, you know, birds of the same feather.

        P.S.: I have and still am living in other western countries too as a minority, strange that I’ve yet to encounter some form of overt racism when I conduct myself accordingly with a decent sense of humor. Shrey (studying in the States too of all places, heh) could take a leaf maybe?

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      3. Morning. So here are some considerations:

        Para 1 – It’s a matter of subjective personal preference then; while your lived experience may have led you to dislike the style in which the article is written, many minority and non-minority Singaporeans have similarly enjoyed the piece. I can’t change your feelings about it.

        Para 3 – Agree that there exist “plenty other reasons why the director said what she said”. That’s possible. That is, in fact, the classic defence against criticisms of micro-aggression. But when said micro-aggressions, or casual racism, happen on a consistent basis (which is why I discussed the broader canon of Singapore media), those other reasons become less plausible as compared to what I’ve just argued.

        Para 4 – I’m simply trying to establish your position on a broader range of issues. Full disclosure: I’m a strongly centre-left on social issues, but centre-right on economics. I’d not call myself a liberal; maybe a neoliberal with caveats. Thank you for your invitation to try logic. I have indeed sampled it, and do enjoy argumentation and critical thinking.

        Para 5 – I did indeed prove with relevant data and evidence. I linked to Tan’s paper and summarised his study on media, along with a psychology paper that linked racist jokes to the normalisation of racist tendencies.

        You argued, “Quite certain my hypothesis of Paul Tan’s race (ad-hom but true whether you like it or not) is on point judging by the replies by fellow Indians on most platforms defending Shrey’s disgusting actions.” This isn’t an argument at all. Your “certainty” means nothing. I’ve given you proof, that is dated but academically sound and has passed peer review. You’ve given me your “certainty”, and facetious claims that Indians are biased when speaking about race. Why wouldn’t you be biased, given that you come from X (I don’t know) race? Why are Indians more biased, and less capable of rationality when talking about racial issues?

        Para 6 – Yes, but it was based on two historical bombings that happened in Saudi Arabia. The story demanded that there be Arab Muslim villains. You miss my point entirely. For Borat, the argument isn’t that the accent itself is the problem; I’ve already stated this. The problem is how accents and stereotypes are used. For Borat, the accent and stereotype was not for us to laugh at how different Arab people are! The character of Borat is so outlandishly self-aware that the humour is not directed at how a community behaves; but that incongruity of seeing a man-child dictator. I agree that I’d “be stupid to compare Jack Neo’s movie to an actual sitcom”, but my point stands. Only include racial humour if you can appropriately flesh out the racial minority. That does not happen in Jack Neo films.

        Para 7 – The IPS survey paints a positive, but qualified, picture of race relations in Singapore. I’d just like to pick out a few things that stood out. “Regression analysis showed that lower levels of multiculturalism were associated with those who were not of minority races, older … nearly half of respondents acknowledge the persistence of racism as a problem … More minorities viewed racist acts as a never acceptable”. The statistics also demonstrate a significant (but not huge) majority/minority divide on incidence of racist remarks. Hence, while I don’t “specify exactly whether Indians are targeted against by Chinese in particular”, the data does show that majorities do have a slightly heavier burden to bear re: resolving casual racism.

        I further agree wholeheartedly that the survey found that “race is not perceived to influence one’s success”. But success – a measure of where you are in life – does not capture the psychological toll of dealing with casual racism on a daily basis. There are other non-success related harms – e.g. Renting homes to Indians (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26832115)

        Yes, Neo is marketing his audience to a predominantly Chinese market. Why does that excuse caricaturing minorities? Lots of Channel 8 dramas (except the repulsive blackface one) don’t do that. You then say, “Probabilistically speaking, the film would also be a success with or without minority representation since most of whom are going to watch the show are local media consumers.” Yes, so why include caricatures of minorities? You then say, “I would think minorities be appreciative of Neo for the opportunity is in order.” You aren’t a spokesperson for minority communities. And Facebook/social media reaction shows that minorities sure aren’t appreciative of Neo.

        Yes, Shrey could have chosen not to do that. And it is regrettable he did. But it is also unfair to say that ALL his accents and stereotyping is wrong. My point remains, however, that some stereotypes are more damaging than others – especially considering the context they are used in. A Mark Lim “ah beng” stereotype, for instance, is far less harmful to racial perceptions than a Jack Neo “be more Indian so more funny” stereotype. Refer to reasons in article.

        Para 8/9 – I prefer to talk about issues, not people. No, I did not inject the term SJW into the picture. Go to any Facebook thread and see the tenor and character of discourse. Terms like “SJW” and “alt-right” are being flung around. Which is why I stated that this shouldn’t be seen through an American lens, right from the penultimate paragraph.

        Racial biases exist everywhere. That does not mean we give up and accept that casual racism is the price we pay for living in a multicultural society. Human instincts can be fundamentally changed – liberal democracy, for instance, is deeply unintuitive, but the West has managed to brainwash lots of people into buying into its construct. My burden is not to find a place where racial biases don’t exist; yours is to tell me why a) casual racism is not a problem; and b) even if it is a problem why minorities should toughen up and bear it.

        P.S. Perhaps your personal experiences have shaped your political orientation, in the very same way that the “Indian people” you decry in the comments have let their lived experiences shape theirs?

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      4. *With regards to Paul Tan’s paper: minorities were documented as being portrayed in the negative light, vice versa for the majority. Nothing too surprising there.

        *Borat – Sure, but the comedy worked in no small part due to the delivery by Sacha’s over-the-top acting along with his accent as a Middle-eastern.

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      5. Hi, my responses in numerical order below:

        – Oh I understand it’s subjective (you’ve repeated yourself twice now)…considering the objective of your earlier prose is to pontificate with certitude that somehow the local minority is owed something by the majority. One’s contention is merely to call out that biased opinion stemming from an elite milieu.

        – Ok great! So you’re finally yielding that there are a myriad of possibilities that could play out in the limited context. Now we’re getting somewhere. For the record, I’d also like to point out that it seemed you never wanted to acknowledge the above as a possibility (in your OP) until another fellow commenter and I brought it up.

        As for “micro-aggressions”, I understand it’s a buzzword for snowflakes these days in an effort to characterize SUBJECTIVE indignities faced by victims (of color in this case). Here’s an example of why it never should have taken a foothold in our daily usage of diction: The following is an analogy of a banter that might take place with two good Chinese and Indian friends – “Eh bro! First you say this, now you say that…don’t flip prata leh!” The sentence was an obvious jab at flipping an argument’s inconsistencies but the Indian individual could simply misconstrue his intentions and feel maliciously aggressed.

        So who’s to say the Indian isn’t simply overreacting because his feelings told him those were trigger warnings? If that’s the case, anyone can cry victimhood (micro-aggressions extend beyond racial stereotypes) and expect the society to bend over backwards to mend one’s hurt feelings? Jonathan Haidt addresses this very topic in a recent article in The Atlantic, arguing that all this charade of concern actually creates more unstable individuals as they begin to feel hypersensitive over trivial matters and internalize trigger warnings. Rue the day that society eventually propels itself toward such a direction.

        Btw, you seem inclined on drawing tangential arguments into this case in the pretext of discussing the “broader canon of Singapore media”. Once again, I’d like to draw you back into the context of our discussion, that my position is one that doesn’t deny racism tendencies against minorities here, but refuse to accept that that was what happened in Shrey’s case.

        – You very could have without insinuating my alignment with Milo Yanniopoulos. Very glad you took it up with interest, now if you could apply some of that to our discourse.

        – Suppose you really do need glasses, I’ve debunked the IPS evidence you brought up earlier (to which you also agreed with). The logical thing to do next is to cite another credible source to re-establish your stance and not shift the burden onto the critic (yours sincerely).

        And what proof? The aforementioned proof I debunked? Come now, you can do better than that…

        Also, if you’d bothered to read my response earlier in Para 7, it was argued that the IPS survey you brought up in fact highlighted a more optimistic outlook in terms of racial fairness. Tell me again how are Indians defending Shrey not biased in this case? Where is the case of racism other than his perceived victimhood?

        – Ok, so we agree that The Kingdom portrays loosely of what happened and you’re perfectly fine with it. So why can’t you accept that local Indians can be portrayed in their stereotypical accent when they DO speak that way (see Tushar Ismail’s FB post) most of the time? Oh I get it, this must be yet another case of (alleged) hurt feelings? Borat/The Dictator – (Disclaimer: Apologies, the helicopter scene we were both referring to was in The Dictator, not Borat) No, you’re suggesting that the skit was comedic was purely because of the skit’s caricature of Caucasian’s fear and not in part due to his accent. You are, quite simply put, dismissing Sacha’s onerous effort and versatility as a British actor. I’d invite you to watch other satirical pieces from the same producer.

        “…, but my point still stands.” – Ah but so does mine. Quality of racially induced humor aside, you’re comparing a television series with a film, the latter which you acknowledged in your OP wouldn’t have sufficient time to address development of background actors/actresses. You also brought up Ivan Vanko, an unkempt character encompassing the quintessential Russian villain tropes. You were alright with his depiction in Hollywood even when it’s detrimental to Eastern Slavic ethnic groups but not when it comes to comedy? At this point, I’m not entirely sure what you stand for exactly…

        “Only include racial humour if you can appropriately flesh out the racial minority. That does not happen in Jack Neo films.” – Never took you for an omniscient being seeing as how Neo is playing his cards close to the chest with regard to ABTM4.

        – See Para 3 on micro-aggressions.
        Sure feels like you’re cherry-picking here. If you don’t think there’re cracks on every surface when viewed under a microscope then you’re dumb, I’m sorry, you really are. Studies on polemic matters such as these exist only to highlight and document negatives, these negatives were expounded above in Para 3.

        Ummm what? Not sure if you’re grasping at straws here but your argument really holds no water as Neo’s other movies unrelated to the Army/National Service material doesn’t feature minorities. You do realize that the defining Army experience hinges on camaraderie of all individuals, majority and minority? “Yes, so why include caricatures of minorities?” – Because that statement still falls within the context of the CHINESE market being the majority market share? And yet there’re minorities who stand with Neo on the matter, Tushar Ismail is a prominent voice for instance. So…

        Great that you finally admit his wrongdoing, now please go tell him that before he makes a further fool out of himself. See above for discussions on accents and trigger warnings as we’re treading on familiar waters.

        – I’ll say this again, I’ve always maintained that this was a critical examination of Shrey’s uncompromising behaviour, not anyone else so let’s not slide off-tangent here. Unless you want to deny Shrey’s dishonesty altogether then joke’s on me for parlaying with the amoral.

        So who defines the term SJW in this context then? Would any form of the post’s criticism be labelled as such to you? Seems to me you invoked the term in a desperate bid to defend said article against any form of such. Your prerogative to proof otherwise of course. Hmm, I wonder wherever did Milo’s name appear from…

        Yep, the prime defense of any liberal (your words, not mine) or whatever else that spawned from the same genepool: “We have it good as it is but we can do better!” I’ve said it time and again that I don’t deny racism taking place but there has to be a reasonable threshold to which one can poke fun at cultures without celebrating pity. It’s also not as if the majority are denying minorities the opportunity of caricaturing Chinese stereotypes in their own production (small genitals; slant eyes; boorish behavior; avarice and much more than minorities it seems) Unlike you however, I’m able to compromise on said matters instead of force a confrontation that will undoubtedly cause much controversy and dismay of the silent majority, as is evident with Shrey of course. I also recognize that time is an important factor to consider when dealing with social constructs and willingly accept what we have as of now. Again, the IPC survey paints an optimistic picture moving forward and I believe it’ll only get better.

        P.S.: So if my personal experiences overseas yielded an individual with a self-deprecating sense of humor, question is: Why doesn’t it apply to Shrey/his apologist alike, considering they too had the luxury of residing overseas? **Important to note that these are the same individuals whinging about how “racist” Singaporean Chinese need to experience beyond our comfort zones**

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      6. Hi! I’ll just reply in point form (chronologically)

        – You mentioned that the “objective of (my) earlier prose is to pontificate with certitude that somehow the local minority is owed something by the majority”. No, the objective of my prose is to argue with certitude that casual racism is borne primarily by minority communities, and the burden of rectifying casual racism should hence fall on the shoulders of majorities. Can you disprove this? This isn’t a “biased opinion stemming from an elite milieu”. Many minority individuals (not from RI) have come forward as a result of this saga to share similar opinions.

        – Yes there are a myriad of possibilities. My rebuttal: Some possibilities are far less probable than others. I brought up the “broader canon of Singapore media” to demonstrate that there is a track record of local media caricaturing Indians and their mannerisms for comedic effect. So while there is a possibility this incident could be a storm in a teacup, a) this is exceptionally unlikely – for instance, why would the casting director be “testing Shrey’s range” by making an INDIAN actor speak in an exaggerated INDIAN accent as opposed to other, more foreign accents; and b) even if it is, it still doesn’t deal with systemic problems of media representation as highlighted by researched Kenneth Paul Tan.

        I’ve read Jonathan Haidt’s Atlantic article “The Coddling of the American Mind” before. Aaron Henlon writes a cogent rebuttal in “The Trigger Warning Myth” (https://newrepublic.com/article/122543/trigger-warning-myth). Quote: “That trigger warnings are rare, and may be of occasional benefit to professors like me who employ them, is too inconvenient a reality for those who are busy waging war on political correctness.” The problem here is that in American colleges, “political correctness” has been taken to the point of hysteria. That does not mean that all instances of “political correctness” are wrong – a Singapore where minorities are portrayed in a fairer and more nuanced way in the media, for example, would be good.

        Your concern seems to be that there’s no way to tell WHEN “political correctness” has been taken to the point of hysteria, because feelings are SUBJECTIVE. Here are some objective measures that could be used – a) A representative poll of various racial communities to determine what epithets they consider racist and hurtful; b) REACH or MDA outreach to a cross-section of racial communities to determine how they would like their own races to be represented on national media. “Subjectivity” seems like a dirty word, because anyone can then “subjectively” claim to be a victim. So, a good metric could be: Do a significant number of people within a minority community share the same sentiment, and do they agree about the degree of said harm? This helps mediate the variance of individual experiences, and create a “line of best fit”. Based on the social media uproar, it appears as if most Singaporean Indians are in support of Shrey.

        – It’s good to hear that you disagree with Milo! I have some severe personal reservations about the man, and was hoping you were not a supporter. It is regrettable that you don’t think I’ve been constructively engaging you with logic.

        – I’ve disagreed with your debunking of the IPS evidence. YES, I agree that the survey showed that Singaporeans feel “race is not perceived to influence one’s success”. But NO, I disagree that this ends all conversation. Your initial claim was for me to prove that ”Indians are more discriminated against than working-class (Chinese) Singaporeans”. I’ve given you that proof. Even though Singaporeans don’t feel that this discrimination (which the survey showed was primarily inflicted by majorities on minority groups) influences one’s success, there are also non-success related costs to discrimination. For example, the psychological toll. You need to show me why working-class Chinese Singaporeans may be AS, or MORE discriminated against than Indian Singaporeans.

        You argued, “if you’d bothered to read my response earlier in Para 7, it was argued that the IPS survey you brought up in fact highlighted a more optimistic outlook in terms of racial fairness. Tell me again how are Indians defending Shrey not biased in this case?” Because you can think that Singapore is REASONABLY FAIR to people of racial minorities, while at the same time think that the media represents minority races poorly. I don’t see how the two are contradictory.

        – “We agree that The Kingdom portrays loosely of what happened and you’re perfectly fine with it. So why can’t you accept that local Indians can be portrayed in their stereotypical accent when they DO speak that way (see Tushar Ismail’s FB post) most of the time?” – because local Indians DON’T speak in the way that the casting director insisted. Local Indians don’t have EXAGGERATED Indian accents that are played for laughs. There is a caricaturing of reality that’s unjustifiable.

        For The Dictator (yes, you’re right!), the skit is poking fun at the Western fear of Arab people, and the accent was merely a MEANS to achieve that statement. The skit was not poking fun at the inherent foreignness of the ACCENT ITSELF. And that’s not a dismissal of Sacha’s “onerous effort and versatility as a British actor”.

        “You also brought up Ivan Vanko, an unkempt character encompassing the quintessential Russian villain tropes. You were alright with his depiction in Hollywood even when it’s detrimental to Eastern Slavic ethnic groups but not when it comes to comedy?” No. Let’s make it clear: Not all stereotypes are made equal, nor should they be treated equally. In other words, IF Eastern Slavic ethnic groups today are suffering from being seen as Russian villains (which they aren’t, as various surveys on race relations in the West show), THEN a stereotype like Ivan Vanko would be horrific. But since the “quintessential Russian villain trope” is not something that worsens existing social attitudes – given that the primary racial groups suffering from disprivilege right now are African-Americans and Latinos – that stereotype is LESS deserving of condemnation. In the same way as the “Chinese Ah Beng” stereotype is lazy filmmaking, but is LESS deserving of condemnation.

        “Never took you for an omniscient being seeing as how Neo is playing his cards close to the chest with regard to ABTM4.” – I’m not being omniscient; I’m referring to ABTM1, where REC Muthu Shanmugaratnam and REC Ismail Mohammed were basically one-dimensional Indian and Malay stereotypes.
        You then argue that Neo’s other movies don’t feature minorities, and that he only featured “caricatures of minorities” because he HAD NO CHOICE, because a) He was marketing to the CHINESE market; and b) the realities of Army/NS force him to include minorities.

        This is a very bad argument. Neo had a choice. He could have subverted the expectations of the Chinese market by presenting racial minorities in non-standard stereotypes – e.g. a Malay scholar who speaks good English, or a Singaporean Indian who runs a secret prostitution ring. WHY did Neo deliberately choose to use the caricature of race to elicit humour? It’s not as if the Chinese market backed him into a corner and said, “You either play up the Indian recruit’s accent, or we boycott your movie”.

        – Here’s where we differ. I admit that Shrey could have handled the situation better, and that his previous appearance for The Noose (where he acted in as an exaggerated Arab man), was wrong. I completely accept this. But my attitude is, shoot the message not the messenger. While Shrey is an imperfect individual (who isn’t) to deliver a perspective on casual racism, many of the points he highlighted still stands and should be addressed, irrespective of his personal decisions.

        “So who defines the term SJW in this context then? Would any form of the post’s criticism be labelled as such to you?” No, I welcome debate. If not I wouldn’t be replying to you, nor would I have allowed your comment on this blog. The point of the penultimate paragraph is to encourage people who disagree to deal with the logic (which, to your credit, you have been), instead of dismissing it as an “SJW rant” – as many on the alt-right do. I did invoke Milo’s name, only because I particularly dislike the fellow.

        You claim that “there has to be a reasonable threshold to which one can poke fun at cultures without celebrating pity”. I agree. See my above suggestion for quantitative metrics that I’d like to see the IPS and/or REACH and/or MDA and/or film distributors themselves use. You then say: “It’s not as if the majority are denying minorities the opportunity of caricaturing Chinese stereotypes in their own production”. But that’s not what minorities do! As I pointed out, most minorities are more sensitive in their own productions precisely because they’ve been victims of casual racism. The Chinese stereotypes tend to be caricatured in countries where Chinese people are themselves the minority – e.g. in Malaysia or the United States.

        It is easy for majorities to give minorities the opportunity to caricature them. After all, they enjoy the dividends of racial privilege. They hold a society’s cultural, linguistic, and social capital. But for a minority, overly-simplistic representation in the media feeds into the indignities of living under the thumb of racial disprivilege. That’s why it’s not enough to say that you’re “willing to compromise”, because it’s easier for majorities to caricature (and be caricatured).

        I’m also optimistic about Singapore’s future re: race relations. But we cannot get there just by holding hands and singing kumbaya. At times, confrontation is needed for us to take stock of what we have, and to jolt majorities out of inertia.

        P.S.: I understand you’ve lived overseas, and have “toughened up” to racist remarks and race-based stereotypes. But many of the Singaporean Chinese complaining about this episode have not; and moreover, what is to say that your experience would be typical of the average Singaporean Chinese experience?

        P.P.S. It’s hard for me to reply punctually, due to my work/personal schedule. Would you like to meet in person (maybe for coffee) to talk about this? I’d be happy to arrange something at your convenience.

        Like

    2. I realized my response to yours wasn’t registered (it may have?) and didn’t have a spare copy saved. Let’s perhaps just leave things as it is, allow time for cooler heads to prevail.

      I look forward to your next piece.

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  4. Hello. Quick question. Does the phrase “make it funny” necessarily have to be interpreted as the idea that the accent is inherently funny and something to be laughed at? Could it not have simply meant that they wanted Shrey to exaggerate the tendencies of the accent in a comical manner? While the larger problem of institutionalized racism exists in Singapore (and really does so in any country in the world that has significant population of minorities), I feel like this incident was a communication breakdown.

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    1. It’s possible, but even then it suggests the use of the exaggerated accent and racial identity as a joke in and of itself.

      I do agree, though, it could be a communication breakdown. But the incident has also served as a platform to talk about broader institutionalised racism in Singapore, and finally have a critical discussion about the media.

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    2. It could.

      It certainly was, just not what Shrey would have us all believe. Precisely what many have been saying, there are more racially/culturally important matters out there that require urgent attention and all this brouhaha over a kid’s insecurities are certainly shining a negative light on legitimate issues to be tackled.

      Kudos for the objectivity!

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  5. Well written article. However I just smirk at our ugly racist attitudes and walk away. No point trying to understand and hope for a change. It’s an incurable disease.

    However it gives me a kick to watch our racists being ostracized in much of Europe, Australia and the US.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww the spiteful little snowflake is reveling in vengeance for payback against the perceived “racists”? Hypocritical much?

      FYI, Chinese are far from victims of racism in most western countries, sorry to burst your bubble of denial tho.

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  6. In a perverse way, the day to day racism that I encountered in singapore and brushed off (as a Singaporean Indian) put me in good stead when i moved to America. I am always used to being the only non-Chinese/non-white/non black/non hispanic etc person in the room and i never felt out of place. As i struggle to take part in conversations in Spanish as I struggled to take part in conversations in mandarin back home, it all built some sort of coping mechanism – a resiliency which I don’t see Chinese Singaporeans have here in the US. You see them band together and close the door to the richness of the american experience. So in some ways, thanks to the little chinese kid who called me apunehneh every day in my lower middle class HDB housing estate. You actually made me a better person, and i don’t think that was your intention.

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    1. Indian Singaporean here. Did my degree in the US. Most (all) of the Chinese Singaporean students kept to themselves and never interacted much with local Americans, missing quite a bit of the American culture. And I remember the Chinese Singaporeans did not want to mix with the Indian and Malay Singaporeans either. The tribalism displayed was interesting. So much for the Singaporean identity. Outside of the red dot, we seem to coalesce to our own distinct clans it would seem. Learned much from my experience there. When I came back to Singapore, limited my interaction with Chinese Singaporeans.Learned that racism runs deep in our society, though all seems ok at the surface. It is what it is. Best for minorities to accept that, move on, stop belaboring the point about racism and live our lives to the fullest by keeping to ourselves. There is a whole whole outside of Singapore. There is no need to keep trying to get validation from the majority Chinese. Let them bask in their own assumed glory and superiority. Let it be.

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  7. Racism, prejudice is openly practised in this small island unfortunately; inspite of all the polarising national day songs trying very hard to inspire people to live in harmony.
    After 50 years of living in the same environment, community, people cannot accept, embrace and share the space and jobs with the minority. The negative reactions speak louder than words.
    For every action there is a counter reaction; as such the tug-a-war still carries on; which is swept under the carpet.
    Maybe this stage it should be handled in a different manner; from top to bottom and subsequently; from bottom to top.
    From top for example; leaders, management and workplace setting examples right and being mindful that action speak louder than words. Then there is the school, markets and home front where there should be evidence of acceptance and not isolation.

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  8. Two points from your blog post that I found them to be very dangerous.
    1) Filmmakers need stereotypes.
    2) “Whether a stereotype is harmful or benign depends on how it interacts with the broader social attitude towards race and religion. While it is lazy filmmaking to make Russians the stereotypical villains in many films, it is not outwardly problematic as Russian people don’t face much discrimination in the United States. ”
    Is it more okay to stereotype against Russians (Russian men – commies/brutes/vodka/KGB, Russian ladies – mail order brides) than it is to stereotype against Muslims since the issues around Islam are more salient in mainstream media?

    How about the other groups in the US whose issues are not as pronounced? Does it mean that just because their issues are not as salient as Islam means that they can be stereotyped by filmmakers? Groups like Asian Americans, LGBT Community, the Mormons, the white people living in Mississippi and Tennessee are crying for a greater voice in the media and are also targets of stereotypes in the US. Do they deserve less?

    No stereotypes are benign. A stereotype robs you of your own personal identity, de-individualize you, and turns you in a person entirely based on your ethnicity, culture, and background. Moreover, do understand that if we end up stereotyping one group of people too much since we think it is not problematic, then the issue will become more and more salient and become the most problematic one day.

    *By the way, Ivan Vanko was inspired by the character of Crimson Dynamo. Crimson Dynamo was developed in the 1970s when the Soviets and the communism were the most hated in America.

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  9. “It was the trained reflex of someone who’s been told all their life that they need to “lighten up” and “learn to take a joke”. Someone who’s decided it is easier to play along and feign enjoyment, than to spoil the mood by kicking up a fuss.” This hits home.

    I tell myself constantly that “Singapore will get there. People here will “grow-up” or be a little more critical in the way they think and speak”. Far too often I am being judged solely by what race I belong too. The “guilt” I feel for claiming the victim in itself is more frustrating than you can imagine. So I move on, accepting that in this society, I have to jump through different levels of stereotypical tiers having to prove my “worth” before being judged on a level playing field with anyone else. It’s tiring and frustrating at best. On paper, I seem to be a very capable person but from a visual perspective, I’m fighting a very different fight.

    It’s more than just media. But I’m not here to dissect your piece and harp on every word you type but rather to give a perspective of what it’s like to be part of a minority that is stereotyped.

    Thanks for the piece. I enjoyed reading it and more importantly, addressing an issue like this gives me hope that “Singapore will get there. People here will “grow-up” or be a little more critical in the way they think and speak”.

    Like

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