Tuesday, 3 October 2023

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Why is race such a hot button issue? Is it because the government are inadvertently making it one? 

The issue of race is never far from the social/political fabric of our society. Even though our pledge extols the virtues of “regardless of race, language or religion…”, I do think that we have somewhat fallen short.
In my opinion, “regardless of race” only rings through if race is of no consequence whatsoever. In other words, we should only see each other as people and fellow Singaporeans – not Malay or Chinese or Indian or anything else. Yet, we persist in drawing attention to the issue of racial differences. This comes from top down at the governmental levels. For instance, every official document requests us to state what race we are. The government also uses “race” to justify certain controversial decisions. An example of this would be the walkover appointment of our current President on the grounds of race.
On the one hand, the government is saying that they need to ensure the delicate racial balance in Singapore but on the other hand, race is being perceived to be used as a way to manipulate a given situation. Does this not send mixed and confusing signals to Singaporeans on the issue of race? If authorities are seemingly using race as a political pawn with the minority races in power seemingly acquiescing to such machinations, doesn’t this encourage the majority race in Singapore to treat the issue of race callously?
The recent “brown face” saga is but the latest example of shocking racial ignorance. For those who have had their head buried in the sand, this saga erupted as a result of an E-Pay advertisement which saw actor Dennis Chew portraying various races in Singapore (replete with brown face paint).  I appreciate that creative agency Havas Worldwide has apologised for this fiasco.
However, I query how they could not have known that an advertisement like this could be insensitive to begin with? That ignorance is pretty shocking in itself. Despite our government sanctioned “racial harmony days” and the like, are we still so ignorant?
In its apology, Havas has said that they are sorry “for any hurt that was unintentionally caused.” But how can an advertisement like this be anything but offensive? Their inability to see that in the first instance is what beggars belief. This advertisement is for E-Pay which many government agencies use. How can the government have let this through? And why have they not apologised? Aren’t they complicit too?
The racially inappropriate advertisement might not have garnered as much criticism if siblings Preeti and Subhas Nair had not published a spoof You Tube rap video in response to the advertisement. Yet it is strange that while Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam criticised both the ad and the video – he had criticised the video more harshly. Why?
Surely, they deserve some credit for flagging this inappropriate advertisement to the wider public and forcing us to have a much needed public discussion on race? Having watched both the video and the advertisement, I can hand to heart say that I find the advertisement so much more offensive. The advertisement had the benefit of the resources of E-Pay and media creative agencies. It was a statewide campaign.
In other words, it ought to have known better. Preeti and Subhas, on the other hand, are just two private individuals trying to make a point. In my opinion, Mr Shanmugam should never have criticised the siblings. Rather, he should have acknowledged that race requires an honest discussion in Singapore and careless racism within the authorities and their affiliates should be curbed.
Why is race such a hot button issue? Is it because the government is inadvertently making it one?

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