Activist Kirsten Han: Publisher voluntarily recalls book after complaints of racist content, while authorities interrogate minorities for calling out racism

When a publisher in Singapore has voluntarily recalled a “problematic book” from retail stores over readers’ complaints about its racist sentiments, this was called as “cancel culture”, what about the minorities who were interrogated by authorities for calling out racism?

Kirsten Han, a Singaporean activist and freelance journalist, had raised this question on her Facebook account yesterday (21 July), while referring to the Mothership.sg Facebook post captioned with “cancel culture” – which the caption was changed shortly after.

The post was referring to publisher Marshall Cavendish Education (MCE), which has apologized to its readers after several complaints were made against its Chinese-language children’s book for racism.

The book, which written by Wu Xing Hua, depicts a “dark-skinned” boy with “oily curly hair” named Mao Mao – which means “hairy” in Chinese – whose characterized as an aggressive school bully.

One netizen, who is using the moniker Umm Yusof, made the first complaint about the book on 17 July asking the rationale of publishing the book as it seems to portray the dark-skinned boy as “irredeemably nasty”, despite his appearance is irrelevant to the plot.

A few days later on 21 July, MCE apologised on Facebook and said that it will cease the sale and distribution of the Amazing Adventures of Pi Pi series – which consists of five books – and recall the copies of the book from retail stores.

In reference to that, Ms Han asked: “A publisher voluntarily (ie. no investigation, no charges, no lawsuit) recalling a problematic book before it hurts their branding further = [is called] ‘cancel culture’?”

“Where were these concerns about ‘cancel culture’ when minorities were getting reported, interrogated, and issued warnings for calling out racism and expressing anger over the crap they’ve had to put up with for years?” she added.

Ms Han also brought up about the rap video by Youtuber Preeti Nair – well known as Preetipls – and Subhas Nair that became the subject of investigations for its allegedly offensive content last year.

“Then what do you call the authorities *compelling* Preetipls, Subhas Nair, and other Singaporeans to remove a rap video? Plus the subsequent erasure of Subhas and his work with migrant workers (unrelated to the police investigation) from a CNA production?” said the activist.

In 2019, Preetipls and Subhas Nair posted a three-minute rap video in response to a controversial advertisement by NETS promoting E-Pay. The ad featured Chinese actor Dennis Chew who dressed up as four characters of different races, and his skin was made up to look darker.

The Nair siblings’ video was condemned by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, saying that the video had “crossed the line” because it contained vulgarities directed at Chinese Singaporean and could turn minorities against the majority community.

The video was also investigated by police for “offensive content that causes ill-will between races”, while authorities have ordered for the video to be taken down from the online platforms.

It was reported that Mr Subhas was also removed from CNA‘s musical documentary which titled ROAR, due to his involvement in the rap video.

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