Following the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM)’s response to a controversy surrounding a poster from a series on encouraging cleanliness in society, Singapore People’s Party (SPP) chair Jose Raymond posed several questions regarding the process that led to the release of the posters.
The offending poster contains an illustration depicting a dark-skinned man named ‘Siva’, dressed as a cleaner wearing yellow gloves, a green shirt and black pants.
Pointing to the litter on the floor, ‘Siva’ says: “Is it people think the floor is rubbish bin? Please throw your litter in the bin. Be kind to Siva, and everyone else using the toilet.”
SKM earlier told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the poster is part of a series posters of “Clean Toilet Project” aiming to support the Public Hygiene Council and the SG Clean movement in “reminding the public to keep common areas clean and be kind to the cleaners”.
As part of a pilot project in June this year, SKM said that these posters are displayed at various locations at Sengkang General Hospital.
The SKM spokesperson said that the movement “honour the work of the frontline workers and cleaners” as they play an important and essential role in the society, especially in the forefront of the battle against COVID-19.
“In Singapore’s multiracial and multicultural society, everyone needs to play their part in protecting the harmony the country has built,” she said.
As the series of posters also featured different races in the same frontline occupation, the spokesperson clarified that the posters “were intended to be viewed as a series and not individually”.
However, she added that the series of posters is “currently undergoing review”.
In a Facebook post on Friday (23 October), Mr Raymond questioned if SKM had consulted stakeholders “or conduct focus groups sensing exercises” prior to the release of the campaign.
“If yes, how many were engaged, and what were the results of its engagement exercise?” He questioned.
Mr Raymond also sought to know if SKM had made a “public announcement of its campaign” prior to putting the posters up “to explain its objectives”.
He also questioned if all of the four posters were “put up at the same locations so members of the public viewed them all at one go”.
He added: “Why did SKM choose Florence, Rosnah and Siva as names for its cleaners? Did it have data to show these were names of people who were usually cleaners?”
“What are the hallmarks of Florence’s character which depict she’s a Chinese?” Mr Raymond further probed.
Mr Raymond said that while it is “good” that SKM is reviewing the poster, he disagreed with the assertion that criticising the poster is a malicious act aimed at propagating negative feelings in society.
Grateful for “people like Eileena Lee and many others who understand what is wrong about the campaign”: SPP chair Jose Raymond
Mr Raymond first brought the matter to the public’s attention when he shared the photo taken by one Eileena Lee on his Facebook post in condemnation of the alleged racial profiling in the poster.
Calling the depiction “sickening”, Mr Raymond questioned why “a particular race” was used to depict as a toilet cleaner and assign a name at that.
He also said that it is “baffling” when “the race profiled in the poster is also showing poor language skills”.
In his Facebook post today, Mr Raymond expressed his appreciation towards “people like Eileena Lee and many others who understand what is wrong about the campaign”.
He expressed hope that the people behind the campaign in the Singapore Kindness Movement “while well intended, does its own internal reflection on what’s ostensibly wrong with the campaign”.
SKM also alleged that critics of its posters “may have taken our posters out of context to deliberately propagate misunderstanding and negative feelings in our society”.
“These malicious acts can erode the precious harmony that we have built over the years.
“Civic-minded Singaporeans who truly want a stronger, kinder and more inclusive society would encourage healthy civil discourse among us, and would not sow such discord in this manner,” TODAY reported SKM as saying.
Ms Lee, however, criticised SKM for adopting “such a defensive position and using such accusatory language” in its response to the controversy.
She told TODAY that the same message can be delivered without inserting caricatures.
“Any kind of caricature is based on stereotypes. It should be avoided, period,” she said.
Mr Raymond reiterated in a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE earlier that the poster perpetuated racist depictions of a particular race.
Assigning a name to the character in the poster, he argued, may evoke racial bias on the part of the viewer and may adversely affect others with the same name.
“It is not right to use race – any race for that matter – in advertisements which may be regarded as racially insensitive.
“If the intent of the poster or campaign was to provide a voice for cleaners in Singapore, there are many other ways to get a message across without having to turn to race,” he told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE.
SKM, he said, could have utilised other means such as text-only posters, graphic designs, voice-overs, or animation that are not biased against any race, gender or age to promote the importance of cleanliness.
The movement, he added, should have conducted an engagement exercise to gather sentiments and reactions of the public towards the posters before releasing them.