Black, white, brown, or yellow

13Jun06

Singapore is a multi-racial country. Apart from durians and chewing gum, our racial diversity is pretty well known among foreigners that have heard of Singapore.

image002.jpgYet, racial unrest seems to simmer and bubble beneath the lid, threatening to boil over and burn someone. It happened before, during the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950 (which we're all too familiar with i'm sure), and surfaces time and again with occasional issues such as the ban on wearing Islamic headscarves in public schools. Once in a while, people say some stupid things that either gets them in trouble with their scholarship board, or even worse, results in them being awarded a compulsory stay at Queenstown or Changi Hotel (on an irrelevant note, the prisons website has a "Prison Booking System". Now that's innovative. Come book your cell early in order to get a working latrine!)

The thing about racial harmony is that no matter how steady or strong things seem, it just takes a little spark to set off an uncontrollable fire. The Rodney King riots saw about 10,000 people arrested, with 50-60 deaths and as many as 2,000 people injured. Even Australia, our benign friend from Down Under, played host to the Cronulla riots only last year. With such horrific impacts of racism, Singapore has clamped down with typical heavy-handedness in weeding out potential troublemakers. It's really a case of 斩草阻梗。

A recent blog entry ruffled many feathers in the community. Basically, the author took offense with people referring to Indians as "Ahpunehnehs". She also claimed that people held their noses when Indians came near them, and that Chinese people were the main perpetrators of racism.

Rather than quibble about her poor writing ability and biased reporting, i'll just focus on one issue – her absolute lack of a sense of humour.

The writer in question referred to an incident whereby her friend from polytechnic suggested that the 'pottu' on Indian girls' foreheads is there for infrared or bluetooth purposes. Now I don't know about you, but I find that side-splittingly funny. Does that make me a racist? It all depends on the context doesn't it? If a stranger had come up to her, pointed at her pottu and made such a statement, of course her anger would be justified. But this is a friend, who obviously said it in jest and who wouldn't mind getting a jibe back in return. Instead, the self-professed anal retentive writer gets pissed, and remains so till this day.lou_andy5.jpg

In the comedy Little Britain, there's one recurring skit involving an Indian woman attending a Weight Watchers programme. She speaks perfectly good English, with a slight British accent, yet every single time she says something, the person-in-charge gives her a befuddled look and goes "Say it again". I laughed my socks off when I saw it. Am I a racist? Would such an episode ever see the light in Singapore?

I think the problem with Singaporeans generally is that we're simply too serious. We've got to learn how to take things with a dash of salt and laugh more easily at ourselves. In Little Britain for example, while they take the piss out of the Indian in the above skit, they similarly run ramshod over all categories of people and race. It's generically insulting, yet if someone were to take the skit out of context and throw it under the media glare in Singapore, the Sedition Act will no doubt be bandied about.

Of course there are limits to what one can say, and i'm not in the least condoning what the three Singaporean chaps did. That being said, I think if everyone were to just approach issues of race with a greater sense of humour, we would all get along much better.

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8 Responses to “Black, white, brown, or yellow”

  1. 1 jj

    I would comment. But I fear persecution 😀

  2. 2 jj

    But I will say, the girl is really anal retentive. Haha. Perhaps because, oh dear, I’m going break out in a racist joke here. Haha. Oops.

  3. I tell your scholarship board then you know.

  4. It sounded like you were going to break out in a fart jj. And it’s a good thing I don’t have a giant guillotine that reads ‘PSC’ hanging over my head.

  5. 5 Yvonne

    regarding your reference to the skit in little britain, the writers of the show were taking the piss out of marjorie dawes, not meera. it’s a comment on white racists who assume that south asians are poor speakers of english.

    the problem with your suggestion that it all boils down to singaporeans taking themselves too seriously is that it seems to deny the existence of “real” racism. if you are chinese singaporean, don’t be too quick to dismiss the views of people from minority groups. their views are not always “biased” simply because they don’t agree with your own, and exposure to racism can seriously damage a person’s sense of humour if they’re constantly on the receiving end of it.

  6. Hi yvonne. I stand corrected, the skit in little britain was indeed taking the piss out of marjorie dawes. However, the reference was more an example of how humour can be effective in tackling the serious problem of racism. I do not deny the existence of ‘real’ racism, and neither have I been too quick to dismiss the views of people from minority groups. In fact, your suggestion that I label such people’s views as ‘biased’ simply because they are different from mine is vaguely insulting. Sure, exposure to racism isn’t exactly a laughing matter, and we hear of such encounters all the time (e.g. soccer racist abuse etc.) However, surely the context is important here. The above incident narrated was one between friends. Obviously if a stranger did exactly the same thing, it would warrant a strong response.

    When friends of different races can joke about their racial differences, it suggests an acceptance of sorts. This is definitely better just pretending such differences don’t exist in the first place.

  7. 7 Aasha

    While I agree that the writer you’re refering to should have taken some of the comments thrown at her lightly, I would like to say that you’re reponse is equally biased.

    There should be a line drawn when racism is concerned because what you consider funny might be a form of abuse to another.

    Why don’t you go down to australia? Where the Australians call you yellow(s) to your face? That wouldnt be insulting! That would be funny! And we can all join hands and laugh at you yellows.

    You talk about the skit in Little Britian. But that’s generally a racial seterotype, and there WAS a line drawn. Besides, I’ve lived in London for the past 10 years of my life, and really, there is hardly any form of racism I’ve encountered. Sadly, the same can’t be said for you, chinese. Maybe all of you should move here, then you’d all be laughing when you realise the jokes on you. 😀 We hate the chinese here, collectively, almost everyone.

    It’s funny- always funny, until you’re put in a position in which people start mocking YOU.

    Dont you DARE tell us that you yellow-skinned pigs mean well, because you don’t.

    Period.

  8. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know
    so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with a few pics to drive
    the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.

    An excellent read. I’ll definitely be back.


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