Since the Brownface ad VS Preetipls’ rap saga exploded, supporters of both camps have loudly made their points heard online. Some accuse millennials of trying to be “woke” and being too sensitive; others accuse the rest of practising casual racism. I thought this is a good chance to talk to my son Ayden, aged 11, and find out what one member of our “future of Singapore” thinks.
1. He doesn’t find the ePayment ad starring actor/DJ Dennis Chew offensive...
“I think the actor is just trying to be funny. If a Malay or an Indian tries to pretend to be a Chinese, I wouldn’t care.”
One context that should be mentioned here: Dennis Chew (seen in the ad dressed as a Chinese woman, Malay lady in tudung, a presumably Eurasian guy and an Indian guy in brownface) is well known for his versatility, portraying different roles and crossdressing on screen. This may be why some of the Chinese audience, especially older people who watch him on TV, may find his personas in the ad unoffensive.)
2. … But Ayden acknowledged that it could be because he lives in a land with a Chinese majority
“Maybe because there are so many Chinese in the world so nobody needs to pretend to be Chinese?” (A simplistic explanation but I get his point. We Chinese don’t need to ‘worry’ about being stereotyped when we are the majority in a particular environment Eg Singapore.
3. He was not offended by the rap video by Preetipls and her brother Subhas Nair
“No, I’m not offended. I kind of agree with what they say, except for the ‘F’ words part.” (I think he may have added the last bit to sound polite hahaha).
4. The F words don’t shock him nor offend him
“So many people use the F word these days,” said my 11 year-old nonchalantly “I don’t think young people care.”
My gut feel is the same. Different demographics do react to the ad differently. Younger people who are more comfortable with urban lingo probably focused on “Chinese people always fxxx it up” as a common phrase to mean that the Chinese always get it wrong (with regards to using brownface paint as a joke). Meanwhile, older folks likely focused on ‘fxxx’ as a form of vulgarity. Some may even interpret it as threatening to “fxxx” the Chinese.
This psychological baggage we bring will certainly colour the way we view this issue.
5. Ayden has advice for Preetipls and her brother on how to communicate their message effectively
“I think they should have rapped ‘Chinese people always mess it up’ or ‘screw it up’ so it doesn’t offend other people who don’t like to hear the F words. Now, everybody will focus on the F words and not remember what they want to say. And actually, I think what they say is true.”
Note: Ayden agrees with their core message because I showed him previous examples of local actors and regular folks using brownface paint, wigs etc to portray Indians. He says he gets why the Indians would be upset if someone keeps doing it despite you telling them to stop it.
6. He empathizes that people (minority or majority, woke or old-fashioned) may feel upset but he personally doesn’t understand why
“I don’t care about all this racism stuff.” Whoa! My alarm bells buzzing! Hold it! Have I raised an apathetic, self-entitled child?!
“What do you mean?” I probed, carefully avoiding asking him any leading questions so as not to influence his answer.
Ayden: “I mean, people are people. I don’t think about their colour.”
Awwww! This truly made my day. Ayden’s parting word of advice on how to improve this situation: “I know! Have TWO racial harmony days instead of one! Everyone gets extra time away from class hahahaha!”
I think students of every race, language or religion would agree with that 😆
PS. People, before you go on a fresh round of vitriol spewing online, remember: our young people are watching. Engage in constructive discussion, not name calling. The racial harmony we currently enjoy in Singapore may not be perfect and can definitely be improved (as with all things because we are Singaporeans and we must always up our standards #kiasu). However, I truly believe we enjoy much better racial harmony here compared to say, Trump’s America. An ad or a video like this could end up with a bullet in someone’s head.
I wish we could all just laugh it off as a bad MediaCorp drama’s plot line but unfortunately, this real life drama is becoming too toxic for comfort. But if it forces all of us (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) to confront our ideas of racism and do better, then it is a nation-wide conversation worth having, no matter how uncomfortable.
Parents, let’s try a social experiment. Tell your kids about the ad and rap, let them watch the video, let’s hear what they have to say. Post their (and your) views in comments!