Hi, Chinese person here. Let me cut to the chase lest we receive a takedown notice for this article within the next few hours.
Local Youtube influencer, Preetipls, was absolutely right when she called out Chinese people for “always out there fucking it up”. Every f-bomb she and her brother, local rapper, Subhas Nair, dropped in the viral video was meant to emphasise that Chinese people in Singapore remain blind to casual racism—and even reinforce it—because of our privilege.
The video was put out in response to an epaysg.com advertisement that featured Mediacorp actor and DJ, Dennis Chew, portraying (caricaturing) a character from each race. This included darkening his face to depict an Indian man, an act some Singaporeans have termed ‘brownface’, likening it to ‘blackface’ in the US.
The e-Pay ad was ill-conceived, insulting, insensitive, and lazy. After all, they could have easily gotten a Malay and Indian person, but they chose to go with a Chinese person to portray those two minority races. This is problematic because, as playwright Alfian Sa’at suggests, it effectively implies that being Chinese in Singapore is the ‘standard’ and anyone who deviates might be subject to ridicule.
The ad revealed how intrinsic casual racism is to the fabric of our society. That it was approved at all also spoke volumes about the depth of ignorance present in, arguably, Chinese people.
That said, many (Chinese) people thought the emotionally-charged response from Preetipls was worse. If she wanted to make her point, they argued, she could have done it without the vulgarities that appeared to constitute an ‘attack’ against an entire racial group.
So let’s ask the hard questions: was her tone of exasperation and anger—even as satire—the most productive or effective way to engage and educate Chinese people who are genuinely ignorant towards the racial sensitivities present today? Was it useful in helping this same group understand casual racism, or why the e-Pay ad was plain wrong? Was wading into what appeared to be identity politics helpful in furthering the conversation about race in a not-very-smart nation?
I doubt it.
Would using her platform to put forth an explanatory video that demonstrated more empathy, patience, and practical tips to deal with ignorance and casual racism have been more effective? Should she have used the opportunity to educate instead?
Could she, for instance, have sat down with Dennis Chew and had a conversation about the many ways that casual racism manifests in Singapore? Could she have used this conversation to help him (and to this end, especially the older generation of Chinese people) understand the racial microaggressions that minorities face daily; that a seemingly inconsequential thing like the e-Pay ad only invalidates their experiences?
Yes. For sure.
No matter your skin colour, no one likes to be called ignorant and stupid. It’s hard to want to keep an open mind if you’re constantly reminded how close-minded you are.
However, even though we wish Preetipls’ video was done differently so that it could’ve led to a more constructive conversation, we are also completely aware that talking about race naturally taps into a visceral, almost primaeval instinct.
Expecting someone from a minority race who is already systematically disadvantaged to remain objective and cool-headed when talking about race, while educating the majority race on the discrimination they face, is the very manifestation of privilege … and stupidity.
Even if we, as Chinese people, disagree with Preetipls’ execution and/or message, surely we must understand where she’s coming from on a human and fundamental level. After all, many of us became just as irrationally incensed when we felt ‘attacked’ by her video.
Worse still, we took offence at her video without being offended by the e-Pay ad, only highlighting our double standards and blatant lack of self-awareness.
In the end, the response to Preetipls’ video proved her video’s message right: Chinese people do keep fucking it up.
As if Singaporeans (most notably, the Chinese) hadn’t already demonstrated our inability to have a mature discourse about race, even more extreme measures took place after the video went viral.
A police report was lodged against the video. Shanmugam got involved. The government reprimanded an influencer for using “fuck”. They issued takedown notices for the video from anyone who shared it online for the simple reason that it sowed discord and created ill-will between two racial groups—an ironic move that probably further entrenched said ‘ill-will’.
CNA removed Subhas from its upcoming musical documentary and all previous articles about his involvement from their website.
And, just last night, a police report was lodged against the e-Pay ad, revealing that Preetipls’ video was simply reflective of all Singaporeans’ instinct towards retaliatory action—we’d rather see tit for tat than find common ground and talk about the next steps.
In less than a week, we regressed 50 years.
Forget stupid Singaporeans, the e-Pay ad, or Preetipls video. What was most offensive amidst this entire saga was the government’s action, although the problem was less about the actual ban than the message sent.
The government had the perfect opportunity to educate the public on how casual racism could have been better addressed. They could have talked about why certain racial stereotypes exist, how to navigate those nuances (without clamping down on satire), and the various ways that Chinese Singaporeans are inherently privileged in Singapore.
They could have discussed how the e-Pay ad invalidated minority struggles, and how the Preetipls video might have only made well-meaning but ignorant Chinese Singaporeans less willing to correct their racism.
They could even have driven their point home by talking about heavily fining every single company involved in creating the e-Pay ad, to send a clear signal that they were aware of Chinese privilege and would put in place tangible methods to tackle it at a national level.
Instead, the government pacifies us with paternalistic solutions, like the helicopter parent who tries to clean up their kid’s mess without telling their kid where he went wrong, ensuring Singaporeans will never know how to think for themselves. When this happens, they send a signal that we should be offended and afraid of these types of incidents.
Rather than make us more mature and better equipped to discuss and work on these issues, their sweeping response is quite arguably fear-mongering. It cultivates a kind of knee-jerk paranoia towards anything that’s related to race.
In the long run, we would never fully grasp how to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race. We would entrench existing racist feelings and stereotypes. We would only remain stupid.
The e-Pay ad’s racism isn’t surprising, and neither is a response like Preetipls’ video. The anger between races has only bubbled to the surface now because we never listen and we never learn.
Every single time something like this happens, where the minority race tells us their struggles, we invalidate their pain. We pick on the ways that they express their frustrations, claiming we’d be more receptive if they were more patient.
Over and again, Chinese people are exasperatingly, blindingly, persistently stupid—and if we don’t learn how to be smarter, the national conversation on race will continue to revolve around the same tired points that fail to validate a minority’s experience in this country.
All this to say, if we want to be more racially sensitive, then Chinese people, as the majority, must take the lead.
The first step is to realise that we will constantly fuck it up. We will make mistakes all the fucking time. We will be ignorant. But we need to get over ourselves; if we genuinely want shit like this to stop, we cannot let this fear stop us from genuinely asking questions and caring about each other’s lived experiences.
When we do fuck up, we must realise why the mistake was made and how we can prevent ourselves from making the same mistake again.
Yesterday night, activist Jolovan Wham shared a Facebook status, saying IMDA ordered him to take down the Preetipls video he shared on his wall. According to IMDA, he said, it would “cause racial hatred and strife”. In the comments section of the same Facebook status, another user shared what appeared to be a screenshot of the same takedown notice she received from IMDA.
Ultimately, this entire incident revealed that we are a society that wants and needs the government to baby us, so never let me hear about being a smart nation again.
In the meantime, consider this fair warning: you might only have the next few hours to read this article. You know what to do.
Do not fuck it up.