SINGAPORE: An advertisement that used "brownface" was insensitive and inappropriate, but a rap video that was made in response only made things worse, ministers and religious leaders said on Tuesday (Jul 30).
"Race is an emotive issue which touches the core of our identity. The recent E-pay advertisement was done in poor taste. But the tit-for-tat video done in response to it was disrespectful, and will lead us down a dark path," said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu in a statement.
She added that such incidents are a reminder that race relations in a diverse society like Singapore cannot be taken for granted and called for Singaporeans to strengthen social harmony together.
"Strengthening ties across communities takes time, effort and mutual understanding ... Mistakes will sometimes be made that cause misunderstanding and hurt among people. But as a society, let us resolve such issues in a spirit of mutual respect.
"Let us stand together as one people, instead of drawing lines that divide us."
This came after Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said earlier that an online video posted by local Internet celebrity Preetipls had "crossed the line".
“When you use four-letter words, vulgar language, attack another race, put it out in public, we have to draw the line and say not acceptable,” said Mr Shanmugam.
The three minute video, which is currently under investigation by the police for “offensive content”, was posted online on Monday.
It stars Preetipls and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, criticising an advertisement for having a Chinese actor wear "brownface" to portray minority races in Singapore.
Dr Janil Puthucheary, chairman of OnePeople.sg and Senior Minister of State for Transport and for Communications and Information, said on the OnePeople.sg Facebook page that he found both the E-pay advertisement and reaction video “unacceptable”.
"As the performers suggest, two wrongs don’t make a right. They do not seem to have heeded their own advice. We did not get this far in race relations, by trading one offence for another.
“We need to be better than this," he said.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and for Health Amrin Amin said that the video was in "bad taste" and called for stern action.
"Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it’s harmless!" he wrote in a Facebook post.
"If we don’t stand up and condemn this offensive act now, if we keep silent, or worse, laugh and sing along, remember it could be us next time!
Minister of State, Ministry of National Development & Ministry of Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that racial harmony continues to be a work in progress.
"There is a Malay proverb that goes ‘Bahasa menunjukkan bangsa’, which highlights that the language used reflects one’s appreciation of its culture," he wrote on Facebook.
"We must always strive to embody this saying, to be respectful with one another, so as to safeguard our racial harmony and unity as one people."
“DON’T MAKE IT WORSE”
Mr Malminderjit Singh, secretary of the Sikh Advisory Board and head of Editorial & New Media at the Institute of South Asian Studies said he could understand why the ad hurt the feelings of minority groups, but there were other ways to deal with it.
“I don’t think responding in such a manner, which only flames the emotions amongst the minorities against the majority, is going to helpful. In fact, it is counterproductive to the racial harmony here,” he said.
Director of the Centre for Interfaith Understanding Imran Taib said denigrating another race was "out of the question".
“We should never be denigrating another race, given that Singapore is a multi-racial society. We have to understand the context of maintaining that relationship across the races," he said.
Should members of minority groups come across racially insensitive content, they should report it to the authorities instead of taking matters into their own hands, advised religious leaders.
Mr Ameerali Abdeali, assistant secretary of the Inter-Religious Organsiation, said that when something "bad" happens, members of the community should avoid fanning the flames.
“The first rule should be don’t make it worse, you know? Seek clarity and understanding and not to just poke more fire into it by reacting and attacking unnecessarily without knowing the full facts,” he said.
Mr Singh said that members of minority groups should look to the authorities if they come across such incidents.
The intention of the original advertisement matters too, said Mr Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association.
"I don't think that (the advertisement's) intention is to really discriminate another race ... I think mistakes could happen. I think when someone apologises that this has happened, I think people should just forget about it and move on," he said.