Racial Harmony – Where do we draw the line?

The most recent incident started with Dennis Chew impersonating a Chinese man, a Chinese woman, a Malay woman and an Indian man in an advertisement for cashless payment.  Unfortunately, the advertisement was greeted with disdain by some netizens who thought it offensive.

The question is … why?

This is a point I find it hard to understand.  If we think about it, Americans dressed up in various costumes during the Halloween.  But they never have people complaining that it was disrespectful for the supernatural beings.  Likewise, many fans dressed up as their gaming, comic and cartoon characters during Cosplay events.  But the respective gaming, comic and cartoon companies never complained that these fans were disrespectful to their trademark characters.  If anything, these companies actively seek to organise and promote Cosplay events and want as many fans as possible to take part in such events.  Of course, one might point out that there are financial incentives for these companies, since they stand to profit from having more customers.

The point is this.  The motivation of the fans to dress up as their favourite characters is NEVER about disrespect.  Rather, they are so attracted towards their favourite characters that they wanted to act them out in real life.

Of course, the same cannot be said of Chinese impersonating Indians in that these Chinese are so attracted to the Indian culture that they want to act out like us in real life.  However, one thing that should be clear to everybody is that, at the very minimum, they do not dislike Indians.  If they really hate Indians, they will not have shown any interests in our cultures and certainly will not want to dress in traditional Indian gears.

When I looked at Dennis Chew in the advertisement, I am not able to pick up anything to suggest that he was disrespectful to the Indian culture in any way.  He was just advertising for the cashless payment services and there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that he was mocking the Indian culture.  So why are some of us so upset?

(Of course, from the advertisers’ perspective, it is cheaper to pay one actor to act out four roles than four actors/actresses to act out four different roles.  But that is only managing costs and is not exactly showing disrespect to the Indian culture.)

If we go further back in history, there was a similar event during the UOB Bollywood-themed staff party in 2012.  I was too young to remember what it was all about, but it appeared to be a fancy dress party that focused on the Indian culture and the Indian cinematic scene in particular.  Unless there were evidences of people mocking or denigrating the Indian culture during the staff party at that time, I am not able to understand what the fuss was about.  In fact, I would have thought it a compliment to the Indian culture in that UOB chose to showcase our culture during their staff party. As a comparison, would any of us have complained if they had organised a fancy dress party based on the traditional Chinese culture, the traditional Thai culture, or even an Amazon tribal culture?  My guess is probably not.  In particular, I would not think Chinese would have complained if UOB female staff dressed in cheongsams. (Apologies … I do not know what is the male equivalent of Cheongsam.)

At the end of the day, Singapore is a multi-racial country.  I am proud to be a daughter of the Indian culture and I am more than happy that other races show interests in and want to learn more about my culture.  For my part, I am proud to showcase my culture to other races.  Likewise, I also mix around with Chinese and Malay friends and I also get to understand their cultures.  The true spirit of racial harmony should include the cultural cross-exchanges between different racial groups, the pride to showcase one’s own culture and the acceptance of culture from other racial groups.

Cross-dressing in clothes of other cultures is a sign of acceptance and we really should not be so offended about it.  In fact, anyone can buy Sari in Little Indian, Cheongsam in Chinatown and Baju Kurung in Malay Village and there are tourists who shop for these clothes when they visit Singapore.  Are we going to ban the sales of these traditional clothes to other races?  Yes, I will be hurt and offended if other people make fun of my culture, but this does not seem to be the case in both the advertisement and the UOB staff party.

I hope that we Singaporeans will look at this episode with a new perspective of acceptance and not get overly heated up, particularly when there is no intention to offend in the first place.

PS:  I hope Chinese Singaporeans will be forgiving towards Preetipls and Subhas for the rap video and I hope that this episode can be laid to rest in a peaceful manner.


Linda Chopra



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13 Responses to “Racial Harmony – Where do we draw the line?”

  • Harder Truths:

    I don’t believe these two individuals should be ‘forgiven’.
    They know what they were doing – escalating racial stereotypes and inciting hatred. Publicity stunt or not – their actions affect all Indians.

    If they are let go without any consequence – this will indicate to people like them (from any race) that they can do something similar too and get away with it.

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  • think otherwise:

    The point is, are both of them, Preetipls and Subhas intend to rest the matter peacefully. Nothing that they do not share your view that Dennis Chew in the advertisement meant no disrespect to anyone.

    You better talk to them instead.

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  • FALCI:

    @ Linda

    Beautifully said! Well done!

    Wish @Sanjay read this. Hope your above article appears in the MSM especially for Preetipls and Subhas to read and ALL Singaporeans!
    Btw, I am going to Race Course Rd for my favorite Indian Muthu fish-head curry. Care to join me? :)

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    Dennis is a CrossDresser and supposedly comic actor… some just Don’t like his acting-comic or crossdressing…

    poor guy trying hard to make it BIG like the one who goes around Hoo-Hooing like an IDIOT but cash in on his Hoo Hah!!!

    Let’s move on lah!!! no big deal leh!!!…but The Sham must have his Bark to remind people he is still around…

    will he be after the next GE??? or will he return to his kennel with his mouth MUZZLED and tail CUT???

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  • This Is Too Much:

    Scolding Vulgar words and pointing the middle finger at the innocent Chinese population in their Video and watched by the whole country is really too much to forgive. They are lucky that nobody go after them.

    They should be punished to make them learn a lesson not to disrupt Racial Harmony in Singapore.

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  • Why Ashamed Of Our Colour ?:

    We should be proud of our colour be it yellow, brown, black or white. After all we are born that way. I would be angry if you portray me as yellow if I am black or white when I am brown. It not the real thing and misleading.

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  • Dr M is also an indian:

    Dr M also an indian.

    Nobody in malaysia make noise.

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  • @ Why Ashamed Of Our Colour ?:

    Sound like racist chauvinism???

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  • NotMyProblem:

    Dr M is also an indian:
    Dr M also an indian.

    Nobody in malaysia make noise.

    No body is against Indian.

    The problem is when the constitution was changed to reserve the President election for a Malay, then only a Malay to be elected why select an Indian to masquerade as a Malay??

    It cannot be no Malay in SG was qualified??? If the race of the President was so important that it required to change the constitution, it can also be changed to suit the Malay race.

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  • opposition dude:

    Ok, the simple fact of the matter is that the siblings were very offended by the brownfacing that Dennis Chew did in portraying an Indian. This is the part that made them angry so they did that video in protest.

    Now that both siblings have cooled down it really has made them look real stupid. They both should have complained to Nets instead of taking matters into their own hands and practically invited the mata to arrest them. Please note that Dennis Chew himself did not do anything offensive on his blog or his own personal Facebook or whatever, he was being paid to do a job. If anything, people who are offended should whack Nets good and proper since they are the idiots who produced the advertisement.

    If you have seen her video there is one line in there that says two wrongs don’t make a right. What is funny is that she didn’t take her own advice and just said the line meaninglessly!

    See what happens when you try and take matters into your own hands now?

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  • TruBlu:

    Racial Harmony can arise out of SOCIO-ECONOMIC *di$harmony*.
    Lets not pretend.

    Christ said,*man must not live by bread alone…* but he never said man can live without *bread*.

    Joblessness can bring about socio-economic disharmony and this can lead to racial disharmony.

    Msth$ is good for * counting money * but math$ cannot calculate racial harmony?

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  • John Richards:

    I have a simple observation to make. I notice that often these office theme parties, or whatever, are targetted at Indian culture. You get the whole Bollywood thing going accompanied by the usual jokes about colour and accents. I think they do this because they know the majority race will find so much to laugh at (and they do). And they all leave thinking what a successful nite that was.

    Another thing. Whenever I, the Indian, lunch with a group of Chinese colleagues, the conversation invariably turns to things Indian. There’s always one in the group who sees it as an opportunity to mock Indians and then say he was only joking. They do this to Indians more often than they joke about the fat guy, the short guy, the old guy, the flat chested girl, the one with the big butt, the tall skinny one, the one from a neighbourhood school, the one who stutters, the greedy one, the stingy one, the freeloader, the one who talks too much, the snooty one, the lazy one, the balls carrier, the office slut, the elitist, the silent one, the religious one, the PAP supporter, the Opposition supporter, the one who stays in a less popular neighbourhood … I could go on but you get the picture.

    But why always Indians? They don’t do that to Malays (except behind their backs).

    Some people think racism is motivated by a feeling of superiority that one race feels towards another. I believe racism is motivated by fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear deep down that the other person may be superior to you. So you play the race card to bring the other person down. It’s the same whether you’re part of the majority targetting a minority race, or a member of the minority race targetting someone of the majority race.

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  • Indian ?:

    @John Richard

    I thought you are a Caucasian. Very misleading. Mak Salleh Pantak Hitam ?

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