When I started thinking about what I wanted to write for Shealea’s new series, talking about Singapore’s approach to Indian characters in media was one of the first things I thought about.
Growing up in Singapore — a multi-racial country that proudly proclaims racial harmony, that says racial tensions do not exist — one thing that has struck me over the years is that, despite all these proclamations, whenever there were Indian characters on TV — and there were not many of these, and they were almost always side characters — they were largely caricatures and stereotypes. As a child, this was something I didn’t notice. But as I grew older, and now as I look back on it, I feel sad that I never got to see myself represented on TV. Not on the local media, and not on the Western media that slowly started being shown as well.
It is 2019, and earlier this year, an Indian actor in Singapore was asked to put on a heavy Indian accent – despite being Singaporean and not having one – for an audition (1). And when he complained about it online, to highlight the event, and said he wanted to ask not to have to do it to portray a more authentic Singaporean Indian experience, many other minority actors chimed in with similar experiences. And many of the Chinese majority accused him of playing the “race card”.
It is 2019, and Indian characters are still side characters, still stereotypes, and when actors speak up, they are denounced for it.
About a week ago, there was another incident, and the ‘debate’ — and I use this term loosely — that has sparked up around it shows me that the majority in Singapore do not want to admit that there is a racial bias in the media. This incident was a tone-deaf advertisement where a Chinese comedian donned brownface to portray an Indian man (2). (He also wore a tudong to portray a Muslim woman.) And when an Indian rapper and her brother made a video in response to this advertisement, they were condemned by the government, the news agency, and a lot of the public (3).
Why is it when the minority in a so-called racially harmonious country call out the microaggressions and racism they face, they are told to stand down so as to not cause strife? And these are not even the most of the racism that we have faced in this country, the small ways we are told we are lesser. How is Singapore any media any better than the Western media we Asians call out?
I am honestly so tired of seeing this. Of being told that my role in life is to be on the side, to nod my head, to be ‘more Indian’, to be the butt of jokes, because that is all I am shown on TV.
It is 2019, and racial harmony is a myth. Racial harmony only exists if the minorities keep quiet and keep to the status quo. It is exhausting and demeaning, and I am frustrated and I am tired.
Augvocate for the Day
Ara is a Southeast Asian writer who someday hopes to have published a novel, and who is currently losing herself in the worlds created by others. She is currently working from home as the creative head for marketing for the family business and spending most of her time trying to keep her toddler from proving the terrible twos are the terrible twos.
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August
until the 28th.* Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
* Note: Due to unforeseen delays on my part, the posts for Augvocacy 2019 will keep coming until the 23rd of September! Hence, the new title: #Augvocacy2019 (Extended).
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 What are your thoughts on Aradhna’s article? Do you agree that racial harmony is a myth even within Asian communities?
🌻 Can you relate to the microaggression Aradhna has described in her article?
🌻 Let’s be a bit more positive! Have you ever seen your race/ethnicity represented in a way that isn’t stereotypical and disrespectful?