Iamclarena calling Indians smelly

From ‘Police investigating ‘iamclarena’ for making racist remarks on Twitter’, 11 Jan 2014, article by Lim Yan Liang

The police are investigating a Twitter user for making racist remarks on the social networking portal. The woman, who goes by the handle ‘iamclarena’, had recently posted a series of racist remarks against Indians with her Twitter account.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the police confirmed on Friday night that a report had been lodged against the woman for making racially aggravating remarks on social media. The woman, who also goes by the handle ‘Clarena Clanen TzeYi’ on Facebook, is the second person this week to be investigated for posting racist remarks on the Internet.

In 2012, Law Minister K Shanmugam, of all people, received an email from a resident complaining about his Indian neighbours and their ‘Indian sweaty smell and unwashed bodies.’ He found the insult ‘disturbing’ and I assume he didn’t call the police immediately to investigate the matter, nor even call the racist in for a ‘chat’. If ‘Iamclarena’ had sent a direct message to the same minister’s FB page instead of blasting on Twitter, I wonder if he’d do anything about it. I wonder if he even knows what ‘CB’ means.

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In 2005, a Today writer’s daughter was told by her KINDERGARTEN classmates that ‘all Indians are smelly’. When his 3 year old son boarded the school bus, some boys would ‘cover their noses’.  Maybe the kid really had a severe case of BO, but no scientist would want to conduct a study to see if some races emit more unpleasant odours than others, so we’ll never know. There are smelly people of any race, of course, but the Twitterverse is full of people who insist on telling us who the smelliest are. Are we going to investigate them all?

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Google’s also doesn’t filter its popular query drop-down list, as you can see below.

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But it’s not just Indian body smells that are the butt of racist jokes, even the aroma of their curry annoys the living hell out of some people, with some attributing what they eat to how they smell. Their hairiness is also a running joke in Russell Peters’ (himself of Indian descent) gigs, while local DJs refrain from mimicking their accent. Some would label you a racist even if you believe in ‘positive’ stereotypes, like Indians are good at computer stuff, running, or hockey. Where then, do we draw the line?

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The accusation of smelliness isn’t confined to the Indian race. PRCs are also mocked for ‘not bathing’ and ‘stinking up the MRT cabin’, but somehow being labelled malodorous is a greater insult for some races than others. You don’t call someone a ‘stinking Jew’, for example. The police are unlikely to track you down if you say PRCs are dirty and smelly, or generalising the Malays as ‘lazy’. But bring up something as emotive as Indian body odour and you’re asking to be probed. Likewise, the terms ‘drunk Indian’ and ‘drunk Caucasian’ also stir different emotions given the context of recent events. Well at least we know Indians ‘don’t rob banks’.

Iamclarena might end up doing jailhouse Macarena for her foul-mouthed tweets, if only for the sheer stupidity of her actions, though I would suggest the police follow up on Shanmugam’s racist, sarong-hating resident as well. Someone mad enough to complain about Indians to an INDIAN LAW minister sounds like a more serious threat to national security to me.

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Workers’ Party flooded with Chinese

From ‘Workers’ Party lacks minority representation’, 28 Jan 2013, ST Forum

(Paul Antony Fernandez):…As a Punggol East resident, I have reservations about whether the decision was the right one – during 10 days of campaigning, I did not see a Malay, Indian or anyone from a minority race among the WP members. I had thought that perhaps such members could not be around due to their work commitments, but at the WP’s victory parade yesterday, there was still no one from a minority race among their number.

The WP was formed primarily to address the concerns of workers across the board, especially low-wage workers. After General Election 2011, I realised that the WP was flooded with Chinese members. During the campaigning, I asked Ms Lee about the representation of the minorities in the WP, but did not get an answer.

Has WP leader Low Thia Khiang forgotten our national pledge where we pledged equality regardless of race or creed?

Just truckin'

Just truckin’

You’d have to worry for the electoral process if you have people like Fernandez here basing their vote on how multi-racial a party is rather than whether their candidate could do her job well. Since the exit of Michael Palmer, the PAP too has been lacking in minority race representation, that of the EURASIAN (Other than Christopher De Souza). Why isn’t Fernandez chiding the PAP for not fielding a Eurasian candidate as a one-for-one replacement instead of a Chinese colorectal surgeon? What, then, would be Fernandez’s ideal quota of minority race in any party, 1 minority for every 3 Chinese? Would a high-ranking Malay or Indian who calls the shots in a predominantly Chinese party be considered adequate ‘representation’? What did Fernandez have to say about the 4 TANS in the last Presidential election? Was that election, like the recent WP Punggol campaign, erm, RACIST too?

It’s easier for the ruling party having the strength and numbers to make their team as diverse as possible. The GRC system also practically ensures that the PAP is sufficiently multiracial, nevermind its sneaker motives. In 1988, Ling How Doong and Chiam See Tong from the SDP were challenged by Goh Chok Tong on how the party could claim to be multi-racial when they in fact fielded an all-Chinese team for the 1984 GE.  Goh then suggested that such a selection could lead to an ‘all-Chinese Parliament’. Chiam was also against the ‘Team MP’ concept which was ‘racialist’ and challenged the ability of minority races to get into politics ‘by their own merit’. At the time, it was assumed that a Chinese voter was more likely to support a Chinese candidate, more so if the latter spoke their dialect. Fernandez’s concern about racial equality is a relic of an era when people tended to vote emotionally and communally, rather than as the educated, savvy, mature voter who thinks of his representative as a SINGAPOREAN first rather than a Chinese/Malay/Indian. In fact even after a decade (2008) since the SDP race scuffle, the Prime Minister himself didn’t think the country was ready for a non-Chinese Leader.

Opposition parties do not have the luxury to be multi-racial and multi-gender just for the sake of it, when they really need the best possible candidates regardless of race or sex from a limited pool to challenge the PAP. In spite of its small number, the executive council of WP already has its fair share of (two) Malays and (one) Indian, which makes Fernandez’s snap judgement about WP’s make-up rather petty and unfair considering the overall demographics of Singapore. With such strong preconceptions about race in politics, one is prone to selectively zooming in on images of Chinese faces and ignoring the few seconds worth of ‘minority representation’. The deception would be magnified if Fernandez wasn’t in fact following the parade truck on the ground from start to finish (Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap were on board), but watching it on TV. It’s uncertain if he was paying any attention to WP’s activities since the GE 2011, or was just basing his conclusions of WP ‘Sinocentricity’ on the blue-collar vibe of the typical ‘Huat’-hooting WP audience.

And I don’t remember there being a single mention of the word CREED in our Pledge. Maybe Fernandez imagined it, like how he imagined the ‘flood’ of Chinese faces in WP.

MDA banning Elangovan’s Stoma

From ‘Media Development Authority bans Elangovan’s play Stoma’, 9 Jan 2013, article by Huang Lijie, ST

Singapore playwright Elangovan’s first play after a three-year hiatus will not be staged. The play, Stoma, which tells the story of a Catholic priest defrocked over sex abuse charges, was denied a performance licence yesterday.

It was originally slated to run at The Substation in Armenian Street from Jan 17 to 19. In a letter to Mr Elangovan, artistic director of theatre company Agni Kootthu (Theatre Of Fire), the Media Development Authority said a licence was not issued because the play contains “sexually explicit, blasphemous and offensive references and language which would be denigrating to the Catholic and the wider Christian community“.

This is the third time that a play by Elangovan has been denied licence to be staged here, after Talaq (2000), a play about a Muslim-Indian woman’s experiences of marital violence, and Smegma (2006), which comprises 10 mini plays that explore the control and exploitation of disadvantaged groups of people.

Elangovan’s earlier banned work Smegma sounds like a biography of a punk metal band or a sex-heavy meditation on puberty secretions, but it’s actually drama composed of 10 vignettes, including:

  • Three men in a prison cell making fun of  the Singapore flag
  • Kindergarten children calling their MP a PIG
  • Singaporeans sexual escapades with underaged girls (How prescient, this Elangovan)

But it was the Arts Consultative Panel’s fear that it would ‘create unhappiness and disaffection amongst Muslims’ that pulled the plug on Smegma. Interestingly, Smegma was initially granted a licence under a RA(18) rating, but got banned less than 30 HOURS before it was scheduled to play. 6 years later you would see MDA pulling the same last-minute stunt on a film that allegedly mocks Indians called Sex. Violence. Family Values. This followed a consultation with a similar panel of ‘experts’ AFTER MDA had made the more forthcoming decision of granting M18 instead.

The synopsis for Smegma contains the following line: “When the comfort zone is shattered, ugliness rears its head like SMELLY SMEGMA”, and so it is with MDA coming down hard on Stoma for its priest-sex associations, like a libido-killing, shameful splotch of spermy grime on a male porn stud’s scene-stealing manhood. What is the difference between Stoma and another similarly-themed production Doubt (performed here in 2006) anyway? Does Jesus Christ cameo in it totting a shotgun? Or perhaps it features sexy nuns showing more leg than habit?

The controversial Talaq (Divorce), which earned the playwright and even its lead actress Nargis Banu DEATH threats, was based on true stories of Indian-Muslim women getting battered and raped by their husbands.  The theatre company clashed with the National Arts Council (NAC) for inviting two deeply religious Muslim men from the South Indian Jamiathual Ulama (SIJU) on their panel, one of whom, Haji Marican, reportedly objecting to the play not so much that it depicts Muslim husbands as violent rapists, but that involuntary sex  should NOT be considered rape in the first place:

In Islamic law, a husband cannot rape his wife as long as the marriage continues. He need not ask permission from his wife for sexual relations each time he wants to have it. Even if she is angry or not in the mood, he has the right to it. In any event, a husband can have sex with his wife without her consent and that will not be rape

I’m no scholar on religious matters, but I wonder if these guys were intimidating the NAC into making an unfavourable decision not with choice religious words, but with wooden clubs that could beat off the most rabid sabre-toothed tiger. Elangovan’s wife (S Thenmoli) and president of his theatre group also got arrested for trespassing after holding a private rehearsal of Talaq in 2000. Maybe if I had threatened to nail Stephenie Meyer shut in a coffin and bury her alive, and MDA intervened accordingly, disgruntled boyfriends and husbands in Singapore would have been spared the torture of sitting through 5 soppy, draggy vampire movies which also promulgate bestial-pedophilia love between wolfmen and little girls. And all that got was a PG rating!

If there’s anything that should be banned, it’s this promo rap video below which MDA produced in 2007; for giving the arts-loving public the false impression that they’re cutting-edge and cool. I rather scrape dried smegma off a rapist’s corpse with my fingernails than listen to this. They just don’t stop, y’all.

Postscript: Barely a week after this ban, a sex scandal involving a pastor from an unnamed church and an underaged girl surfaced. Oh the irony. Elangovan’s fiction is eerily close to the inconvenient truth. Looks like the year of the Scandal is stretching past the Chinese New Year.

Daniel Ong calling neighbour Sivalin-ganam style

From ‘He made fun of my name’, 26 Oct 2012, article by Foo Jie Ying, TNP

A dispute between neighbours over renovation noise led to one of them making a police report against the other, claiming that the latter had made fun of his name. In the report made on Oct 16, he said: “By making fun and changing my family surname, he is insulting and degrading the Indian culture.”

In an interview with The New Paper On Tuesday evening, Mr Sivalingam Narayanasamy, 55, said: “What he has done is to change my surname.” The other party in the dispute is former radio deejay Daniel Ong, 36, who is now known as a celebrity cupcake-shop owner with his wife, Miss Singapore-Universe 2001 Jaime Teo.

Mr Sivalingam showed TNP a letter purportedly written by Mr Ong to him, in which Mr Ong allegedly made fun of his name. In the letter, Mr Ong referred to Mr Sivalingam as “Sivalin-ganamstyle” and added, “That’s my new nickname for you… cool, huh?”

Mr Ong addressed this on his Facebook page, saying: “He claims I insulted him coz I addressed him as Sivalingam num-style in my last letter… but I told him that I didn’t mean that and it’s the coolest thing around now.”

If you read the contents of Daniel Ong’s letter for yourself, you’ll find it full of sarcastic insults, spite, fake LOLS and general meanness. From the way how this neighbourly spat has been overblown, it’s obvious that Sivalingam’s racist accusation is a pretext for filing against Ong’s nastiness and intolerance over a baby-tormenting and ‘old-lady murdering’ renovation project. As with his grudge against SPH, the ex-DJ has made his Facebook page his personal diary and broadcaster now that he’s gone from radio. Regardless of who’s at fault here,  this is really an exaggerated episode of neighbours thrashing it out over one ugly incident after another, culminating in a sensational turf war with a typical but ultimately futile standoff involving the police. I wonder what will become of these two once it’s Christmas.

It’s like two boys fighting in the playground and one threatening with his daddy because the other called him names and he had no comeback. The natural tendency in such testosterone-charged scuffles is for the one picked on to retort with a creative insult of his own, until both get tired of this one-upping nonsense and walk away. At least these two grown ups are civil enough not to bring their Mamas into it or roll around in the mud throwing punches. Conflicts of this sort are inevitable, no matter how we try to inculcate a ‘give and take’ culture, when in fact we’re mostly looking after our own interests and ‘community’ means running into that comfort zone and pacifier called Facebook where your ‘friends’ are obliged to support you all the way even if you’re acting like a child who just got his rattle nicked by a bully.

When it comes to a war of words, it’s unlikely that Sivalingam would get the upper hand over a cupcake king with the gift of the gab (Daniel even refers to himself as ‘FUNNY GUY” on his Twitter page), hence to counter his weakness in petty insult-trading, the big guns have to be summoned on a hot-potato issue (racism) just to show that he means business. I’m not even sure if this guy knows what Gangnam Style is, which may explain why he would consider the name-mashing a childish insult, maybe the equivalent of the Chinese ‘Tan Ah Kow’.  He does cut an imposing figure however, like a superintendent in the force, or someone who runs a butchery franchise and boxes hunks of meat in his spare time.  Daniel Ong (who once played ‘Mr Kiasee’ in the Mr Kiasu sitcom) will get his cupcakes SQUASHED if put in a ring with this bull of a man.

Don’t call him Gangnam

What’s worrying, and yet strangely assuring at the same time, is why our police EVEN BOTHER with such things (Assuring because it means our cops have nothing much to do). Well I suppose if they’re forced to investigate teachers who cut the hair of students without permission, this fight between an angry celebrity and his angry neighbour must seem as exciting as taking down rival triads in comparison. Gangs of Mei Hwan Drive perhaps. Still, this is what happens if you have public endorsement of the over-the-top censuring of anything mocking a minority race. You give people excuses to point fingers at the one thing that will get your enemies in trouble, when you’re really pissed off with them because they embarrassed you, not because they humiliated your race, your family, your ancestry and your gods.

Siva claims discrimination when Daniel Ong mashes up his surname with Gangnam style, while the latter explains the pun away as a reference to his ‘threatening’ stance with arms akimbo. Neither argument makes sense. I can’t imagine an aggressor doing this in a mano-a-mano confrontation, unless he’s trying to subdue you with laughter.

Please don’t hurt me. I’ll do anything

I suspect it’s harmless wordplay more than anything else, though these days dropping sly racial references is like tossing firecrackers on a minefield. Siva doesn’t have a case because Gangnam itself has already taken Indians by storm, and just about anyone with an Internet connection and doesn’t understand a single word of Korean.

Sex Violence and Family Values NOT allowed for All Rating

From ‘S’pore film yanked from release over offensive racial remarks’, 9 Oct 2012, article by John Lui, ST

A LOCAL comedy that had originally been given an M18 film classification has had its release pulled by the Media Development Authority (MDA) over offensive racial remarks, just days before it is due to open in cinemas. Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, a compendium of three short films by first-time director Ken Kwek, was handed a Not Allowed For All Rating last evening, a rarely used classification. A film given such a rating is not allowed to be screened.

…Of the three shorts in Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, Porn Masala is the most controversial, revolving around the making of Singapore’s first “arthouse porno”. In a trailer released on the film’s website a few weeks ago, a boorish film director played by Adrian Pang and an Indian porn actor played by Vadi PVSS are seen trading racial insults, based on gross stereotypes.

…The MDA statement said: “An overwhelming majority of the panel members have expressed that the film should not be allowed for public exhibition in view of its overt racial references, which are demeaning and offensive to Indians.”

In the ‘dirty’ version of the movie trailer, Adrian Pang’s porn director makes reference to sex and alcohol in relation to  Vasantham actor Vadi PVSS’s race. This ‘unkindest cut of all’ comes fresh after Amy Cheong got sacked for posting remarks about Malay weddings on Facebook, except this time it’s another minority race bearing the insult. Lionel De Souza is probably drafting a police report against the cast and crew as we speak.

At this rate of heavy censures being handed out for any form of stereotyping, where you could fire an NTUC assistant director or pull someone’s movie off local cinemas, you wouldn’t expect anything less than sacking radio DJs for mocking Indian accents, dismissing ST writers referring to ‘often- drunk Sikh priests’, or closing down Breadtalk for selling bread named ‘Naan the Nay’. You might as well clamp down on Kumar’s comedy routine, or ban all Bollywood DnD theme parties. Now, even being ‘politically incorrect’ is hazardous to your mental health not to mention career. But as if losing your bread and butter isn’t enough, your former employers use blame-shifting phrases like ‘I DID what WE had to do'(Lim Swee Say), and then ask people to ‘spare a thought’ for you after what they did to you. That’s like pushing you off a cliff and then throwing a pillow down in the hope that it would somehow cushion your fall.

The ‘Not Allowed for All Rating’, or NAR, is slapped on films which MDA describes as follows according to their Film Classification Guidelines:

  • Themes that promote issues that denigrate any race or religion, or undermine national interest will not be allowed.
  • Themes that glorify undesirable fetishes or behaviour (e.g. paedophilia and bestiality) are not allowed.
  • Promotion or glamorisation of homosexual lifestyle.

Which puts Sex Violence in the same league as donkey porno. How did Sacha Baron Cohen’s films like Borat, Bruno and The Dictator get past the censors then? Did anyone miss the screaming Chinaman stereotype in films like the Hangover and Ted? Why wasn’t Mike Myers’ THE GURU banned? How about the discriminatory banter between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour trilogy? Did MDA ignore all these elements because these were blockbusters and Ken Kwek’s film is a small indie movie, or did they all assume that some races are better at taking potshots than the others?

But it’s not just Hollywood movies that have the potential to fall into NAR territory. Even our local productions are full of disguised ‘racism’, with Chinese being overrepresented in dramatic roles. In National Day videos, you’ll invariably have singing Indian prata men, and nobody said anything about Alaric Tay’s portrayal of a ‘Mat Rocker’ in the Noose. The only reason why nobody considers making the latter into a full-length feature is because MDA may NAR it too, on the grounds of ‘overt racial references’. Hence the I Not Stupid sequels. I suppose it’s better to have horrible English than being, you know, RACIST.

Moving along. Under ‘Language’, you have:

  • Language that denigrates religion or is religiously profane (e.g. Jesus F**king Christ).

Fair enough. Except that in Ted, I believe there was a scene where the exact same wording as above was used, but the middle profanity was muted out. In the 25th hour, a good few minutes were sliced off Edward Norton’s ‘fuck the world’ rampage against the various ethnicities in New York City (for a R21 rating). Isn’t the NAR rating in this case like decapitating a patient who has a stye in the eye, firing a bazooka into a mouse hole, or using a samurai sword to peel a banana? Did someone lose the censors’ chopper and decided it was easier to ban it altogether? How about delaying Sex Violence’s slated release to talk to the producers about possible re-shoots? You know, a CONVERSATION perhaps? Maybe there could be two versions of the movie, an internationally acclaimed one called Sex Violence Family Values, and an edited PG 13 one for the domestic market that is ‘community-friendly’ called, well, FAMILY VALUES. Instead of Porn Masala, you could replace it with an episode of Jacintha’s ‘Mum’s not Cooking’.

Whether Sex Violence is considered satirical art is irrelevant. As with all banned videos, thousands of curious Singaporeans will be googling Porn Masala as we speak (Don’t do it at work, you’ll get ACTUAL PORN as the top search hit instead), but it’s unlikely that we’ll see the original version on Youtube, what used to be a trusted treasure trove of stuff that MDA’s censor panel can’t deal with after a century of co-mingling with other races (Well THANKS A LOT Innocence of Muslims!). At the expense of being annoyingly cordial to each other where any suggestion of discrimination has to be repressed, we’ve sadly lost the ability to laugh at ourselves, which is the way most developed countries deal with the idiosyncrasies of their racial melting pots. Forget the National Conversation. I want our national Humour back.

Yet, ironically, some good may come out of this. If Ken Kwek continues the run on the international circuit and ride on the publicity of the ban, Sex Violence will garner more attention than Sex:The Annabel Chong Story. And nothing will put the MDA to shame more than this movie picking up festival awards, or better still a selection for the Oscars Foreign Film nominations. By then, the best thing that could happen to local film is not that MDA passes it UNCUT, but that it BANS it altogether, like a Chinese film about the Nanjing massacre or tainted milk powder, covering up for ‘fault lines’ that exist no matter how you preach otherwise.

Postscript: While the producers are appealing the ban, MDA responded that they left the decision to a Films Consultative Panel, which consists of ‘volunteers of various professions, age groups, religions and races’. Of 24 members, 20 gave a thumbs down to the release, while 4 opted for the strictest rating possible R21. There have also been complaints of the depiction of a schoolgirl in a CHIJ uniform in Porn Masala, which could have been a cynical reference to convent girls being branded as sluts in need of a ‘one night stand’.

So, who’s in the FCP? My first impression was that this is a secret Oracle of know-it-alls who wear white hoods brandishing sceptres or a council of hologram Elders like those you see in the Superman movies, but they’re actually mortal human beings, according to details in the MDA website.

The Council of Elders says no to Porn Masala

Let’s look the kind of people you need to speak about morals and ethics on behalf of 5.3 million people. For starters, the CHAIRPERSON Vijay Chandran is INDIAN, and ironically belongs to a company called ELASTICITY Pte Ltd. Another striking feature is how a majority of these members hold high positions in society, directors, doctors, CEOs, lawyers and a couple of obligatory housemakers, entrepreneurs, artists and students. Would a panel vote objectively if the chair belongs to a race that is picked on in the movie? How representative is such a panel anyway, and why is it there’s not a single moral philosopher or sociologist in the team? Why on earth do you need a POLICEMAN on the panel (Steven Moorthi)? How ELSE would you expect a cop to vote on race issues?

It’s obvious by glancing at the composition of the panel that the FCP is not a one size fits all arbiter of moral values, whether it’s gratuitous sex and violence, religious, race or gay issues. The very presence of an Indian leading the team already suggests bias in decision-making. Sex Violence deserves a second opinion, and whatever the final outcome, I for one, will be begging to watch it.

Postscript 2: The film eventually got passed with cuts under a R(21) rating. Don’t rush to book your tics yet, though, you’d never know if the MDA may decide to pull the film again days before screening. Today, you may download the entire Porn Masala scene from Youtube. 

Petain Road named after fallen French Marshal

From ‘Should Petain Road be renamed?’ 20 March 2012, article by Tommy Koh, ST, and ‘Petain Road’, 24 March 2012, My Point, ST Forum

…There is a road in the Jalan Besar area called Petain Road. The French community has been campaigning for many years to change the name of the road. I support the campaign and would like to explain why the Street and Building Names Board, under the Ministry of National Development, should consider the request favourably.

Britain was an ally of France during the First World War. In the Jalan Besar area, there are several roads which bear the names of famous generals, such as Petain and Beatty, or famous sites of battles, such as Verdun, Marne, Jutland and Flanders. In 1928, the Municipal Government of Singapore decided to name one of the roads after the great French war hero, Field Marshal Henri Philippe Petain.

…At the end of the First World War, Petain was regarded as one of France’s greatest military heroes. In 1918, he was made a Marshal of France. In 1922, he was appointed as the Inspector-General of the Army. The decision by the Municipal Government of Singapore to name a road after him, in 1928, was perfectly understandable.

No one in 1928 could have foreseen what Petain would do during the Second World War. The French Army had been progressively degraded after the First World War, no thanks to budgetary cuts. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the French Army was no match for the German Army.

In May 1940, Petain, who had become the Prime Minister of France, regarded the military situation as hopeless. On the 20th of June, France signed an armistice with Germany, giving the latter control of the north and west of France, including Paris. The seat of the French government was moved to Vichy, a town located about 400km south of Paris.

On July 10, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate ratified the armistice, abolished the Third Republic, and adopted a new Constitution under which Petain, as the head of state, had near-absolute powers. The Petain government oppressed the French people and collaborated with Germany in suppressing the French resistance and arresting the Jews. In November 1942, Germany occupied the whole of France and Petain became a puppet of the Germans.

In 1945, de Gaulle’s provisional government placed Petain on trial for treason. The three judges were in favour of acquitting him. The jury, however, disagreed and convicted him of treason and sentenced him to death. De Gaulle, who had served under Petain in 1911, commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, on account of his age and taking into account his contributions in the First World War. Petain was stripped of all his military ranks and honours, except for the title of Marshal. He died in ignominy, in 1951, at the age of 95.

In the light of these historical facts, we must agree with the French community that it is inappropriate to continue to honour Petain by naming a road after him. The question is whether there is a precedent for changing the road’s name.

I think I have found a good precedent. Chulia Street was originally named Kling Street. The word, ‘kling’ is derived from the word, ‘kalinga’, the name of a powerful South Indian kingdom. In the beginning, the Malays referred to all South Indians as ‘orang kling’. However, over time, the word acquired a pejorative connotation and was used to refer to the Indian coolies.

In 1918, Rev J A B Coach petitioned the municipal commissioners to change the name of the street, but his appeal was rejected. Three years later, in 1921, the commissioners acceded to the request of Dr H S Moonshi, who spoke on behalf of the Indian community.

I hope that the Street and Building Names Board will kindly consider the request of the French community to rename Petain Road. I propose calling it ‘de Gaulle Road‘, to recognise the historic contributions made by the indomitable French leader in the country’s history.

(MR LIM ENG LIAN): ‘As a Singaporean, what is important to me is the context of the name ‘Petain Road’ in Singapore (‘Should Petain Road be renamed?'; Tuesday). It seems the argument for changing the name relates to French history and politics, not Singapore’s, which links Petain Road to the person so honoured at that time. If the rationale provided in the article for changing the name is to be accepted, then shouldn’t all references to Petain in France be expunged by the French?’

I’m no expert in French history and it’s interesting how streets in Singapore are named after European  World War veterans like Foch, Kitchener, Haig and Beatty, simply because we have few folk heroes ourselves yet so many roads to cover. This, however, isn’t the first time that war history buffs have taken offence to Petain Road. Back in July 1940, someone also suggested replacing it with the name of a ‘real patriot’, General de Gaulle. In 1941, Petain as Vichy chief was harangued for his ‘negotiations with our mortal enemy’ and having Hitler as his ‘great teacher’. A traitor to his country and an anti-Semite Nazi sympathiser, this call to rename Petain Road reminds me of the outrage over a bar named Aushwitz, or a food court named S21. In France, the last little street in Tremblois bearing the name of Petain was changed in 2011, with mixed reactions from locals.  If some French may choose to look beyond the scandals and foibles of a once great man, why not us?  Just because some general went rogue doesn’t mean he should be any less remembered. Evil politicians sell more biographies than heroic ones, simply because evil people are more interesting to read about.

Taxi drivers’ nightmare aside, ‘de Gaulle (small ‘d’!)’ Road sounds rather pretentious in my opinion, more suitable for a chic retail boulevard than a street near Little India that has more shophouses than alfresco bistros or macaron boutiques. Does the average Singaporean even know, or care, if we have so many roads named after foreign generals and battles of which our children are never taught in school?  Or that we still have road names which sound too ‘Malaysian’? Interestingly, the infamous Desker Road, a few blocks down Pertain Road, was named after Andre Filipe Desker, a Dutch donor to CATHOLIC schools and CHURCHES, according to this blog with an awesome collection of road names. Desker’s descendents wouldn’t be too pleased with what his road has become associated with these days (prostitution and illegal sex drug peddling), but no one has asked for a replacement so far. Some road names were also picked in sarcastic jest; according to this 1950 article, Lavender Street (also nearby) was so named because it used to be where barrel carts containing ‘nightsoil’, or shit, were gathered.

But why is it, for all the dead white Generals, Lords and Marshals from Waterloo to Flanders, there are so few streets in the  Little India area that sound remotely Indian? The closest I could find from the area map that relates to the Indian identity include Madras St, Veerasamy Rd and a Hindoo Rd. If the likes of Tommy Koh and the French community are so insistent on taking Petain off the map for good, how about celebrating a local Indian hero for a change, like S C Goho? In 2008, we already ‘toned down the Indian identity’ of the old Tekka Mall by rebranding it as the Verge (a word with Middle FRENCH origins), and here we are fighting over which French general to take the place of a disgraced Petain, and one (de Gaulle) most Singaporeans could relate to only by virtue of the CDG airport in Paris. This is Little India/Jalan Besar, not a exhibition wing of a European Museum of World War History.

UOB staff going blackface

From ‘Seeing red over blackface photos’, 12 Feb 2012, article by Jennani Durai, Sunday Times

Several Chinese employees of United Overseas Bank have raised eyebrows online after posting pictures of themselves in ‘blackface’ at a Bollywood-themed staff dinner. Pictures of last Friday’s event at the Fairmont Hotel were posted on social networking site Facebook yesterday. At least three men are pictured with their faces painted black, presumably because the event was Indian-themed and Indians have darker skin.

‘Blackface’ is widely seen as racially charged, especially in the United States. It originated as a form of theatrical make-up for performers to act out caricatures of dark-skinned people.

…A Chinese reader, who e-mailed the pictures to The Sunday Times, said she found them extremely offensive. ‘It’s one thing to wear a traditional costume to a Bollywood- themed dinner, but another thing altogether to paint your face black,’ said the reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She said the pictures were offensive because they were ‘appropriating someone else’s ethnicity and treating it like entertainment‘.

And she was shocked at the captions and comments on the pictures, in which friends of the men said their get-up was ‘hilarious’. ‘All these people wouldn’t like it if a bunch of American employees went to a Chinese-themed dinner and put double-sided tape on their eyelids to make them single-eyelids,’ the reader said.

…Counsellor P. Dinesh said painting their faces black was ‘no different from referring to someone of Indian descent as ‘black’ which is thoroughly unacceptable in any Singaporean context‘.

Still others acknowledged that there was nothing malicious in the intent of the men, but that it was a poor decision.

Ms R. Yasotha, who works in publishing, said her first reaction was that the men had ‘clearly never had any Indian friends’. ‘They just wanted to have fun, so I’m not going to be up in arms about it, but it’s idiotic and juvenile,’ said the 28-year-old.

One has to be careful about using colour references, or even shades of ‘blackness’, here.  The offensive minstrel show of the past was aimed at actual Blacks or African-Americans.  It also explains why there’s a ‘White Chicks’ movie but not ‘Black Chicks’.  Similarly, UOB’s cosmetic caricature at a BOLLYWOOD theme party is taken as a racial insult to, as what the reporter euphemistically states,  ‘DARKER’ skinned Indians. In fact, it’s not just ‘black’ that is deemed offensive to Indians like P.Dinesh in the above article, even describing some as ‘DARK‘ would get you in trouble.  On the other hand, the term ‘FAIR-skinned’ on a White person is not just an acceptable statement of fact anymore, but has become a universal compliment, even for non-Whites. The most successful Bollywood icons also happen to be ‘fairer’-skinned than what these guys were trying to depict anyway. It’s probably unfair to judge these guys as ‘never having had any Indian friends’. In fact, if your best friend happens to be Indian and even he finds Chinese ‘blackface’ funny, all the more reason for you to pull it off.

If you were mugged and asked to describe your assailant to the police and know for a fact that he has genuinely ‘black’ skin, but are uncomfortable with using ‘black’, is it then socially acceptable to refer to him as ‘dark-skinned’, when this could very well imply a very tan Chinese, or Filipino/Myanmese/Malay? How far can a non-Indian go, then, to make a spectacle without overdoing ethnic stereotypes? You can dress like an Indian, but not make your face up to look physically like one or even sound like one.   Companies shouldn’t hold a ‘Bollywood’ theme party, but rather a ‘Sari, Bindi and Dhoti’ costume party, which sounds as much fun as a Parents and Teachers Get-Together on Racial Harmony Day.

Some famous White actors have dolled themselves up to look like Indians in the movies, such as Sir Alec Guiness of Obiwan Kenobi fame as mystic Godbole in A Passage to India. (He also played an ARAB in Lawrence of Arabia) The quintessential Indian, Gandhi, was played by Indian/English/Russian Jewish thespian Ben Kingsley. Legendary comedian Peter Sellers poked fun at the Indian stereotype in 1968’s The Party. Mike Myers, obviously inspired by Sellers, ravaged Hinduism in The Love Guru despite keeping the colour of his face intact, but the movie was still allowed for screening here. From these examples and Robert Downey Jr’s critically acclaimed portrayal as a ‘Black’ soldier in 2008’s Tropic Thunder, it seems that even the West has ‘lightened’ up (hurr hurr) to anything resembling  ‘blackface’. Or it just means that you can get away with darkening your face for dramatic or satirical purposes if you’re a Hollywood actor, but not if you’re an ordinary person fooling around at a Dinner and Dance, whereby you’ll be accused of being culturally ignorant, ‘idiotic’ and ‘juvenile’. Would critics be less harsh if these jokers merely made their faces ‘dark brown’ ? Ironically, these guys may be wishing that they had painted their faces ‘blacker’, so that they would be less recognisable from the photo. They also wouldn’t be BLACKlisted if not for FACEbook.

A commenter on this blog highlighted a genuine celebrity ‘blackface’ which was not picked up by the media, when Glenn Ong charcoaled his face to look like the late King of Pop at a Mediacorp ‘Retro Bash’ event last year (Would he draw less flak for ‘whitening’ his face instead, white being the colour of the older Michael Jackson’s face?). A  familiar brand of toothpaste was also slammed for its depiction of blackface minstrels in the late eighties. Although the original ‘Darkie’ changed its name TWICE to DAKKIE and then the My Little Pony-sounding DARLIE as we know it today, the Chinese name remains, literally, Black Man’s Toothpaste, which has more racial intonations than its current English version suggests. Note how the ‘blackface’ logo was made ‘whiter’, when it’s not so much the original face (which to me looks more like a Black man than a White face painted black), but the name of the product that’s the problem.

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