Why Racial Caricaturing in Singaporean Broadcast Media is Problematic

Written by: Eliora Tan Yu Xuan (21-E5), Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1), Leanne Soh Li En (21-E6)

Designed by: Jervis Ch’ng Yun Ping (21-U5)

Introduction

It is commonly agreed upon that to have a normative Singaporean childhood is to have watched at least one Mediacorp series growing up. There are four different language channels that target the multiracial community in Singapore. Channel 8, the Mandarin-streaming channel, is the most popular, given our country’s predominantly Chinese majority. This draws in the splice of the debate: while our state-funded TV is meant to disperse moralistic plotlines and encourage value-strengthening in society, one has to question the very vetting process that media in Channel 8 undergoes for approval to broadcast nationwide. It is widely known that Channel 8 has trenched through its fair share of controversies, mostly regarding caricaturing of a minority – be it LGBTQ+ or a race. In this article, we will be delving deep into the root causes of racial caricaturing and then explore the problems it poses to Singaporean society and our citizens. 

The Causes for Racial Caricaturing

    Much of racial caricaturing present in today’s media stems from the majority bias. Singapore is made up of a variety of races, with the Chinese being the overwhelming majority. This has resulted in the Chinese majority displaying insensitive behaviour towards the other ethnic minorities, which has led to many instances of racism. Some of these instances occur through racial caricaturing, where minorities have been portrayed inaccurately or stereotypically in the media.  To name a few, Mediacorp actors have smeared paint on their faces to darken their skin tone in an attempt to act as a different race. There has also been a recent e-payment advertisement where a Singaporean Chinese actor with visibly darkened skin took on the roles of a Malay woman and an Indian man.

Brownface

Brownface, a term used to describe the practice of wearing make-up to imitate the looks of a non-white person, usually Malay or Indian when placed in Singapore’s context. While many express their distaste towards media containing brownface, there are some who claim it to be comedic. This explains why, regardless of the repercussions, the media has time and time again used brownface in their shows and advertisements. 

Photo credit: E-payment advertisement containing brownface

Racial stereotypes in media

“I was told to portray a caricature of my race. I was reduced to my accent.” Mr Bhargava wrote in a Facebook post, visibly enraged, after his audition as a soldier for the fourth edition of the local Singaporean favourite, Ah Boys to Men. He was told to take on the role of a “full-grown Indian man”, “put on a thick Indian accent” and “make it funny”, evidently being subjected to a racial stereotype of the media. 

Photo credit: Stomp

Yet, this was only one of the many incidents of racial stereotyping. The problem with racial stereotyping in the media is that it shapes and strengthens the views towards people of different races and ethnicities, which is extremely problematic in a multi-racial society like ours. This leads us to have a flawed understanding of the diversity and ability of “the other”. The subtle message in stereotypical portrayals of people from minority races is that making fun of “a particular mannerism, accent or look” is normal and is “socially acceptable”. We may criticise Hollywood for portraying people of colour in stereotypical manners through their blockbuster movies, but how can we ever call that out if we have been doing the same?

The Problems with It

           Not to mention, the very fact that such insensitive content is allowed to stream nationwide echoes the blatant tone-deafness in our society, or at least that of the Mediacorp scene. It shows that perhaps the umbrage voiced out by minorities or enraged audiences has fallen on deaf ears. This disregard for our base equilibrium needs is shameful, especially considering that Mediacorp is state-funded with the official purpose to foster harmony and uphold core values in society. 

    We must emphasise the fact that Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural society, where views of minorities must be respected, and instances of racial caricaturing are just simply unacceptable, more than ever. Tensions raised along racial lines undermine our social cohesion, so it is paramount that we keep the media in check. 

Conclusion

       Therefore, to keep in check majority bias within the ethnic-Chinese community in Singapore, the PAC/ACCESS should impose a racial quota to ensure that no racial lambasting – in the form of racist stereotypes on TV or brownface – is allowed to fly in the local broadcast media.

Bibliography:

  1. K. (2017, June 2). Police close case after questioning actor who alleged racism in audition for Ah Boys To Men 4. Stomp. https://stomp.straitstimes.com/singapore-seen/police-close-case-after-questioning-actor-who-alleged-racism-in-audition-for-ah-boys 
  2. Racial stereotypes in media: Not just a bit of harmless fun, Opinion. (2017, June 23). The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/racial-stereotypes-in-media-not-just-a-bit-of-harmless-fun 
  3. Racism saga: Are S’poreans prepared to grow from Ah Boys to Men?,. (2017, June 3). The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/racism-saga-are-sporeans-prepared-to-grow-from-ah-boys-to-men?close=true 

Autism in Girls

Written by: Eliora Tan Yuxuan (21-E5), Jolina Prisha Nair (21-E5), Lim Zi Loong, Zexel (21-E2)

Designed by: Katelyn Joshy (21-U1)


What is Autism? 

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation. The word autism originates from ‘autos’, the Greek word for ‘self’. People with autism are often referred to as someone who lives in a world of their own. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviours and is a spectrum condition that affects people differently to various degrees.

How is Autism different in Girls? 

Autism is more common in boys than in girls. Healthcare professionals, caregivers and parents tend to overlook the symptoms of autism in girls. Stereotypes about typical male and female behaviours can cause some people to miss some symptoms. For instance, many people think of girls as naturally quieter or more content to play alone than boys. However, speaking less and preferring to spend time alone can both be symptoms of autism.

Girls are more likely to react to stress in ways that people may not notice immediately, such as self-harm. Boys may be more likely to react to stress outwardly — for example, by becoming angry or misbehaving. This behaviour is more visible and may flag up autism sooner.

Girls may have more self-awareness and be more conscious of “fitting in” socially. This can mean that they are able to hide the symptoms of autism in childhood or put more time and energy into learning social norms.

As girls get older and social norms and friendships become more complex, they may find it more difficult to relate to others. This can mean that they may not receive a diagnosis of autism until their teenage years.

What are the safety risks of Autistic Girls? 

Autism hinders a girl’s ability to read social cues making them more vulnerable. They become susceptible to bullying for the sheer reason of being “different” and are easily taken advantage of. In more severe cases, they fall victim to sexual predators.

A recent study by Autism Speaks found that children with autism wander away from home, stores and school often. More than half of these children go missing long enough to cause worry. 65% of the incidents involve a close call with traffic and 32% involve near drowning accidents. According to their parents, the main reason for such wandering is their love for running and exploring. However, sometimes these children run away to escape stressful situations or an uncomfortable sensory stimulus.

Hence, it is of utmost importance for parents to develop safety plans with their families, teachers, police, and other community members to protect children with autism who wander and to be able to locate them. Continued community support is the best way to ensure their safety.

What are the current measures in place in Singapore? 

Allied educators are the main form of aid for autistic students in mainstream schools. They conduct weekly sessions with these students to bridge gaps in areas of difficulty. As of 2019, MOE states that there are more than 25,000 students with special needs in mainstream schools, and about 500 allied educators here. This ratio is alarming compared to British Columbia’s ratio of 73,000 special needs students to 12,000 education assistants. A former allied educator, who worked in a mainstream school in Singapore, said that her biggest challenge was the heavy workload. She even had to “juggle up to 50 cases” concurrently. Teachers would often demand “instant fixes” for children with special needs, or requested her to take them “out of the class”.  At times, “it’s not just one student with special needs, some classes have up to 10 with varying needs,” she claimed.

There are also a total of 20 Special Education (SPED) schools in Singapore and they offer different programmes that cater to distinct disability groups of children. However, SPED schools face numerous difficulties. Firstly, fees and funding vary from mainstream to SPED schools. The cost of school fees for special needs students can amount to as much as $350 while government-aided students only pay around $6.50 to $13 for miscellaneous fees. Though no child is denied an education, the vast difference in fees is still unfair to families of children in SPED schools.

Secondly, the pay and qualifications of SPED school teachers vary enormously. The qualifications of such teachers are usually less stringent than those of mainstream teachers. As Sped teachers do not come under MOE’s purview, they also do not have access to the same salary scales and opportunities as their peers in mainstream schools. Hence, there is a general perception that Sped school teachers have less recognition, and their pay packages are less attractive, even though their jobs are usually tougher.

We see that though efforts have been made to aid children with special needs, they are insufficient to meet the demand. Allied educators and teachers in SPED schools are forced to handle tough situations with little in return and not enough is being done to educate the student population on their classmates’ learning disabilities. Thus, more attention and resources needs to be given to these children to allow them to truly thrive. 

How can we help raise awareness of autism? 

It is paramount that we take action to alter society’s perception of patients with autism and help to reduce (or even eliminate) the stigma they face everyday through actively initiating conversations about autism, especially in girls. Society has failed to acknowledge the fact that autism does not only affect males, but both genders. What they previously ignored, they must now acknowledge. Here are some suggestions on how we can help. 

Firstly, we should equip ourselves with knowledge on how to identify symptoms of autism specifically in girls. These are easily missed, and examples of these symptoms include controlling one’s behavior in public by mimicking other neurotypical students in order to blend in (Arky, 2021). Identification of these symptoms encourages early detection of autism in girls so that parents can be informed about any anomalies in their child’s behaviour and seek professional help immediately.

Secondly, we can support social change initiatives which focus on combating gender bias in autism. Even simple actions like attending talks, rallies and other publicity events to educate oneself and speaking up about the issue with our circle of friends are meaningful contributions to increase awareness of autism in girls. For example, in some elementary schools in Vancouver, “demystification” sessions are conducted in mainstream primary schools (Choo, 2019). With the permission and participation of parents, and allied educators, autistic girls are given the opportunity to explain their disability, how it affects them and how we can help them, from their very own perspective. Hearing these stories will broaden the perspective of neurotypical students and cultivate a sense of understanding and inclusion from a young age. This is essential to supporting females suffering from autism.

Lastly, we must practice greater empathy and compassion in how we treat patients with autism. Instead of labelling them as “peculiar” or “slow” (Stevenson, 2005), we must learn to see things from their perspective, as the world around them is completely different from their point of view. Practice patience and understanding, because autistic people are still human beings with feelings and thoughts (Stevenson, 2005), just like any other neurotypical person. This surely takes time and effort, given that societal expectations procure otherwise, but it is important in moving toward a more inclusive and caring society. 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the lack of awareness and understanding about autism in girls have caused autistic girls to further struggle both academically and socially. The difficulty in diagnosing autism in girls is especially detrimental and emphasises the need for all to be properly educated on autistic symptoms in order to increase early intervention. By organising talks, rallies, and other publicity events, and conducting “demystification” sessions, people from all walks of life will have a better understanding of the challenges faced by patients with autism, especially girls, and how to help them.

Bibliography

  1. Arky, B. (2021). Sensory Processing Issues Explained. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-issues-explained/ 
  2. Arky, B. (2021). Why Many Autistic Girls Are Overlooked. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/ 
  3. Choo, C. (2019, September 30). The Big Read: Where kids with and without special needs learn together – and it’s not in Singapore. Channel News Asia. Retrieved March 14, 2021, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/big-read-kids-with-and-without-special-needs-learn-together-11952714 
  4. Stevenson, N. (2005, July 16). Autism doesn’t have to be viewed as a disability or disorder. Autism Doesn’t Have to Be Viewed as a Disability or Disorder. https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2015/jul/16/autism-doesnt-have-to-be-viewed-as-a-disability-or-disorder 
  5. What is Autism? (2019, August 22). Autism Resource Centre (Singapore). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.autism.org.sg/living-with-autism/what-is-autism
  6. Sissons, C. (2019, June 26). What to know about autism in girls. Medical News Today. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325574#why-doctors-might-miss-it
  7. Szalavitz, M. (2016, March 1). Autism—It’s Different in Girls. Scientific Amercian. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/autism-it-s-different-in-girls/
  8. Safety Team. (2021, February 12). Keeping Your Child With Autism Safe. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.safety.com/autism-safety/ 
  9. Goy, P. (2016, December 1). Special needs gaps in ‘every child matters’. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/special-needs-gaps-in-every-child-matters