Minister Shanmugam: ‘Brownface’ rap reaction to ad crosses the line of criminality

Singapore law and home affairs minister K. Shanmugam said the “brownface” rap video by influencer Preetipls and her brother recently crosses the “line of criminality”, according to a news report by ST. He said allowing the video to remain online would be equivalent to permitting other videos with “racially offensive speech”.

Shanmugam was explaining the Government’s decision to order the video to be taken down at CNM Leaders Summit, a discussion on race organised by the National University of Singapore. Sharing that he recognises the importance for people to express themselves, he said “the only thing that is being objected to is the tone of the video”.

Allowing even a small portion of the people to use offensive language would caused it to spread, said Shanmugam according to the news report. Eventually, it will “normalise” racism in Singapore and minorities will be the “losers in such a conversation”, he added.

He said the laws reflect the “social values and mores of society” and will change if that is what the majority wants. However, it is the leadership’s responsibility to “put squarely to the people the consequences of the changes”. Citing a recent poll conducted by the government, Shanmugam said that while awareness of the controversial video was high, only about 1 in 10 actually watched it. The majority (76%) supported the government’s move to remove such videos from the Internet.

Meanwhile, he also encouraged more open, ground-up conversations on race and religion from Singaporeans.

This comes after Subhas Nair and his sister, Preeti Nair, widely known as Preetipls, produced a rap video calling out the viral E-Pay “brownface” ad for being racist. In the video, which has since been removed after a police report was lodged, the sibling duo were repeatedly said “Chinese people always out here f***king it up”. The video also caught the attention of Shanmugam who said it was intended to “make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans”. He added that a line has to be drawn against the use of vulgarities to attack another race.

Meanwhile, through a Facebook post, the Singapore police and IMDA had jointly advised the public to refrain from circulating the sharing Preeti and Subhas’ rap video as it is a subject of police investigations. The police said in a statement that it will not tolerate any offensive content that causes ill-will between races.

The ad campaign raised concerns for featuring Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races with darkened skin tones. Several netizens questioned why individuals of the actual races were not engaged instead of having one person play different roles. Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm The Celebrity Agency and Havas Worldwide which were behind the E-Pay ad have jointly apologised any hurt that was unintentionally caused and clarified that the ad was an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food businesses.

Read more:
IMDA concludes NETS’ brownface ad didn’t breach code of practice
ASAS to add new guideline on potential sensitivities in ads involving race and ethnicity
SG advertising body says no breach in code for ‘brownface’ E-Pay ad
NETS breaks silence with apology over controversial E-Pay ad