Incidents of alleged racism in Singapore were on the rise, as if Ngee Ann Polytechnic ex-lecturer Tan Boon Lee lit a torch to announce himself and everyone else like him just swarmed like moths. After a Malay couple’s photo was used in a Tiong Bahru Orchid estate Hari Raya celebration without their consent, the People’s Association (PA) and Member of Parliament Melvin Yong apologized within 24 hours.
Supposedly, the issue had to stop there, with the persons at fault licking the wounds of public outrage over another ‘isolated incident’.
But it didn’t, and it’s interesting find out why everything seems to be going wrong for Yong and the PA.
It’s all about appearances
Before even getting into the accusations of racism, people have to remember that the harm done here is multi-layered and actually completely insensitive to so many people.
The PA not only took a real person’s wedding photo and used it as a standee, but they did not pay for the image. Add to that the fact it was used in an even for a political organization, then this was done in poor taste from start to finish.
To add insult to injury, not only was their likeness used in a large display, but their faces were also cut out! Does that make it better? When it comes to privacy, it does keep them from being outed as the persons in the photo used, but when it comes to what the photo was about (which was an actual marriage instead of a commercial photo shoot) then this is just complete desecration of a person’s image and its intent.
If the PA staff were being respectful of the cultural significance of Hari Raya, would they have used a Malay couple’s wedding photo for their face cut-out standee? Wouldn’t they have at least paid for genuine image of a couple in authentic traditional garb?
You don’t get to say if you’re racist or not
Sarah Bagharib, 30, whose image along with her husband, appeared on the standee, called out the racism allegedly perpetrated by the event and those who handled it in her Instagram post on May 28. While the PA has apologized, it is unclear what they apologized for.
She specifically pointed to the disconnect between using a Malay couple’s wedding photo for a Hari Raya event. She said, “Using a wedding photo to depict Malays/Singaporean Muslims celebrating Hari Raya is inappropriate. Using my wedding photo without my consent is unwarranted. Using my wedding photo as a caricature of Malay people is unacceptable.”
While the PA and MP Yong apologized and even asked for an in-person meeting, the meeting did not push through. The PA issued a lengthy post after Bagharib said that the incident was racist, saying that while what happened was ‘culturally insensitive’, it was not racist and was an ‘isolated incident’.
What racists always seem to forget is that it’s not up to them to say whether something is racist or not. Do victims of racism have to ask permission from racists before calling something racist?
Lazy and irresponsible
In the end, how that standee using Bagharib’s photo got from concept to the physical cardboard on that stage was a series of ill-conceived decisions on the part of the event organizer, the client, and the PA. They issued an apology, but wanted to have a say in minimizing what they did–as if they get to decide on how harmful their actions actually are.
Did they even mention what they were apologizing for?
While your opinion on racism informs what you think of this issue, the author can’t help but think that at the very least, someone’s really awful idea made it from concept to execution in the name of being cheap, tasteless, and completely insensitive to people celebrating Hari Raya.