Singapore People’s Party (SPP) chairman Jose Raymond took to his Facebook on Tuesday (20 October) to condemn the “racial stereotyping and prejudice” content allegedly displayed in a poster by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM).
As seen in the photo he shared, the poster displayed the SKM logo as well as those of the Public Hygiene Council and SG Clean.
“What’s with the racial stereotyping and prejudice with this poster? Shocking,” Mr Raymond said.
The poster contains an illustration depicting a dark-skinned man named ‘Siva’, dressed as a cleaner wearing yellow gloves, a green shirt and black pants.
Pointing to the litter on the floor, ‘Siva’ says: “Is it people think the floor is rubbish bin? Please throw your litter in the bin. Be kind to Siva, and everyone else using the toilet.”
Calling the depiction “sickening”, Mr Raymond questioned why “a particular race” was used to depict as a toilet cleaner and assign a name at that.
He also said that it is “baffling” when “the race profiled in the poster is also showing poor language skills”.
“Wrong on so many levels. Again,” he added.
Several netizens concurred with Mr Raymond’s sentiment, saying that it is not necessary for the authorities to draw a human or show any race in order to convey the message. “They could be a little tactful first when they wanna draw a human being shape out,” a netizen wrote.
Several netizens opined that the poster issue raised by Mr Raymond can be used as a “forum” to discuss how the design of the poster can be done differently.
One commenter encouraged the public to “examine the thinking and regards for the frontline vocation”.
He pointed out that in the current context, frontline workers do not only comprise healthcare workers, but also those who help to keep the environment clean.
Several netizens felt that the poster should not be made an issue.
One commenter opined that “it is such a minefield” for those tasked to design such posters, as everyone, in their view, is now easily offended over “racial stereotyping and prejudice”.
“Tough sensitive world we live in today,” a netizen wrote.
Responding to the controversy, SKM told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the poster is part of a series posters of “Clean Toilet Project” aiming to support the Public Hygiene Council and the SG Clean movement in “reminding the public to keep common areas clean and be kind to the cleaners”.
As part of a pilot project in June this year, SKM said that these posters are displayed at various locations at Sengkang General Hospital.
The SKM spokesperson said that the movement “honour the work of the frontline workers and cleaners” as they play an important and essential role in the society, especially in the forefront of the battle against COVID-19.
“In Singapore’s multiracial and multicultural society, everyone needs to play their part in protecting the harmony the country has built,” she said.
As the series of posters also featured different races in the same frontline occupation, the spokesperson clarified that the posters “were intended to be viewed as a series and not individually”.
However, she added that the series of posters is “currently undergoing review”.
Mr Raymond reiterated in a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the poster perpetuated racist depictions of a particular race.
Assigning a name to the character in the poster, he argued, may evoke racial bias on the part of the viewer and may adversely affect others with the same name.
“It is not right to use race – any race for that matter – in advertisements which may be regarded as racially insensitive.
“If the intent of the poster or campaign was to provide a voice for cleaners in Singapore, there are many other ways to get a message across without having to turn to race,” he told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE.
SKM, he said, could have utilised other means such as text-only posters, graphic designs, voice-overs, or animation that are not biased against any race, gender or age to promote the importance of cleanliness.
The movement, he added, should have conducted an engagement exercise to gather sentiments and reactions of the public towards the posters before releasing them.