The Art Of Racism (In Singapore)

The art of racism in Singapore isn’t in its blatant words of open criticism or hate crimes; no, because that’s too easy to police. Instead, the art of it is in its subtlety, the way it can be easily swept under the big rug they call ‘jokes’, how each sentence begins with ‘no offence’ when they shouldn’t be the ones deciding what offends and what doesn’t.

The art of racism in Singapore is in the way the once admired and treasured Racial Harmony Day tradition of wearing each culture’s ethnic costumes is tainted by the need for today’s youth to entertain their friends and themselves. Instead of respect for the culture and its garments, these clothes are worn for the sake of social media, and some even go so far as to wear them as a costume, believing it as a free pass to re-enact stereotypes and mock its traditions. On paper, this sounds serious and exaggerated, but when teenagers don the sarong and mimic the actions of smoking on camera, when boys claim they want to wear the turban so that they may “look like terrorists”, it’s far from funny. Because then, these jokes are on the internet, in the eyes of everyone in the school to take offence.

The art of racism in Singapore isn’t in its intolerance of other cultures but in its desire to treat all the same, instead of celebrating the nuances. It’s in the way the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar, a bazaar, traditionally held to celebrate the month of Ramadaan, invites more than half its stalls to sell food that isn’t halal. Sure, it’s important to include everyone in its celebrations, but when a bazaar is called a Ramadaan bazaar but its food restricts the Muslims from enjoying it, well then it’s just a regular bazaar cruelly exploiting the business that this religious month brings.

The art of racism in Singapore is also in the way foreigners, particularly Bangladeshis and Phillipinos are treated with an attitude so carefully crafted, that it can’t be labelled hostile, but neither is it friendly. It’s in the way “bangla” is used as an insult and each time a foreign construction worker is on a bus talking loudly on the phone, an expression of condescension and scorn can be seen on our faces. It’s almost as though we’ve forgotten that we were all too, once immigrants and that we still continue to struggle to adapt to a different cultural environment when we travel overseas. We’ve ignored the fact that these foreigners have entered a country so vastly different to theirs’ that instead of helping them adapt, we drive them away from jobs that we ourselves refuse to take.

The art of racism in Singapore is in the way we boast of a multi-racial community that lives harmoniously. It is in the way every day, students nation-wide chant with their fists across their chest “regardless of race, language or religion” when in fact what they believe is regardless of race, as long as it’s the majority’s. Because how else can you explain how bosses, in some workplaces, insist on speaking Mandarin to a multi-racial workforce, how “speaking Mandarin” is a hard requirement for many jobs, how Chinese subtitles litter the bottom of the screen of many of our local English-speaking channels. How else would you explain compulsory Chinese new year celebrations in schools but somehow the memo is lost when it comes to all other celebrations? How else do you explain only one Halal stall in a canteen of 6 to 7 food stalls?

At the end of the day, racism in Singapore has become an art form because we have so cleverly rehearsed our craft, that in plain sight, it no longer fits the description of racism. So if you ask me, should we stop the Racial Harmony Day celebrations and do away with the annual Ramadan bazaar? Of course not, just because a few bad apples are present doesn’t mean we throw the whole fruit basket in the trash. It just brings to light the fact that we have so much left to work on if we want to remain as a country free from racial tensions. It means that tolerance, indifference, acknowledgement and celebrations are on a spectrum. It also means that if your jokes are pointed out by someone as offensive, apologise instead of justify because as the majority, defining how the minorities react is a dangerous step towards oppression.



Streetcar: A Dose of Madness

The Psychology Of Blanche.

You can’t go through a whole screening, reading or performance of A Streetcar Named Desire without coming to a conclusion that our protagonist, Blanche has been through her fair, or some may even argue, unfair share of struggles and with that, a beaten psyche. In fact, the psychology of Blanche is tricky because, well, I’m not a professional for one, and also because there seem to be many layers to the psychological trauma and instabilities that haunt Blanche. This post by no means expresses an explicit label on her but instead aims to explore the possibilities of what our protagonist may be facing within her mind.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder/ Narcissism

From Blanche’s first arrival on the scene, we already see her sense of superiority which she isn’t afraid to show, especially towards the lifestyle of New Orleans. According to Psychcental and BPDCentral, the following are symptoms of an individual who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. He or she may exaggerate achievements and talents.
  2. Requires accessive admiration.
  3. Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
  4. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive of all such symptoms, nor is it a sure fire way of diagnosing anyone. However, one can’t help but notice the similarities we see within the character of Blanche. We see this most obviously in her relationship with her sister and the how Blanche insists on validation from her. In the first scene when the sisters reunite after many years of separation, the focus (before Belle Reve) falls on appearance, as initiated by Blanche.

Blanche: (…) [She rises] I want you to look at my figure! [She turns around] You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? I weigh what I weighed the summer
you left Belle Reve. The summer Dad died and you left us….

Stella: [a little wearily]: It’s just incredible, Blanche, how well you’re looking.

Blanche: You see I still have that awful vanity about my looks even now that my looks are slipping! [She laughs nervously and glances at Stella for reassurance]

Stella: [dutifully] They haven’t slipped one particle.

We see here how Blanche, through her passive goading and the stage directions of looking towards her sister prompts words of praise about her appearance. Her own self-declaration of her static weight, followed by Stella’s almost automatic rebuttal of her ‘slipping looks’ presents to the audience a seemingly routine conversation between the two sisters. It is clear, through Willaims desire for Stella to reply ‘dutifully’ that he would like the audience to know that this is the typical dynamics of their relationship. We continue to see this in the way Blanche orders Stella around, asking her for a lemon-coke in the following scene (‘Will you do that for me, sweetie?‘) and commanding her to ‘sit up straight’.  

At the same time, apart from the way Blanche takes control of Stella, evidence of her perceived superiority is also indicated in many other instances, from her joke about Polish people, ‘only, not so highbrow?‘, to dismissing or even mocking the living quarters of her sister, ‘what, two rooms did you say?’. Even upon her arrival, Blanche also snubs the residents of New Orleans, by discouraging conversation with Eunice. Hence we not only see how she thrives in the ( forced) praise of others, we also, simply by her condescending tone, understand that Blanche perceives herself above the rest of New Orleans. The irony in here is of course in the fact that Blanche has escaped her place of childhood to seek shelter in New Orleans, a place she so clearly believes is beneath her.

The last point stated above also highlights Blanche’s clearly deep-seated delusions, which not only points to narcissism but also sheds light on another equally important theme of Streetcar, that of the clash between reality and fantasy.


Evidence of Blanch’s delusions are aplenty in the play, and a symbol of that would definitely be the paper lantern which Blanche purchases and adorns her “room” with. Along with the prevalent motif of light, Tennesse Williams depicts Blanche’s aversions to the grim reality of her life.

The paper lantern first makes its appearance when Blanche instructs Mitch to help her place it over the light bulb.

Blanche: I can’t stand a naked light bulb (…)

Here, just as the “naked bulb” or the light is used as a metaphor to shed light on the truth, the paper lantern acts as Blanche’s defence mechanism, shielding herself and others through her delusion. The function of the paper lantern is further emphasised in the last scene when Stanley throws Blanche out of his house, his final gesture towards her destroying the paper lantern and in turn, the fantasy she has built.

“He crosses to dressing-table and seizes the paper lantern, tearing it off the light bulb, and extends it towards her.”

The vicious nature in which Stanley rips apart her delusions creates empathy within the audience who sees this visual representation as an understanding of the emotional trauma that Blanch faces.


The paper lantern is also part of a larger motif in place, that of light. Light is used frequently by Tennesse to draw attention to the harsh reality that Blanche faces but tries her best to ignore. Most prominent of all is Mitch calling her out on this, with his cruel declaration;

Blanche: I like it dark. The dark is comforting to me.

Mitch: I don’t think I ever seen you in the light. [ Blanche laughs breathlessly}] That’s a fact!

Mitch: So I can take a good look at you. Good and plain.

Tennessee Williams uses this motif to advance the story while further establishing Blanche’s character. Scene 9 marks the psychological breakdown of Blanche’s character and her ultimate “stepping out of the shadows.” While Stella is giving birth, Mitch confronts Blanche in the Kowalski apartment and forces her to reveal her true intentions and manipulative nature. Blanche says that she finds the dark comforting. These actions are the result of a fatal insecurity which causes Blanche to be guarded around others. Williams uses the element of shadows so that Blanche may avoid being upfront with other characters in the playHer fear of exposing her face metaphorically represents her manipulative tendencies and delusion.

Further proof of this is seen in Scene 6 when Blanche tells Mitch the story of her first love, Allan Grey. After his suicide, Blanche compares their relationship to a bright light that had suddenly put out. Therefore, dim light is represented by Blanche’s various non-intimate sexual partners and explains her desperate need for relationship. Bright light can also represent Blanche’s vivacious past; her wealth, her lover, her family and Belle Reve. All of these elements of her past are gone by the time Blanche arrives in New Orleans, which leads us to believe that most of the bright light in Blanche’s life has dimmed.

Williams’ Manipulation

However, it is not so important that we determine exactly what Blanche is facing in the depths of her mind but more so why? Why does Willaims portray her as psychologically damaged? It is perhaps so that the audience feels sympathetic to a character who is the furthest thing from flawless. Perhaps it is also the indicate the inevitability of Blanche’s fall and shed light on the fragility of the human mind, so vulnerable to external and internal attacks.



The Value Of Happiness

This essay was written for a certain application with the prompt “Write about a conventional wisdom that you have come to doubt.”

Since the beginning of mankind’s pursuit of knowledge, it has been proven time and again that the information that we may deem as factual is vulnerable to inaccuracies. From the initial hypothesis of the earth being flat to Pluto no longer being considered as a planet in our solar system, we must not be naive to think that all conventional wisdom is set in stone. In fact, even some cliches we grow up so familiar with are sometimes proven wrong, such as the age-old advice, “Money does not buy happiness”. While the life lesson behind it is admirable; to look beyond superficial qualities, it cannot be denied that “money makes the world go round”.

Even though a world of superficiality may never lead you to true happiness, in such a capitalistic world we live in, money sure can fulfil your basic needs. While money may not buy you complete happiness, neither does poverty. In order to lead a comfortable life, many will argue that education is the key to opening doors and opportunities. However, it must be acknowledged that education does not come free, whether it is in the form of the large tuition fees at the end of every college semester, or the expensive extracurricular classes, from after-school tuition to piano lessons in order for the child to get a firm upper hand from her peers. In fact, the basic necessities for survival, such as water, food, or even a roof over our heads require money, even if it is from a charitable organisation or from the government’s annual budget plan.

Yet, there is some truth to this age-old phrase. After fulfilling your needs of survival, there is only so much money can bring to your life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs highlights our intrinsic desires for self-care and shared love and no amount of money can simply serve that to you on a silver platter. Therefore, upon stumbling on a Time article, I highly agree with  Dan Gilbert, Harvard University psychology professor when he explains how money may provide you with joy, but only if you spend it right. According to him, in order to secure happiness with money, you need to “buy moments, not stuff”. Research concurs, by stating that 57% of respondents of a study experienced greater happiness when spending on experiential purchases instead of material possessions. This comes as no surprise to me. Take a look at the term “bucket list”. It is reserved for goals and experiential aspirations for those coming face to face with their mortality. Here, we see how living life to the fullest to many refers to doing things not having things. That is why it is way more common to see “travel the world” instead of “buy new shoes” on anyone’s bucket list.

Hence, although the sentiment behind the conventional wisdom “money can’t buy you happiness” highlights the importance of prioritising your values over material possessions, one cannot deny that in order to lead a life without fretting over the bills and next month’s rent, money plays a key role. When used wisely, money can lead to happiness, but only if you keep your sights on what is most important;  health, relationships, growth, contribution and community. It is important, however, to know that money is the currency that provides you with certain needs, so that we may acknowledge that there are many others who do not have the privilege and therefore would find a certain happiness when having enough to spend.

Streetcar: Social Parameters

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“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.” 

C. Wright Mills

During my study of Streetcar in school, the concept of “The Individual VS Society” was the main lense through which we analysed the text; and to break the ice, that’s what we’ll be doing today. This concept is largely prevalent in the literary world and provides the readers with the understanding of the dynamics that an individual has with her society. Human beings are social creatures after all and the interactions they have with the people around them, as well as the society itself, is reflective of the values and themes that the author would like to highlight. At times, these values may align or clash with the readers and the individuals of the novel, but at the end of the day, this conflict helps to drive understanding of various issues.

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