A play about the racial divide and shedding light on interracial marriages, Mixed is Raemae Kok‘s entry for the TheatreWorks 19th Annual 24-Hour Playwriting Competition in 2016, Youth Category. Being one of the winning entries, the play has been staged at various locations since February 2017. Starting conversations and opening up a topic that the nation conveniently sweeps under the carpet, we applaud the heart and effort behind the play and this staging.
It is about time to talk about it, and hopefully achieve some progress in this aspect.
Racism has been an issue on the forefront of our nation, especially with recent uproars over blackface and insensitive jokes aired on national radio. Despite trying to pride ourselves as a multi-cultural nation right from the beginning, we still fail at being decent with each other. It is 2017, and yet we still have casting calls for “only fair” Malays or Indians.
What can we do to stop these common occurrences of internalised racism?
Raemae shares, “I think it’s important that we get to tell stories like this. I think they humanize the races to each other. And once you realize that this person, this person that you’ve been scared or disgusted by your whole life is just human, like you… I think that kind of breaks the cycle of racism.”
Popspoken speaks with the 17-year old Anglo-Chinese Junior College student on her personal experiences, as well as her play Mixed.
Popspoken: Share with us your childhood of growing up as a mixed child.
Raemae: In the beginning, I never really thought much of being mixed, to be honest. When you’re a kid, you don’t really notice these things. I guess the first time I thought about it really was when we started talking to my extended family again (I was seven). I remember going to my grandmother’s house and thinking ‘who were all these people? I have cousins?’ I didn’t get it, so I asked my parents and they told me that their parents hadn’t approved of their marriage, but they didn’t really explain. It was okay; I grew up and came to understand. Race was important to some people. I think one of the benefits of growing up a mixed kid is that you don’t really see colour. Family gatherings were okay, though the two sides of my family never really interacted. If they did, it was only my two grandmothers, who eventually became good friends. I’ve never met either of my grandfathers.
PS: When is the first time you encountered racism and how did you react?
R: The first time I remember actually realizing someone was being directly racist to me was when I went to my friend’s house for Deepavali. It was only my mom and me, and my dad was outside. My friend’s grandmother hadn’t seen him, and she went – “We Indians need to keep to ourselves” – a pointed remark obviously aimed at her Chinese daughter-in-law, and my mom goes, a very fixed smile on her face, “My husband’s Chinese.” At the time, I think I was just shocked, cause I didn’t really think that happened anymore. But it does. And y’know, now I just find it kind of sad.
PS: How do you deal with passing comments that can come off insensitive and racist, from people close to you?
R: Well, I don’t know. Most of the time, I just laugh it off – because I know them, and I know they don’t really mean it. It’s more of when people I don’t know come up to me and are like “what are you?” or like “mixed babies are so pretty!” and I just look at them like ‘okay. What do you want me to say to that?’
PS: How prevalent do you think racism is in Singapore?
R: Racism is definitely still here, but it’s a very subtle kind of racism. Like, usually people don’t directly come out and say, ‘I don’t like you because your skin is that colour’ but it’s still there in the way people look at you sometimes and the small things they say.
PS: What is the most misunderstood fact of being mixed?
R: I think one misconception is that it makes us different from other people. As in, in a very technical sense it does, but at the same time, we’re just people. That’s all anyone ever is.
PS: Under the pressure of the competition, how did the idea for your play come about?
R: I’d been thinking of writing about it for a while. Recently, I’d been starting to wonder about what made my parents get married, I mean – love is great and all, but my mom didn’t speak to my grandmother for 15 years after their marriage. If it caused that kind of fight, I couldn’t really imagine what kind of feeling she must have had to make her so sure of my dad. I guess in some way it was the easiest thing to write during the competition because I’d still been thinking about it.
PS: What is the value of theatre in discussing issues such as these?
R: Theatre, I think more than any other medium, is a great way of reaching out to people – living, breathing human people you can touch living out their characters stories on stage, right in front of you – I think there’s a certain magic about it. And stories, I think, more than anything else are the most effective way to make people hear you. Speeches people can tune out, but stories with issues that pop up in everyday life? I think those stories are impossible not to listen to.
PS: What do you hope people will take away from your play?
R: I really want people to take away the message of kindness in the play. And how much they have the capacity to absolutely ruin other people with their words, so that they take care not to. I think it’s very important to watch what you say, and be good to people.