The Medium Is The Message: Who Is Sharon Liew?

Meet Sharon Liew. Fictitious stock figure of the casually racist, air-headed O.L. that’s quickly gaining heat on Twitter. She is kiasu, vain, self-entitled, brutally honest, vulgar, and sometimes, pretty much all of us.

She equals her patriotism with her love for the late Lee Kuan Yew, muses about plebeian struggles, and lives through the usual crises of middle-aged Asian women.

People have laughed at and with her, SGAG and Joakim Gomez blocked her, while some probably know her from her recent tweet regarding an Indian policeman standee. As soon as it was posted, it was torn apart by enraged Twitter users.

The phrase “apunehneh catch you” is no stranger to many ethnically Chinese locals parented by paranoid xenophobic/racist parents, who often use it to justify curfews.  If you put her tweet in context of her entire account, it adds to a long stream of tweets that hyperbolise casual racist remarks and lowbrow political commentary.

Many of her tweets are the same offensive remarks so many people of minority races are angered by — but are often forced to stay silent in fear that people may find them “petty”. These are the same comments many people of the ethnic majority shrug off, even when they wince a little on the inside.

But the mistake is thinking that Sharon Liew is joining in on the slew of casual racism on the internet. Whoever the real Sharon Liew is, “she’s” in fact likely to be standing on the same side as the offended. There’s a clever purpose to her infuriating tweets. She’s not saying it because she, like many others, is overlooking the ignorance in her speech — she’s saying them so more people would look.

Yet, the problem doesn’t just lie in the heavy racist connotations Sharon Liew points towards. As the some pointed out, it’s the word she used.

A situation that bears some semblance is the persisting debate over whether the n-word racial slur should be censored in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which has been part of some American high school syllabi. The proposal for censorship was met with both approval and opposition.

On one hand, the petition was made to protect young Black Americans, especially from negligent classmates who may flippantly throw the word around in the name of ‘class discussion’. On the other hand, many felt taking the word out of the book was removing the effect Twain intended — by portraying old ruling powers in exactitude, the author extended the felt impact of slavery and racism to his readers.

In the case of Sharon Liew, should “she” be viewed purely as a work of fiction as Huck Finn was? Does that excuse “her” use of pejoratives? Even if its core intentions was to expose the problematic slang-uage of our nation?

We definitely need to keep in mind that language transforms with the use of platform. Huck Finn was eventually censored in many schools because it was placed in the unpredictable, premature environment of school classroom, not a circle of mature literary critics.

Twitter is more than just a classroom — it’s a public space mixing genres of different information. Anybody could misuse its content and perpetuate it — that’s the scary part, and also the confusing one.

Satire is important for a reason. Sophia McClennen, an international affairs writer and professor at Penn State University, argues that satire betters us as consumers of information. It trains us to be skeptical of what we read — so that we may be able to figure out the truths for ourselves, instead of sitting through (mostly biased) noise, and emerge with our own understandings. Our nation needs it now more than ever, and we all know why.

But while we cannot always have well-intended content that is 100% unproblematic, we have a choice in identifying the real instigators of ignorance festering on social media and in real life, and also in speaking out against them — that goes for all of us, even the ones with Chinese Privilege™️.

What Sharon Liew wrote was not pure and agreeable, but trying to shoot “her” down is like trying to police The Onion; it’s akin to wishing death on the mirror reflection of the culprit. People are angry for all the right reasons — and yet, rallying to take her account down is a misdirection.

She’s only a fictive microcosm of so many people walking our streets, sneering silently in the cubicles of our offices, or not-so-discreetly pulling their kids away from the Indian migrant worker in the lift because they’re thinking to themselves, “later apunehneh catch them”.


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