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Do the right thing
Addressing the rising temperature on racial slurs, we take a look at 1989 American indie hit film, and swing it down under with a 1979 PSA - Keep Australia Beautiful.
Who’s a Spike Lee fan here? In the 1980s, a film of the title above was released by one of America’s most revered film directors. In my research, I was quite surprised to read that they actually produced the film for a budget of US$6 million! That’s quite a hefty sum, to be honest. Kudos to Spike Lee for raising those funds. It went on to make some US$37 million in the box office!
The film touched on communities of different races co-existing in the third most populous borough in the USA’s state of New York. A neighborhood local visits an Italian-owned pizzeria in Brooklyn and becomes irate when he sees that the pizzeria’s Wall of Fame exhibits only white Italian actors. He expresses that a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal the Pizzeria owner disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate in the neighborhood, and tensions rise just as the temperature rises as well.
Spike Lee wrote the script in just two weeks (source: Vibe) as he was inspired by the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents — Shopping for death about two retired salesmen who propose a theory that most murders occur in hot weather. They see a potential murder victim in the nagging wife and tell her to take precautions, but their efforts fail and she is murdered (source: TV.com). At the time of Spike Lee writing the script, there was also the 1986 racial incident in Queens, New York City, where a Trinidad man was killed after being chased onto a highway by a mob of white youths. This was one of three famous racially inspired killings, with Willie Turks (1982) and Yusuf Hawkins (1989) as the other victims.
Spike Lee’s call to “Do the right thing” through his film earned him the reputation as a filmmaker obsessed by race. Three decades later and the pertinent question is, has racial tension been resolved? Richard Brody from The New Yorker gives us a straight up answer. “Do the Right Thing” is, regrettably, not a work of history but a film set, in many ways, in the present tense (source: The New Yorker).
On a personal front, I’ve always associated the term, “Do the right thing” with my time in Australia, my third country I’d call heartland and a place I also call Malaysia’s 14th state (it’s a joke!). Malaysia has 13 states, and it seems that if you were to throw a stone, you’d likely hit a Malaysian with an aunt, cousin, brother or sister who has emigrated to Australia. Australia, the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation is the place I give thanks to for welcoming and shaping me since the age of 19. For my passage, board, high school education and subsequent migration of my family, I give full credit to my uncle James and aunt Grace and their children who paved the way and assisted us. They came to Australia in 1976, thanks to the Gough Whitlam immigration program. Whitlam’s legacy is the eradication of the White Australia Policy and the passing of a legislation to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race. I love Australia country for its values; giving everyone a “fair go”, where vilifying someone for their race or gender identity is a crime, and a place that frowns upon those who do not do as they say. That’s the Australia I grew up in during my late teens and formative twenties.
“Do the right thing” was made popular by a series of public service announcements launched in 1975 for the Keep Australia Beautiful NSW campaign. The Keep Australia Beautiful Week was initiated in the 1960s by Dame Phyllis Frost and the program continues on today. The campaign has helped to reduce litter for over 45 years and help keep Australia beautiful.
Besides keeping Australia clean and beautiful, that phrase resonated strongly among newly arrived migrants like my family and I. We were the new wave of migrants in the late 1980s and it was evident in my school yard who the migrants were as we were working very hard to “do the right thing” to fit into our new assimilated country and the Aussie way of life. In that convent school run strictly by nuns so no milkshake could brought boys to the yard, teenage girls congregated every morning. My group in Year 11 were glued together in song, but our voices resonated accents from Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Tonga Island, France, South Africa, Chile and Argentina. We were such a beautiful and rich multicultural mix of people all out to fit in. I never felt any inkling of racism except for two uncomfortable incidents which I’ll never forget. I’d like to think that one was the result of road rage and the other, of displaced youth bravado. It’s all good.
Aside, a funny story. I was explaining to my 7-year old nephew that he should refer to his friends using country of origin rather than colour. How would he like it if I were to call him yellow. And his reply to me was, but I’m PEACH!!
— Jasmine H. Low
Growing up in multicultural Malaysia before the era of Netflix or Pay TV, we were well exposed to British and American culture thanks to the very successful marketing of first world media content to our national media channels. The content was either provided free, cheap or in exchange for a generational mind wash. Asia didn’t produce content then, they consumed it.
My Western world view had me fitted comfortably in the skin of a 152cm Asian woman with long black hair ready to take the world on, for it was my oyster as the actors in films professed. I was indeed feeling peachy and was not feeling any different from any other kid except that I was a bit quirky. They just needed to get to know me. And so I got them to know me. But it got tiring after awhile all of that trying. I knew the lines to Bruce Willis’ Moonlighting, a copy of Reader’s Digest in my back pocket and read free copies of UK’s Top of the Pops, Beano and Dandy magazines in that corner shop in Lucky Garden while mum was at the wet market. I didn’t want to get my toes wet. Ugh, the thought of slaughtering of chickens from their necks with blood dripping. It wasn’t a scene I had witnessed on my colour TV and I would have preferred my chicken neatly packed in a row.
It shocks me that today, two decades past the millennium, we’re faced with reports like this ABC article that discusses racial profiling in regional and urban Australia. It’s a good reminder to always “Do the Right Thing” regardless of your background, social status, regardless if anyone is looking, regardless. And while the theory behind racial tension heating up as temperatures rise remains unproven, let’s hope it is indeed just something in Hitchcock’s mind because the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius since 1880!
Here’s a wish besides world peace. If we could all have common sense realigned once again, so sense would be common, and carry the same values of integrity, love and mutual respect of one another, wouldn’t that then be the unifying factor to move forward towards 2050? In Malaysia. In Australia. The Americas or China. We live beneath this thin veil of suspicion cautioned by the other party’s motivation fanned by Western media. And it’s exactly that, that will raise temperatures.
This post has been rewritten and is based on an article published in www.jasminelow.com.
What’s killing us in Asia Pacific that we want more of?
Temperatures in bun baking ovens rise as would Jesus this Easter weekend, but we have a message to share about the rise of blood sugar levels as well. The Kurang Manis (Sugar,Less) project is passionate about raising awareness about the Big Food industry and help the author battle her pre-diabetes, which has returned since the COVID-19 lockdowns.
South Australian ophthalmologist and Australian of the Year 2020, Dr. James Muecke AM warned that “A flawed dietary guideline, which we have obediently and blindly followed for 40 years, is literally killing us.” Dr. Muecke’s work prevents and treats blindness in some of the world’s poorest countries and is an advocate for healthier eating and tackling the scourge of type 2 diabetes. A 2020 article by investigative journalist Dr. Maryanne Demasi shares, “A case in point: the (Australian) Government’s “Practical Guide to Pre-Diabetes” recommends that people with pre-diabetes, i.e. people already showing signs of high blood sugar, can eat four to six serves of breads/cereals daily and up to two serves of “extras” such as two scoops of ice-cream or doughnuts — advice that is sure to worsen, not improve, blood sugar levels.
Have a happy, safe and Sugar,Less Easter.