Skin-colour and fat jokes, where do we draw the line?

 |May 23, 2017
Screenshot taken from YouTube – Channel Cap Kapak.

In public speaking, the most common advice given is to always know your audience. Some will misinterpret this, while others will benefit from it.

To know your audience does not mean becoming them. If you are a nuclear physicist invited to speak to a group of primary school kids, it does not mean that you have to speak like a child. If you’re a person with an average IQ and you are asked to address a roomful of geniuses, it does not mean you have to pretend to be Einstein. In both examples, you will only end up making a complete fool of yourself.

Knowing your audience means not underestimating or even overestimating them. What is important is that you know what needs to be said and how to say it so your audience will understand you.

However, if a much respected public figure, known for being articulate in verbalising thoughts and ideas, stoops to making derogatory remarks just to elicit laughter from the audience, this can be viewed as running out of ideas or taking advantage of popular sentiments and the non-thinking crowd.

I personally believe that politicians should strive for the betterment of society and not to wade in the mud just because it is the easier thing to do.

For this reason, it was appalling to watch a video of a speech given by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi) event in Jitra, Kedah recently.

While much attention has been given to what many described as fat-shaming, it also deserves a mention that in the same speech, Mahathir also made a remark on skin colour.

In referring to an individual by the name of Azeez, Mahathir asked if the audience knew who he was talking about. He then said, the Azeez he is talking about is from Baling. It would be safe to assume that Mahathir was referring to Baling Member of Parliament Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

At this point, I believe it was already obvious which Azeez he was referring to, and Mahathir could have just continued to deliver his message. However, he felt it appropriate to paint a clearer description of Azeez.

“Kalau malam gelap payah nak nampak. Itulah Azeez (In the dark of night, it would be difficult to see. That is Azeez),” Mahathir said, and it was received with laughter from some of those present.

This is harmless, yes. However, knowing that Abdul Azeez is a dark-skinned man, I think the remark was unnecessary and in poor taste.

Not too long after the remark, Mahathir told the audience how he ate very little and as a result, is a thin man. He went on to say that he did not want to become fat, like a certain someone’s wife. He even made a slight gesture of his interpretation on how a fat woman walks.

Mahathir has received much criticism following that remark. Some called it fatshaming. Indeed, making fun of a person’s weight is not a nice thing to do. It is not nice for a nobody to do that, and it is not nice for an elderly statesman to do that.

Mahathir is known to be a witty individual. Even during his tenure as Prime Minister, we knew him as a man who was quick with his words and always had a comeback. However, if memory serves me correctly, he had always done those things with class and elegance.

To stoop this low, by making fun of a person’s skin colour and weight, it cheapens the fight for his version of a better Malaysia. I believe that a better Malaysia is one where politicians do not stoop to demeaning jokes simply because it appeals to the non-thinking crowd.

As for the non-thinking crowd, it is sad to see how they allow themselves to be guided like fools by popular sentiments, abandoning logic and common sense. Politics is a matter of preference for the common man, we are all free to support who we want to support. However, it is important to attach logic and common sense to our support so that we won’t be taken for fools.

If you think Mahathir’s jokes were funny because popular opinion dictates that the people Mahathir referred to deserved it, then you still have a lot of soul-searching to do.

To Mahathir, it is sad to see a man once revered for his brilliance and determination to put Malaysia on the world map, bringing himself down, and for what? A couple of votes? An indication that the laughter generated from the crowd is a sign Pribumi can win the hearts of the voters in the next general election?

Is it worth it if the win is based on making fools out of the public?

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Farah Harith has been in the media industry since 2008. Her field of work has been predominantly centred on politics and human interest. She joined the industry to have a better grasp on the issues plaguing the masses.