In a Facebook post penned yesterday, author and playwright, Alfian Saat, shared a photo which, according to him, “has somehow surfaced again recently”.
“A group of students from Raffles Institution thought that it was going to be hilarious if they celebrated their classmate’s birthday, an Indian boy, by doing blackface and holding up props like lotions, a ‘whitening kit’, wads of money and a poster of the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.”
Alfian went on to express that he felt “such visceral revulsion and shame” at this photo because he was a proud alumnus of Raffles Institution.
Raffles Institution was supposed to be secular and multiracial
“And maybe one thinks that a school like this would somehow be ‘less racist’ than other elite schools in Singapore since those might have the baggage of being monoethnic (like the SAP schools) or unattractive to those of particular religions (like the mission schools). Raffles Institution was supposed to be secular and multiracial, with students consisting of some of the brightest minds in Singapore.”
“Look at that photo again. The thought that went into the production. A+ for effort! Could you begrudge your friends this themed birthday celebration for you, curated so painstakingly, with everyone so game at smearing and masking their faces? Done in your honour, the honour given to your skin colour. Would you disappoint them? Throw a tantrum at your own party? Be a killjoy?” Alfian writes as he reminisces the times when he was often the only Malay guy in the room, and thus officially appointed the explainer of Islam and an ‘info kiosk’ for the ‘why do you all like to’ type of questions.
It brings to mind the incident from August of last year that sparked a huge debate amongst many Singaporeans who were divided into two camps—that brownface is okay as long as it’s done in a comedic manner and those who felt that any semblance of appropriation based on skin colour cannot be tolerated.
The 10 students respond
After half a day of this photo swirling around Facebook, the ten students in the photo wrote a collective response to Alfian’s posting. Below is their apology, reproduce ad verbatim.
“We wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologise, to our friend and the community. What we did was wrong, and in no way justifiable. It is no excuse that we were young, immature and ignorant. It is no excuse that we had no malicious intentions. It is no excuse that we were celebrating our friend’s birthday.
With our insensitive, racist, and cruel celebration, we clearly failed him instead. We are deeply sorry to our friend, and to the many others whom we have caused distress. We know that our apology cannot undo years of microaggression and casual racism, but we hope it goes a small way towards making things right.
Race-based banter, like what we engaged in, is not funny, and never acceptable. Like other forms of racism, it marginalises minorities and perpetuates discrimination. Moving forward, we commit to unlearning these behaviours and will continue to reflect on our actions.
We will work harder to amplify the voices of the minorities in Singapore and educate ourselves further. Once again, we are truly sorry for what we did.”
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