Education Minister Weighs In On Photo Of RI Students In Blackface, Says Racially Insensitive Acts Exist In S’pore

The impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has been felt as far as Singapore, with our young people more conscious over racial sensitivities.

As part of this new awareness, people have been sharing stories of racially insensitive acts, some of which took place in the past.

Like a picture from 2016 showing a group of Raffles Institution (RI) students in uniform with their faces painted black. The reason given for composing the shot as “celebrating” their Indian friend’s birthday.


After this photo re-surfaced on the Internet, now-former students in the photo have apologised for the incident.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has now weighed in, saying that while racially insensitive acts are not condoned in Singapore, it’s good that the young people of today have gained the awareness to bring these issues to the fore.

Acts of racial insensitivity exist in every society, including Singapore

In a Facebook post on the matter on Saturday (6 Jun), Mr Ong referred to the viral photo of the “blackface” incident, and said it probably surfaced due to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.


The protests erupted after an African-American man, George Floyd, died after an encounter with the police.

Although the ongoing incident is unfolding in the US, it has struck a chord with some people in Singapore too. This is probably because acts of racial insensitivity exist in every society, including Singapore, shared Mr Ong.

Situation in S’pore is different from that in the US

However, Mr Ong said that the US has a history of slavery, civil war and racial segregation that forms the backdrop of what’s happening now in the country.

Singaporeans must bear in mind that our situation is different. Our nation was founded on the principles of multiracialism, and it’s also enshrined in our Pledge that we are “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”.


Unlike the US, we also have laws and policies like the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, and bodies like the Presidential Council of Minority Rights, to ensure all races are treated equally.

Good that youth are standing up for what’s right

Mr Ong did acknowledge, however, that “tribal instincts are part of human nature”.

Thus the need for the aforementioned laws and polices.

He also said that it’s good that our young are standing up for what’s right — it’s “a founding value” of Singapore.

Ex-RI students have apologised, RI also released statement

As for the former RI students, Mr Ong noted that they had apologised, sending a note to playright Alfian Sa’at, who had also called out their actions on Facebook.


RI also released a statement, saying it doesn’t condone such insensitivities, and expressed regret for any hurt the photo had caused.


Starting meaningful conversations on pressing issues

Now that all parties involved have apologised for the incident, it could be a sign that society is mature enough to acknowledge our unconscious biases.

After all, it’s only with measured discussion and education can we curb racial insensitivity in Singapore and become a truly inclusive society.

Featured image adapted from FacebookFacebook.