UOB staff get backlash for 'blackface' photos

SINGAPORE - Several Chinese employees have drawn the ire of netizens after they posted up pictures of themselves with their faces painted black and dressed in Indian traditional attires, presumably for a Bollywood-themed occasion.

The pictures were taken at the company's staff dinner held last Friday, and posted on Facebook on Sunday, The Straits Times (ST) reported. The photos have since been taken down.

They were quickly slammed for being offensive. 'Blackface' is widely seen as being racist, especially in the US. The term originated from the theatrical black make-up light-skinned performers used to wear to act out caricature performances of an African American person.

"It's one thing to wear a traditional costume to a Bollywood- themed dinner, but another thing altogether to paint your face black," said the anonymous contributor of the photo.

She said that the act constituted appropriating someone else's ethnicity and treating it like entertainment, and that it was similar to people pulling up the sides of their eyes to imitate those of Chinese ethnicity.

She added that the captions and comments on the photos posted by friends of the men, which praised the get-up as "hilarious", were also offensive.

Others, while finding the pictures distasteful, questioned whether the men were having fun, rather than making fun.

Ms R. Yasotha, who works in publishing, said she is not going to get riled up by the act, however juvenile, as it was not done with malicious intent.

However, on things relating to race, some said it is better to be safe than sorry.

Mr Tong Hong Mun, 25, a concert promoter, said one should always be careful about issues related to skin colour in a multicultural society.

A UOB spokesperson told ST that the pictures were not meant to offend or discriminate against anyone.

"UOB takes racial harmony very seriously and proudly employs more than 20,000 employees of about 50 nationalities. In fact, the occasion was one that was celebrating this diversity,' the spokesperson added.

"However, we apologise if members of the public have been offended by the photos and have instructed the staff to remove the photos from their personal site," she said.

UOB said the staff involved would be counselled.