Former RI student apologises after getting outed for group blackface photo from 2016

PHOTO: Instagram screengrab

Anything posted on the internet stays on the internet — a tough lesson for a group of former Raffles Institution (RI) students who took a problematic photo four years ago. 

And it has returned to haunt them today in a particularly sensitive climate for issues on race and civil injustice. 

The former RI student who posted the picture on his Instagram account in April 2016 now regrets what he and his friends did together. The photo — found and reposted on Twitter today (June 3) by someone outside the group — has since been taken down from his page. 

In the photo, a student who's believed to be of Sri Lankan descent is posing in front of a paper bag that’s labelled with his name and the words “whitening kit”. Posing around him are his schoolmates, all of them smiling with black beauty face masks on, akin to blackface. 

One of them is holding up what seems to be a photoshopped poster of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and another a painted picture of a brown-skinned man standing next to sports cars. Another is holding up a bottle of Nivea lotion, while another a can of deodorant. Others are holding fake cash, presumably in reference to Slumdog Millionaire. 

PHOTO: Instagram screengrab

It’s a lot to take in. The fact that this was posted in 2016 is interesting as well — it’s the year when righteous outrage erupted online after the local Chinese-language series I Want To Be A Star featured a Chinese actor dressing up as a black actor with black make-up on his face and an Afro wig as a comedic bit.

Funnily enough in that same year, Raffles Institution’s own school press published a student op-ed about the offensive issue of blackfacing. 

'Stupid teenage behaviour’ 

The original poster — who is now a student in a local university — has since addressed the photo on Instagram Stories. 

PHOTO: Instagram Stories screengrab

“It was not a racist commentary but of course in hindsight it was insensitive as f*** because it is literally blackface, and I’m not denying that, but we posted these pictures with the full consent of our good friend,” he wrote. 

“We consulted him and asked whether he was okay with it, and even if he was, it was still wrong on our part to perpetuate such stereotypes.” 

The former RI student went on to say that it was “stupid teenage behaviour” carried out “in good fun with the intention of bantering with [their] friend”. 

He also referenced the Black Lives Matter movement and acknowledged that African-American culture has played a huge part in his life as a dancer.

The student ended his statement with an apology, acknowledging that there is no excuse for what they did. 

PHOTO: Instagram screengrabsPHOTO: Instagram screengrab

Cultural insensitivity has been something that continues to cause public anger, though individuals are coming to terms with past oversight. Expressing his solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Singapore’s biggest YouTuber Tan Jianhao acknowledged that a recurring character in his skits — a caricature of an elder Indian man — is insensitive and will no longer appear in his future videos. 

ilyas@asiaone.com