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There's been a lot written about 'brownface' in Singapore in the last week. Conversations mostly seem to go like this:

"Hey that shit is offensive."
"No, it's funny."
"But it's like blackface."
"Blackface is from America, stop bringing up stupid liberal talk."
On 5 Aug, Indranee Rajah (Member of Parliament and a Minister) published a piece, mentioning how the Black and White Minstrel Show was 'quite acceptable' in the 60s and 70s.
Margaret Chan, a "cultural anthropologist" and retired prof writes another article 2 days later titled "'Brownface' is not Singaporean."

She says "It's the cosmopolitan Singaporean who has imported concepts like "brownface" and appropriation."
Between these two articles and the hundreds of dumb comments I've read recently, I had to wonder. Are Singaporeans stupid? Are they pretending to be? Is this all new?

What is Singapore's relationship with blackface and/or minstrelsy?

CW: so many n-words & blackface pics, sorry
In 1900, Song Ong Siang's brother, Song Ong Joo "was particularly successful in his impersonation of a negro minstrel" at a concert at Tan Boo Liat's house.

Ong Siang was the first Asian in Singapore to be knighted. Boo Liat's was Tan Tock Seng's great-grandson.
In 1904, there was a minstrel performance at Tanglin Barracks.
In the 1920s, playing in a minstrel group was a 'popular pasttime'. There were so many minstrel groups throwing so many minstrel parties!

Cornwall Minstrels, Golden Bell Minstrels, Mayflower Minstrels.
I'm not certain if these were all performed in blackface, or if 'minstrel' just meant an entertainer or performer back then. But there are clues...

(Second image is from a 1986 article about Peranakan theatre)
British and American entertainment were certainly available in Singapore...
... including the "world's most famous blackface favourites!"
From a July 1925 copy of "The Rafflesian", Raffles Institution's school magazine. The Raffles Institution Literary and Dramatic Society puts on its mid-term concert:
I know 1925 feels like so long ago but here's a list of students who (probably) were in RI at the time:

- Yusof Ishak
- David Marshall
- Choor Singh Sidhu
- Lim Bo Seng
In 1941, articles pronouncing the death of the n-word, and a plea for "k*ling" to go the same way.
1963: 22 years later, the n-word is very much alive, here used in a letter about Singapore's growing traffic problem (lol)
One month later, a syndicated article in The Straits Times.

(Ooh, look, it's the "it wasn't derogatory if I meant it to be a compliment" tactic!)
I don't know when the Black and White Minstrel Show started showing in Singapore, but in 1964 and 1967, there were articles in The Straits Times about how blackface was "racial discrimination" and "causes much distress to colored people"
And still, in the late 70s, Singaporeans were hungry for more of this racist content. The Straits Times describes it as "good family entertainment".
1984 - minstrel show at NYE countdown party
1987 - minstrel performances at hotel buffets
In 1989!!! Arts and crafts!!! Make your own racist masterpiece!!!
Angellica Bell on a short documentary abt the B&W Minstrel Show in 2015

"The best advice that could be given to coloured people by their friends would be: 'on this issue, we can see your point, but in your own best interests, for Heaven's sake shut up."

Singaporeans are still really comfortable using the n-word.

See this thread for examples from the last ten years ⤵️

one more article - this 1987 column by Shaun Koh may have been the first time a Singaporean writer reflected on the history of blackface.
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