#9: Black Lives Matter in Singapore Too

Hi everyone.

Quarantine is getting a little lonely. For this issue, I’ve built my own strawman and I’m going to talk to him for a little bit.

All the Singaporeans on Instagram are sharing posts about Black Lives Matter. Why should I care if I don’t know Black people? There aren’t any Black people in Singapore!

Even if this were true – it’s not, Sharon Frese, Ng Yi-Sheng and Irfan Kasban have done a lot of work to uncover the Black history of Singapore through their performance Ayer Hitam – racism against Black people is still commonplace in Singapore. I see the N-word thrown about on social media all the time as some sort of punchline. I once matched with a guy on Tinder who told me he watched Vines of black people for fun because “fucking black people hahaha”. (If you’re reading this, you’re still trash.) People share memes about Black men where the joke is that they’re uneducated or hypersexual or dangerous. If there is no Black presence in our society – again, not true – then why is Blackness a source of comedy for so many Singaporeans?

The political position of this newsletter remains the same. Don’t be a shitty person, regardless of the context. Even if nobody’s watching you. Framing anti-Black racism as a non-issue in Singapore is a) lazy and b) proof that some people don’t care about not being racist, they just care about getting in trouble for it.

Also, if you’re a Singaporean who loves rap and hip hop, you have an obligation to respect Black lives.

We’re so far away from America, why should we care about their problems?

Racism is a global structure. It’s the logic that enabled the inhumane exploitation of Black people through the slave trade. It’s also the logic that currently enables the exploitation of South Asian migrant labour globally. I’m not saying that they’re the same system. I am saying that the same logic underpins them both. Be consistently anti-racist. The oppression of Black people in the US is to be condemned just like the oppression of the Palestinian people and the oppression of the Rohingya. I’ve seen a lot of Singaporeans post about how scary anti-Asian racism due to the coronavirus is. Don’t you realise that all of these things are interconnected? Don’t cede any ground to a system that lulls us into believing that some people deserve life more than others.

Just as racism is a global structure, anti-racism is a global movement. I’ve learned so much from Black intellectuals writing about race. I’ve also learned from anti-racist activists writing and working in other parts of the world. We’re fighting the same structures, we need to share our knowledge. Solidarity is the only thing that will enable us to change the world.

I agree that police brutality is bad but burning down your city is even worse. These people are violent and dangerous.

Singaporean history books warn students about the dangers of “racial riots”. They tell us that racial harmony must be preserved lest the natural order of racial tension boils over. Beware of people pointing to Minnesota (or Hong Kong, or anywhere in the world where people are taking to the streets with their demands) and saying “that’s what we don’t want Singapore to be”. They’re looking at the effect, not the cause.

Protests that take over cities are what people turn to after all other avenues of being heard have been exhausted. People in the US have been politely using hashtags and taking knees during national anthems but that hasn’t changed enough. You don’t get rights by politely asking your oppressors for them.

Before you forward this email to the police, I’m not at all advocating for protests in Singapore. The point I’m making is that people who say “we can’t talk about race because it causes riots” are getting it completely backwards. The continual subjugation of a group of people is what underpins unrest and hostility. Pointing it out is the first step to ending that dynamic.

Anti-racist activism isn’t a form of troublemaking. It is a moral imperative!!

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If you’re a Chinese Singaporean who shares posts about BLM but stays silent about racism in Singapore, I don’t believe you genuinely care about anti-racism. It’s so much easier to point at white supremacy in the US and condemn it for its ugliness than to look inward and confront your own complicity in racist structures. Too often, Chinese Singaporeans point at the US as a racist state to affirm their beliefs that Singapore is better and that our brand of multiracialism is perfect.

I don’t judge someone’s activism by their social media presence. That’s the easy stuff. Speak up when people around you make racist comments. If your friend uses the N-word, call them out and tell them why it’s racist. If you see racism in your workplace or school, make a complaint. Tell your bosses why it’s racist to only hire Chinese people. Tell your classmates why it’s racist to joke about the Indian student “smelling funny”.


I got in trouble with important people for writing about race and thought about going on a long hiatus. Sike! I don’t care about trouble. Keep making noise.

I am very grateful to everyone who’s told me that they appreciate my writing. I’m also incredibly grateful to everyone who’s given to my Ko-fi. Thank you for your support. It is demoralising to face material penalties for your activism but I’m reminding myself that all the best people have too. Your readership and support is proof that the work is important and the sacrifices are worth it.

I’m sorry this sounds so dramatic! I will write a scorching tell-all one day when I’m out of the weeds…

Further Reading

This Twitter thread on the history of minstrelsy and blackface in Singapore. Making Black people the butt of jokes is a Singaporean tradition. I think this generation should put an end to it:

This article about a restaurant that burned down in the protests might help you clarify your thinking about property destruction in a time like this. A quote from the owner: “Let the buildings burn. Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.”

One of the sharpest voices on race and Blackness, James Baldwin. If you can, try to watch the documentary I Am Not Your Negro which is where this clip is from. (cw: short scenes of violence):

People Can Only Bear So Much Injustice Before Lashing Out from The Nation

Finally, if you want to donate money to people on the ground, here’s a thread with some options: