Drawing a Blanc

A short, counterfactual history of why white just won’t wash here.29 January 1819. Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles lands on a muddy river bank in Southeast Asia. Wading ashore (even back then it was widely known that white men can’t jump), he claims the territory as a new trading outpost for the British Empire. His pronouncements are met with derision by the local populace who doubt that somehow so pale could ever succeed under the sticky Singaporean sun. Despite some early wins and the advent of air-conditioning, the skepticism continues down the centuries, with contemporary equivalents of Raffles, just as white as the statue now installed at his landing site, still to be found at watering holes along the river bitching and moaning about the heat.21 November 1954. The People’s Action Party is founded to champion the dual cause of independence and the wearing of school uniforms by grown adults. The so-called Men in White go on to rule Singapore for more than half a century though they face fierce criticism for, amongst other things, dressing like every occasion is a cricket match. Party members say the get-up represents purity of purpose, honesty and integrity (and that, contrary to the laundry labels on their shirts, whites and colors can be mixed), though suspicion lingers that it simply spares them the hardest choice faced by contemporary Singapore: What to wear when I wake up in the morning?30 August 2012. The inaugural Dîner en Blanc Singapore (or, as it perhaps ought to be have been called, the Great White Chope) is held under the gleaming ivory petals of the ArtScience Musuem. Facing a backlash for their mishandling of local bloggers in the lead-up to the event, the organizers pull off… something. No-one seems quite sure what, except that because it involved food, fancy clothes and the addition of Singapore to an exclusive list of world cities, it must have been a good thing. Chalk it up as another PR whitewash.