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How Singapore Chinese-Ghanaian Fashion Model Keyana Is Speaking Up On Racism

As demonstrations protesting racial discrimination against blacks reached a crescendo worldwide last week, 17-year-old Singapore/up-and-coming musician Keyana decided to use her platform as a Gen Z influencer to affect change. In a matter of days, the Chinese-Ghanaian kickstarted a social media campaign called 'Our Voices' featuring some of her friends from the African community here to rally Singaporeans to be an ally in supporting the numerous online petitions condemning racial bias. Here, she tells us why she is using her platform for the cause and shares six testimonials of what being a person of colour means in Singapore.

“‘Our Voices’ was really my way of speaking up.

After the anti-racism movement gained momentum in Singapore and all over the world, I was really upset and angry like everyone else who cared for the matter. There were many conversations that sprouted here and in the first few days, I tried to figure out how I should speak up in the most appropriate manner.

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I finally got the idea of gathering all my African friends whom I knew were affected by the issue. That was how ‘Our Voices’ was born – it is about creating a comfortable platform for all of us to share our views and thoughts. Here, I’ve got to give a special shoutout to my friends @kidmeddling and @stopshania for helping to design this social media-led project under such short notice.

Keyana, who is of Singapore Chinese and Ghanaian heritage, first burst into the modelling scene here as the second runner-up of The New Paper New Face modelling competition in 2017.

The African community is a pretty close-knit one here in Singapore. I’m definitely not speaking for every single black person here, but just among the group of us who were involved in this project and a couple of our other mutual friends, we all know one another and do keep in contact. We have regular casual meetups and support one another in our endeavours. It’s a very friendly, close and supportive community.

“The younger generation is definitely way more vocal and possesses a stronger sense of activism today because of the exposure social media has given us.” – Keyana

The younger generation is definitely way more vocal and possesses a stronger sense of activism today because of the exposure social media has given us. We are way more plugged in to events happening around the world, and since most of us can easily create a platform, we can also easily speak up and share our thoughts and views on current issues. For that, I’m very thankful because now we can help stand up for what’s right and make changes; and get the right information out when times get tough.

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I want to create a platform and forum for the African voices in Singapore and to shine the spotlight on the African community here. But I also want to encourage and educate Singaporeans to speak up on the matter – to tell them that it’s not okay to use racial slurs and to go forth and sign the anti-racism petitions. Most importantly, we need to show our support to the African-American community and everyone else fighting for black lives through peaceful protests and petitions.

“Little things like not having darker shades of foundation on set, asking black models to do their hair before they come for a shoot and having a token black (read: exotic) model on campaigns are what I have to experience as an African model working in Singapore.” – Keyana

As a person of African descent growing up in an Asian country, I definitely experienced racial discrimination in the form of racial slurs and racist stereotypes just because I’m dark-skinned. However, I’m still very blessed to not go through the severity of what African-Americans have to endure in the United States and everywhere else in the world.

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As a model and singer now, I do feel there discrimination exists in my line of work. I understand that Singapore still isn’t the most educated on African culture, hence there is still hesitation when it comes to booking African models. Little things like not having darker shades of foundation on set, asking black models to do their hair before they come for a shoot and having a token black (read: exotic) model on campaigns are what I have to experience as an African model working in Singapore.

Not having darker shades of foundation on set or asking black models to do their hair before they come for a shoot are examples of discrimination that models of colour face in Singapore, according to Keyana.

However, I’m very very thankful and grateful because I do see more African models on campaigns and magazine covers now. This shows the evolution of the Singapore fashion industry and I’m very excited to see more growth.

At the end of the day, race is a sensitive subject to broach. My advice is to be open-minded and approach it politely. Be ready to have conversations, admit to the mistakes you’ve made and be open to learning. Let yourself grow and evolve over time.”

Swipe above to meet the seven faces in the Our Voices project and to hear their stories.


Singapore-born Chinese-Ghanaian model and singer-songwriter Keyana (@heykeyana)

Wendy Maryzeline (@ohheyitswendy), a programme consultant from Tanzania who has been residing in Singapore for 24 years

Singaporean-Ghanaian student Olive Yuen (@its.ohliv)

Singaporean model Noelle Woon (@toddnoeii)

Singapore-born and LA-raised people operations and customer care executive Hanee Henderson (@blackclown__) who has been living her for the past 10 years

Singaporean student Stephanie Obi (@fanyfanxy)

Tanzania native and network executive Nancy Walter (@nanzy.eva), who has been living here for the past 23 years