Preeti Nair has perfected the art of satire for the Internet Age. Her take-no-prisoners videos and sassy raps paint an unvarnished picture of life in Singapore, with all its idiosyncrasies intact. Never one to shy away from calling out uncomfortable truths, Nair has attracted widespread resonance, but also occasional moments of controversy—culminating in last year’s police-issued conditional warning over her clapback to an advertisement that offensively featured brownface. This April though, Nair made headlines for an entirely different reason. When the Covid-19 pandemic imploded in Singapore and ravaged the migrant worker community, Nair sprang into action. Together with activist collective Utopia, she started a crowdfunding campaign to benefit HealthServe and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), two organisations dedicated to aiding the migrant community. The campaign hit its goal of $100,000 in 12 hours and by the time it ended, raised almost $346,000. The funds went into the procurement of essentials such as face masks, hand sanitisers and care kits; topping up mobile phone prepaid cards so workers can stay in touch with family members and case workers; and ensuring that the clinics for migrant workers run by HealthServe remain open to address whatever health concerns they may have. Here, Nair speaks to us on a range of issues.
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ON HER WORK WITH THE MIGRANT WORKER COMMUNITY
“It came quite clearly to me. The pandemic was a new situation for all of us and we were just trying to figure out how to navigate it. When we received updates specific to the migrant workers, a lot of the information was pretty generic: ‘Migrant workers will still be paid’; ‘they will be using their paid leave days’. My group of friends and I started asking ourselves, ‘Won’t paid leave days run out?’ We didn’t know how long the circuit breaker would go on for. Who’s going to make sure that they have money to send home, that they’re taken care of, that their families are taken care of? Where are they going to get groceries and resources when they’re going through lockdown in the dorms?
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Though we didn’t have the answers, it was important to raise these questions on a public platform. It got other Singaporeans who are navigating this pandemic to start thinking about the people who are extra vulnerable. As much as you hear things like ‘cases in the community’ versus ‘cases in dormitories’, the migrant workers are a part of our community—they built all these places we go to every day.
It just came from having a conscience. It’s not like I went the extra mile to do anything special. Having a platform, I felt that if there is something here that can actually help someone, I’m going to do it. I’m not here just to make funny videos for people to laugh at and then forget about. I would love to carry on a conversation, actually help people, or help enable some form of critical thinking.”
ON WHEN TO SPEAK UP AND WHEN TO SHARE THE MIC
“Sometimes, I think we just need to know when not to take up space—like if the conversation is not about us, if you can’t add any value to it or even take some value from it. I definitely see people saying that it’s better [to post] than not post at all, but I personally stand by the belief that if there is no value to add, then don’t take up space.
You don’t have to do it for the sake of doing it. You can do it in a way that teaches your followers while educating yourself. When we only see and hear from people who are doing it just because there’s a hashtag, it shows that they just care about performative representation—they’re not actually about dismantling these systems of power, privilege and oppression. People need to realise that their followers and the rest of us out there, we’re not dumb.
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Like my recent Pink Dot video, I talked about how I wasn’t going to talk in the video. I’d let my intern, Wee San, talk instead because he’s a member of the LGBTQ community. That’s what I mean about not taking up space. Even though it was a Preetipls video, I didn’t want it to be like, “Hey, I’m an ally and this is how you should be an ally.”
ON BODY POSITIVITY
“For every body-shaming comment I get, I also get so many others telling me, ‘Thank you for being so confident in the skin you’re in because I struggle with my weight and how I look. You living your best life and just being you gives me hope.’ I have friends who are slightly older than me saying they wish they had someone like Preetipls when they were growing up. And that’s crazy because I wish there was a Preetipls when I was growing up—a local, brown, plus-size woman I could look up to and be like, okay, I can say these things I want to say, I can make these ridiculous jokes in my head; it’s fine for me to just be me.
I totally understand why my younger audience is saying this to me; and these are the people I’m going to focus my energy on. The body shamers are literally just hiding behind a keyboard to condescend. They’re not looking to engage in a proper conversation or discourse. They’re trolls who just want to say, ‘You’re fat, bye.’ Somebody who actually cares about the issues I raise would be like, ‘Let’s talk about this. I don’t agree with you, this is my stand, perhaps you can think about this angle.’ When it comes from a place with obviously good intentions, I’m all for it.”
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Photographed by Phyllicia Wang
Styled by Gracia Phang
Makeup and hair: Manisa Tan using NARS and Keune Haircosmetics
Manicure: Bellus de Charme