Please listen to Preetipls

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An advertisement created to encourage e-payment in Singapore featured a Chinese actor in brownface, dressed up variously as an Indian man with a curly wig and a Malay woman in a headscarf. It was widely, and rightly, condemned as racist. Mediacorp, the agency responsible for the advertisement, gave a half-hearted apology and withdrew it. When comedian Preeti Nair, known as Preetipls, and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, released a rap video criticizing the advertisement, however, they were judged by the Law Minister to have crossed a line in attacking the dominant Chinese majority in Singapore and the artistes were subjected to a police investigation.

The state’s action is not only heavy-handed but also unfair, because it is patently clear from the video that the duo are not attacking Chinese Singaporeans per se, but Chinese racists for their racism. Although the refrain goes, “Chinese people always out here fucking it up,” the subtitle is careful to gloss the lyrics every time as “(Racist) Chinese people.” Preetipls even provides a disclaimer, spoken clearly in the song itself, that “Not all Chinese people are racists. Only the racist ones ah.” And to underline the point, she cheered the news that a popular Chinese movie director is filming a new movie. In sharp contrast, the Mediacorp advertisement showed no such nuance, tact, or intelligence.

The care taken by the video to pinpoint its satirical target also indicates a wariness of the police state. It may still save its creators from prosecution. Watching the video, I am struck not by the swear words and the defiant finger, but by the softening of the criticism through musicality, wit, humor, and caveats. I wonder what justifiable rage lies below the video. And what exhaustion lies below the rage. For it must be enraging, and exhausting, to have to explain again and again why brownface is not just a joke, but an insult. As Malay writer Alfian Sa’at points out in his Facebook post, Singapore’s vaunted racial harmony “is built on the eternal forbearance of minorities…. Tell the other side to take a joke and the police are summoned.”

Those of us in the racial majority in any country could exercise our imagination to grasp what others have to go through without their having to explain it to us. If we lack that imagination, the least we can do is to listen to whoever is willing, and not too angry or tired, to explain. Listen and not respond immediately—an immediate response is usually superficial, defensive, or argumentative—but reflect instead on what we hear. There is so much to attend to when racial minorities decide to tell their stories, whether they be a black scholar on becoming a full professor or a white mom raising two black sons, in the case of the USA. Or in Singapore, when Prettipls releases a funny video.

 

Jee Leong Koh

 

 

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15 Responses to “Please listen to Preetipls”

  • Vote for Change:

    Depends on their objective;

    I think with the fingers and all that… not necessary, not too wise, Readers in TRE are mostly educated.

    They should make a video on “1 Million a day given to foreign students” instead, safer and no ambiguity and accomplishing their objectives.

    I would say poor punchlines, bad choreography, blur objective.

    Accept it and move on.

    Vote for Change.

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  • Dr Tan Tai Wei:

    The advert is arguably racist only “in the eyes of the beholder”. The “majority race” is featured also, although it’s a Chinese dressed in traditional Chinese attire, and so there wasn’t the need to make her yellow-faced. She acts and smiles in characteristic Chinese female gestures, just like the “Indian” smiling with that characteristic curly moustache. The intention is obviously only to interestingly show up our cultural and racial mix, although, in light of it’s being viewed by some, not with the goodwill and humour intended, but with untoward racial sensitivity. And so they apologized and withdrew. I read elsewhere a similar charge of racism being made with reference to multi-racial day in schools where pupils appear in traditional racial costumes. My grandson went in his Chinese new year outfit also, although we belong to the racial majority. I suppose should enough people of “minority races” raise objections similar to those with regard to the advert, then MOE would have to play it safe and also apologise for any inadvertent hurts caused. Compare all the above to the deliberate attacks filthed all over in f words against the Chinese, its obvious racism purportedly sufficienly redeemed with after-thought qualifications here and there that it’s racist Chinese the attack is intended. Racism aside, the video is objectionable on bad taste alone.

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  • Hsiam Loong Loong:

    PAP says we need to have the UNIQUE GRC system in sg so that minority races are represented. But when minority races were discriminated, teased and have jokes cracked on them, the minority MIW act blur. See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. Amazingly no minority MIW has ever dared to say or stand up for their own kind.

    And when some talented minority citizens decided to do something interesting to voice and express how they feel, suddenly the MIW and all their lackeys see something, hear something and say it’s dangerous!

    Please don’t listen to the papies. They’ve never had an genuine intention to take care of the minority races. Those hypocrites are actually the most and worst racist people you can find in this tiny island. That’s why they’ve to summon the mata, their protectors as they felt so offended by the video which was specifically targeted at the racist chinese papple.

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  • Harder Truths:

    In the 60′s and 70′s this was not deemed racist. $G citizens knew how to distinguish some fun from real racist acts.

    We call each other all kinds of names and insult each other racially too Including all the races dressing up like other races. We had a good laugh at each other. We were no insecure with our friendship and trust.

    But that was over 50 years ago. Things have changed. The Old Man’s plan was to divide all the races and make them believe that only he and his sotong gangsters could keep $G together.

    He got his wish. Except when you play the race card the damage is far greater than you can control. The Old Man and his famliee have set the races against each other. The FT will also be happy to contribute to the mess in a big way.

    So $G citizens of the future be warned – this will only get much much worse. You cannot even open your mouth without offending someone and being called a racist. Social media will make you a pariah.

    For those of mixed heritage – you are screwed.

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  • opposition dude:

    Nets wanted to save $$$ and got condemned for it ha ha ha!

    Should have just hired an Indian and a Malay to play the respective roles and no one would give a shit about the advert liao.

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  • Totally racist video:

    For 99% of the video, those people were screaming Chinese as bad guys. Only at the last few seconds, they qualify that they were attacking “racist” Chinese and not all Chinese.

    It’s like a video which fu*k Indians, fu*k Indians, fu*k Indians, and at the last moment qualify that they were only fu*king one particular Indian.

    Please lah, if that is their true intention, they failed horribly.

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  • alan:

    This is the most stupid article put up on this case. Only a s*ake can twist and turn to say white is black and black is white, racists dismissed as not racists and nothing racist claimed to be racist.

    A pig will never complain about the smell in a pigsty after getting so used to the shit. In this case, the vulgarity is second nature to the writer.

    The brown man was not meant to be a Malay or an Indian. But the two racists were looking for something to stick and insisted that the brown man was Indian. What shit brains.

    The ad was innocent, a Chinese, a Malay, an Indian and a Eurasian. Where got two Indians or two Malays?

    Only sickos will see the ad as racist.

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  • Whatss Wrong With Our Color?:

    Whether we are Yellow, Black, Brown, White or Pink, we should not be ashamed of our color given by God. Unless we have got inferiority complex and want to imagine that we are white.

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  • Excuse me:

    @ The “majority race” is featured also, although it’s a Chinese dressed in traditional Chinese attire, and so there wasn’t the need to make her yellow-faced.

    Excuse me, that’s not chinese attire or never the traditional chinese attire.
    Its ang mo attire or ang mo casual wear.

    So the chinese trying to portray the whites or chinese too paiseh to wear traditional attire. So they did …f*** it up ???

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  • Attack The Ads Agency:

    Suresh and Preeti Nair have done a fatal error. They used vulgar words and point the middle fingers at the Chinese Population. Its like mounting a challenge at the Chinese population. They are asking for trouble.

    The Chinese Population has nothing to do with the Ads. They should direct their action to the Ads Agency. Of Course we are not happy.

    They do not realize the seriousness of their video probably because they had not gone through the Racial Riot of 1964 where many innocent people got injured and killed.

    The police must take firm action to prevent future video that will destroy Racial Harmony in Singapore. Vote PAP Out.

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  • ganeshsk:

    “Should have just hired an Indian and a Malay to play the respective roles and no one would give a shit about the advert liao.”

    THEN AGAIN WHAT HAS RACE GOT TO DO WITH ANYONE CAN E-PAY WHICH WAS EH INTENTION OF THE CAMPAIGN.

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  • justtryingtobefair:

    Blackface is racist in the US due to its history of slavery and the exclusion of black peoples’ commercial opportunities. Just because the US thinks blackface is racist doesn’t make it racist in other societies. Even if we accept blackface is universally racist, it doesn’t necessarily make brownface racist as well. While Singapore’s history of racism isn’t perfect, it does not include slavery of the minority races.
    The ad was tasteless but not meant to offensive. While on the other end, the music video by the siblings were meant to be.

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  • Rabble-rouser:

    In this day & age, I don’t see the need to pigeon hole people’s ethnic race in media ads. It will end up offending certain categories of people no matter what hard they try not to.
    Already the Elected President had been subjected to enormous public criticisms, ridicule & outcries as to her real ethnicity re: Malay or Indian. And this issue has not moved on inspite of the govt obvious intention & desire to do so. And S’pore’s Current President had not unite the different races because of this. In fact, what it has done was to accentuate racial differences & stereotyping among different races. Preeti Nair, known as Preetipls, and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair; their humourous YouTube/FaceBook video poke fun at MediaCorp/E-Pay “Brownface” & tudung wearing media ad which was both racially & religiously offensive to the minority races. Instead it was Preetipls & her brother who borne the blunt of govt actions simply because it showed how badly MediaCorp Creative Agency had stuffed up! MediaCorp had view the ad creative from clearly “Chinese” eyes; their insensitivity to how the minorities would view them.
    S’pore were still stuck with the racial divide (wealth disparity between races) & if they keep playing the racial card, they open themselves up for ridicule & argumentative response. Remember the strange furore when a PAP Grassroot media announcement published in Hindi drew wide condemnation. Most local-born Indians are Tamils. The PAP are clearly out of touch & tone-deaf!

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  • Rabble-rouser:

    @ Attack The Ads Agency:
    Chill out! Man, Relax!
    The only way for people to get attention is to use “shock & awe” tactics in the Internet. Remember Amos Yee – he used the F-word frequently & was extremely provocative in his videos. He was even attacked by an idiot which gave him the publicity he craved. Finally, he got what he wanted (Political Asylum in the US) & that chapter closed for us in S’pore.
    Nobody really cares in S’pore when the cost of living is so high. Unless Huawei has another S$54 phone to sell in another promotional stunt. Other than that, don’t bother us (the Chinese)! Ha-ha-ha-ha!

    Attack The Ads Agency: Suresh and Preeti Nair have done a fatal error. They used vulgar words and point the middle fingers at the Chinese Population. Its like mounting a challenge at the Chinese population. They are asking for trouble.

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  • Include others in ad ?:

    Multiracial?

    Should we include others as well ?
    The jews, the thais, the Myanmar, the viets, the koreas, the japs, russians
    ..and so on.

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