Migrant X Me – NGO under fire for poverty porn, insensitive captions and questions over donations.

This article originally appeared on The Online Citizen

Migrant X Me LLP (“MXME”), a social enterprise, has been the subject of controversy and increased public scrutiny over the past couple of days. Many on social media have expressed concern over the organisation’s tone-deaf captions, poor understanding of racial issues and promotion of poverty porn.

Rapper and Activist Subhas posted a series of images relating to the organisation on Instagram on Friday evening with the caption:-

This is @migrantxme.

They are a social enterprise that profits off of producing, marketing and selling poverty porn.
Their ‘best selling’ service includes “The Prejudice Trail” where they get paid by schools to bring kids to Farrer Park/Little India to observe migrant men.

The founder uses a hashtag ‘#banglahomies’ and identified as a migrant worker during their time overseas.
Their work seems to proselytize, and the link in their bio brings you to their gift shop.
Their 26-year old “business developer” thought migrant workers were “criminals” sent to work in Singapore as “punishment” until last year.

The savior complex is incredible.

Why are we celebrating such mediocrity and blatant profiteering?

#banglahomies 🖕🏽🖕🏽🖕🏽

Please donate directly to organizations that actually stand for something.

MXME is also one of the four organisations that make up COVID MIgrant Support Coalition (CMSC). The CMSC is a coalition of NGOs that provides support to migrant workers on the ground. The CMSC has government-approved permits to mobilise volunteers and manage large warehouse spaces. The CMSC has also developed “close partnerships with organisations and government agencies” like Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) that grants them “access to 600 unlisted factory-converted dormitories”.

Meet the Team

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The founder of MXME is Isabel, who came under fire for the use of the hashtag #banglahomies to refer to migrant workers.

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The business development executive of MXME is one Seah Cheng, 26. In an interview with Straits Times earlier this year, Seah shared that until he was introduced to a migrant worker at Queenstown Baptist Church in May 2019, he believed that migrant workers were “criminals“.

Further, Cheng also believed that migrant workers were sent to Singapore “to work for very low pay as punishment“.

In a separate interview with THIRST, Seah shared that helping migrant workers helped him understand God better.

 “Through my work, I’ve come to know God’s love for (the migrant workers). I’ve come to understand how God is near the lonely and the brokenhearted.

“It’s like when you look at one of those loveable kids, and the thought that comes to your head is ‘wow, their parents must really love them”.

Profiting from Poverty Porn?

One of the common threads in the anger directed towards MXME is how it has possibly promoted and profited from poverty porn. Poverty porn has been defined as “media which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for profits or other forms of gratification”.

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In particular, MXME’s “prejudice trail” was lambasted. The trail, which is pitched as a “best-seller” purports to provide people with a “bird’s eye-view and an intimate lens” of a migrant worker’s experience. Many critics have likened MXME’s characterization of migrant workers to animals at a zoo.

Odette Yiu (@1.43am), a migrant rights activitst, explained why such narratives and actions are harmful:-

Why do people refuse to acknowledge that their “charity” work is harmful when:-

  1. It exploits human bodies (e.g. migrant workers) and turns them into a spectacle in order to garner “pity” for them. So, in the very act of trying to humanise them, you are, instead, dehumanising them and continuing to “other” them; and
  2. It reinforces unequal power dynamics (e.g. between migrant workers and Singaporeans) & saviourism …Migrant workers do not need our pity and they do not need to be infantilised, they don’t need people swooping in to be their “saviours” or “heros”. Instead, they need our solidarity.

Proselytizing?

Some users have also questioned whether MXME was involved in efforts to proselytize in the course of their work.

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Isabelle had posted a picture with domestic workers at a Deepavali celebration on Instagram with a caption that could suggest proselytizing. TOC understands that Isabelle’s instagram account has since been made private.

Unethical collection of Donations?

Two weeks ago, MXME started raising funds for an NGO, SG Accident Help Center. The organisation put out a call for donations on its Instagram and Facebook pages.

At the time of posting, it was clear that MXME was raising funds for SG Accident Help Center only. Felicia Chin’s Instagram Page contains a screenshot of MXME’s post and the original caption that accompanied the same.

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However, after some time, the caption got amended to include the fact that only the first $50,000 raised would be going to SG Accident Help Centre and that the remaining funds would be used to fund MXME’s own operations.

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It is not known when the caption was amended to include the limit of $50,000 and the fact that the remaining funds would go to MXME itself.

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MXME later revealed that the “additional funds” will go towards their “advocacy for the systemic condtions” and “long-term work in educating the public”, which presumably involves more of their best-selling prejudice trails.

Some donors have messaged MXME privately to complain about the fact that their donations were channeled from SG Accident Help Centre to MXME itself without the consent or knowledge of the donors.

However, they were told in no uncertain terms that any donations beyond the cut-off will go towards funding MXME itself.

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TOC understands that this disgruntled donor complained about the lack of transparency and communication from MXME in relation to the cut off of $50,000.

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Some users also noted that MXME has failed to publicly disclose the total amount of donations that it has received.

But what about good intentions?

As the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. However, as Odette Yiu points out, it is important to note that intentions alone do not excuse or make up for questionable methods and tone-deaf remarks.

An organisation may not be deliberately malicious or sinister in intent, but intent is besides the point. The consequences are still very harmful and dangerous, and we must take care to re-examine and re-conceive advocacy and justice, in replacement of patronising forms of charity. It would do us a lot better to support and donate to organisations that are founded upon these principles and who do work in alignment with these values.

This story will continue to be updated as we receive more information.

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