Updated: June 4, 2020, 3:35 PM
The pressure to be ‘white’
June 4, 2020
Unceded Territory – With the many uprisings happening on the streets of North America against white supremacy and terrorism, it is important for us Filipinos to reflect and understand why it is important to stand together with our Black sisters and brothers.
Being born and raised in the post-colonial, colonial, neo-colonial Philippines, the experience of growing up surrounded by the anti-blackness mentality I know that it is embedded in the Filipino culture.
Being ridiculed, bullied, discriminated against, and isolated for having a darker complexion are indeed not isolated cases only in the Philippines. Let’s be honest that racism has unfortunately been deeply rooted in many aspects of our Philippine culture, in the Philippines and here in the diaspora.
I remember walking to school in the Philippines under the brazen hot tropical sun. My school back then was beautifully located in the middle of rice farms. Many of the students were children of the peasants farming and grazing livestocks under the sun. At times, due to lack of classrooms and facilities, we often had our classes under the blazing sun with no walls, no shade, and no roof. Many times classes were also cancelled due to the extreme heat.
Under the blazing sun, our melanin was all-time high. As if anti-blackness is a daily ritual, instances of being told to carry an umbrella for shade and to not be under the sun for too long are too common courtesy for Filipinos, but are toxic anti-blackness behaviours.
Often, when my schoolmates and I rode the jeepneys, some of the passengers would avoid sitting beside us. In the local malls and restaurants, we usually get ridiculed, bullied, and isolated. We could hear hostile strangers say to us, “Mga baluga!” (a derogatory word in Tagalog for dark-skinned indigenous people of Luzon).
This internalised prejudice against dark-skinned Filipinos and the anti-blackness mentality has also influenced many of our daily routines in the Philippines. The heavy pressure of using skin-whitening soaps, bleaching cleansers, pumice stones to “scrub off dirt” in our skin, and applying “sebo de macho” to fresh scars to avoid healed dark tissue spots are also influenced of the fear associated of being stuck in brown and black Filipino bodies. Racism is also internalised as a result.
Unfortunately, in addition, racism is deeply rooted in many aspects of our Philippine culture. Not only that most television shows have been donning our screens with celebrities with white skin or lighter skin complexion, we are led to believe that white is beautiful and black is ugly. Such idolising also traces back to the unequal master-and-slave dynamic from which Filipinos are indentured servants by the European colonial settlers.
To date, it is not surprising many Filipino screens and ads are bombarded with mixed-raced Filipinos, ideally lighter skinned and Eurocentric beauty. The “mestiza” indeed became a category in terms of beauty standards in the Philippines as well. A famous “mestiza” character is Maria Clara. Her name and character also has become a symbol of the traditional, modest, feminine ideal and grooming of a FIlipina.
Being ridiculed, bullied, discriminated against, and isolated for having a darker skin tone are indeed not isolated cases in the Philippines, but rather are symptoms of a much larger issue: anti-blackness.
Anti-blackness in the Philippines also angles with being anti-poor. Same here in North America, the Philippine commercial ads for missionary work and NGOs usually are bombarded with images of crying and malnourished African-descent or non-white poor children from poverty stricken “Third World” countries. Adding to this is the multiple photo-ops featuring non-white poor people for charity and missionary work’s sake by many privileged white people and their affiliated groups or organizations can also strongly instigate racism and “white saviour” mentalities.
It is noteworthy and very important to learn from our history that the long 499 years of colonization of the archipelago was never because of the European colonizers’ and settlers’ good hearts for the brown and black Filipinos. The Philippines has been Spain’s “colonial project” that for so long overly disregarded the lives of brown and black Filipinos, that until to these present days the tremendous impacts show.
For hundreds of years, we were and are forced to believe that whiteness is the superior race. White is rich and black is poor. From the idolized images of white-skinned Jesus, Mary, and the Saints displayed in shrines in most Filipino households have led us to believe that white is good and black is evil.
To what extent do the European invaders and settlers in the archipelago have to be anti-indigenous, and anti-black in order to advance the invasion and colonization of the Philippines? Very haunting. They have disregarded our ancestors into lower class deprived of education, rights, and mobility, into slaves in their own lands. Our women, healers, leaders and “babaylans” were deemed criminals, killed, burned, raped, and subordinate to men.
Indeed, Spain’s “colonial project” has no regards to the life and welfare of the native Filipinos, native communities, and native land. Thus, resulting in the ongoing economic and political instability in the Philippines until the present day. The causes of our global diaspora are rooted in the political, and economical instability and loss of our indigenous identities as individuals and as peoples.
As June marks the Filipino Heritage Month in Canada, we indeed are our ancestors’ wildest dreams and remain to do so. Each time we rise against white terrorism and supremacy, colonial oppression anywhere in the world, we become part of the long continuous struggle of our ancestors.
How can we truly honor our ancestors? Black Lives Matter.
Manila, 2018. Long-time Australian missionary nun in the Philippines, Patricia Fox, was deported back to Australia after criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. -AFP
Artiach Filipinos dark chocolate biscuits as sold in Spain. Wikipedia