Saturday, February 15, 2014

White Privilege in the Philippines, Part II
Understanding the brown areas in this black and white issue

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Composition: Continuation of a thought from a previous post.
Previous Post: Where Meat Comes From

In my quest to be Don Draper, I have been studying up on the Motherland's everyday attitudes, subconscious  and conscious preferences, as well as what I would term as the unattributed and unstudied culture - you know, "Pop Culture". From memes, to talking points, to prevailing opinions on matters, as well as what people are buying. I have been immersing myself in it in case I have to write scintillating ad copy in the context of "what if I were over there, in the Philippines?"
In my reading various articles, looking at the reader's replies on those same articles, and watching forum discussions, I couldn't help how "in yo face!" the Colonial Mentality can be! Not just that they "prefer" white models - or just light skinned ones - they actually can be....     quite racist!

Perhaps late to the party, but I present for your consideration FHM Philippines' March 2012 original cover, featuring a light skinned actress/model surrounded by other models in full body blackface (black skin?) and the caption, "Stepping out of the Shadows". 

Now, to be fair, FHM PH did recall the cover, issuing another one that is not so racially insensitive. However, the fact that someone came up with it, and that it went through a series of edits and re-edits without anyone raising an issue, boggles the mind. 

Perhaps more telling is how some Filipinos have responded. While it seems to me as though opinions are divided, some Filipinos took up a position I would not have expected to come from someone over there. For instance, there are actually those who raise the "race card" alarm, saying those who complain are simply too sensitive, interpreting something to be racist even though it isn't; that "the blacks and darkies" shouldn't complain so much since everyone portrayed in that photo falls into the Filipino/Filipina spectrum of skin colours, and therefore no one of another race was being parodied or made fun of.

Somehow, that explanation for the full body blackface (or blackskin?) is supposed to make it less racist?!


Even if I were to ignore how ironic it is to hear that from someone who would probably fall in the Person Of Colour (P.O.C.) category of classification in the Western World where white/caucasian is the default race, it still falls short as an explanation when you analyze it purely from within the Philippine historical and cultural context. Yes, Filipinos do run the gamut from very black to very white. Yes, it's Filipino vs. Filipino. But to say nothing of the tremendous cultural preference for white skin, Eurasian ancestry, or even a lineage which could be traced to the lighter skinned Asians (Japanese, Chinese, Korean), is quite ignorant. Methinks the Pinoys who defend the cover are in the lighter end of the Philippine spectrum and are in some kind of privilege denial.

Either that, or they're fantasizing they are the mixture of something else and that this must afford them some privilege.

Comic stolen from the internet... forgot where from. Sorry!
I've ranted about this before - about how Filipinos would more readily proclaim a foreign lineage - real or imagined - rather than admit to just being "Filipino".

Bottomline: skin darkness, regardless of whether it is a tan or genetic, is seen as a negative over there. While skin whiteness, regardless of whether it is store bought or genetic, is seen as a positive, as a measure of beauty, maybe a class distinction (ie. "kutis mayaman" or the "skin of the upper classes"), or perhaps even as a hallmark of genetic purity.
So if anyone's going to tell me not to interpret anything negative out of - or to refrain from applying a bit of cultural studies and semiotics into - that magazine cover which portrays inhibitions, self doubt, and other negative emotions using models with black skin (the "shadows" the light skinned model is stepping out of), then I don't know what else to say.

But to be fair, with 100 million Filipinos in the Philippines coming from all walks of life, from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and from all levels of education, there are open minded ones - those who have challenged this Filipino "cult of whiteness". After all, that FHM cover was pulled out before making it into circulation
, mainly because of a number of protests., seemingly in response, Playboy Philippines' April 2012 issue sees a darker-than-a-typical-model-in-the-Philippines on the cover, with "Embracing All Colors" as the caption. Leave it up to Playboy to represent a progressive stance on the subject of skin colour. 

Ahh yes, Playboy...

That magazine which, even though I first had to read clandestinely as a kid, still educated me so much about exquisite taste, style, and sophistication. Even if I never got to apply many of it in the real sense of the term - in that it only fed my fantasies of growing up as a sophisticated man, and that I am not now that sophisticated man I thought I would be - at least my fantasies as a kid were sophisticated. I wished for a future me where my bachelor's pad was chic, my car stylish, my clothing fashionable, my bearing urbane, and my girlfriends, strong and powerful. I don't want to digress too much, so I would just like to quote The Atlantic's Jon Zobenica in his article, Are We Not Men? Down the Ladder from Playboy To Maxim:
"Several new men’s magazines—led by the laddie triumvirate of Maxim, Stuff, and FHM—have been eating into Playboy’s readership for a decade now, and what they primarily encourage is a lot of boyish grab-assing... There’s hardly a trace of the old journalism, and no fiction, but there are the numerous girlie pictorials... To open these magazines is to walk into a teenage boy’s room: the air scented with dirty socks and the contents of wadded-up Kleenex; the walls decorated with pictures of swimsuit models and he-man athletes and sports cars; the desk barely visible under piles of video-game cartridges, action figures, and forgotten junk food.."
Though Playboy did restore my faith in humanity and Philippine-dom, I still feel uneasy and weirded out about how such a cover had to be crafted in the first place. Yes, I interpret it as a jab towards the low-brow, puerile, masa targeted publications - and as a win for making the Philippines more culturally progressive. I am nonetheless dismayed that someone in the first place had to remind people over there that it's not the 1800's anymore and it's ok to embrace all colors - including your own colour for that matter.

Oh geez.... I wouldn't be Don Draper over there - I'd be Martin Luther King for "Indios" (antiquated Spanish term for the Filipino natives).

The easy suggestion is to become the vanguard of a new cultural revolution in the Philippines where rather than propagating Pinoy insecurities on skin colour, to instead criticize their obsession with skin whitening. I should lead the celebration of all colours!


But how do I actually do that effectively? As in, I might just end up screaming at their face. It's so hard to make the argument when you've been living most of your life where it was a non issue, where the argument was settled a long time ago. For example, here in Canada, dealing with the first magazine cover is easy: I'd just call it "fucking racist".

But over there? It's so ingrained in the thinking I could potentially be the "crazy fucker who's into darkies"*.  I'd be like the weirdo who busses his own food tray in fastfood over there. The challenge isn't in defending an established and recognized egalitarian view when it comes to skin colour, but rather advancing a different idea that challenges the established norm of equating skin whiteness with beauty, class, and ethnic superiority.

I suspect that it's almost easier to be Caucasian, or anything lighter than average, and say "I envy you guys and your skin!" or "I love your ethnic women". But I'm not white. And I honestly don't know how a critique of what they deem as "their" values would come off, especially when it's said by someone who only grew up elsewhere, but is still one of them.   ( Well, kind of... )

Indeed, navigating the brown areas of this black and white issue is a lot easier said than done.

 *into darkies = not necessarily true. I love them all. I love white women.

Future Post: Deconstructing and Unpacking Rice and Rice Growing

Related Posts: White Privilege in the Philippines
                            White Privilege in the Philippines, Part III
                            Dear Filipinos Stop Claiming that You're Spanish!
                            Last Thoughts Before Going to Bed Tonight: Pinoy Citizenship

Further Readings: Doña Victorina's Lesson's on True Colors, by Marisse T. Sonido, Philippine Star
                                  Under my Invisible Umbrella, Laurel Fantauzzo, The Manila Review
                                  Philippines: One of the most 'racially intolerant' countries, survey shows -
                                  GMA Network
                                  Racist Filipino Magazine, DESIGNPINOY
                                  Nita Negrita, Stop racism and blackface on Philippine TV

You Also Have to Listen To This!
                                  The Business of Race, Ideas with Paul  Kennedy, CBC Radio

Interesting Quotes from Article Comments: 

"I love the Philippines and Filipino people, but as a Black man, am completely astounded at the amount of reverence that is accorded the color White in that country – and by extension, the amount of derision directed at what is Black or dark. My wife is Filipina, and when we got married almost 20 years ago in Montreal, it used to be extremely common to hear crazy comments, mostly from older Filipino and Black people about our relationship. Today, with young people here mixing freely in schools and social activities, race is almost a non-issue, except among those who decide they must insult others to make their miserable lives seem less so. 

I was therefore completely shocked when I saw that show Nita Negrita on TV a couple of years ago. Living in the barrio (as opposed to the sheltered lives ex-pats tend to live in the bar areas) as we have been doing for the last 10 years, I have gotten to be friends with almost everyone, even as they sometimes make what they think are funny comments. I generally ignore such comments as they are based on ignorance, and in the case of children, genuine curiosity. However, to see what is a major TV network going all out and broadcasting such nonsense, effectively taking the Philippines back almost 100 years, is truly bewildering. In our barrio, I’m no saint, but perhaps because of my outsider’s eye, see many easy solutions to problems that seem to perpetually plague people, and wonder what a much better world it would be if those TV stations would allocate even just a few minutes a day (with their captive audiences) giving simple good living tips rather than bombarding people with endless ads to apply poisons to their skin to make it better. 

The Philippines can do and be a lot better. My entourage around here in Montreal consists mostly of Filipinos, ranging from maids to doctors, and two things I find they all share are compassion and empathy. That Filipinos in the Philippines, where these people actually got their lives started, can be encouraged to feel that it is OK to insult and deride others without a thought to their feelings is disappointing, to say the least. When we are discussing the Philippines here, one of the laughable things we mention is the fact that when Balikbayans (from very cold countries no less) go back to visit the Old country, it is shocking how even the Pinoy kids born here have that natural brown color which IMHO makes Pinoys truly attractive. Indeed it is extremely rare to see any Pinoys here in Canada or the USA using those poison-filled whiteners as they are too busy taking care of real life and being told how beautiful their natural color is :) 

I have nothing against White people, and live, work, and even dated some in a previous life, but feeling so inferior that you feel you need to look like somebody else to be beautiful is just sad. I mean, white skin looks great – on White people. On Brown people, it just looks, pardon my Spanish, ugly!"
-Eric Katz, DESIGNPINOY discussion


"I’m black. And from Africa. My family and myself we arrived in Manila in March 2012. We live in Makati. Upon our arrival, we were thinking that the next three years of my contract in Manila will be very nice. But very soon we had to change our mind. Filipinos are probably a very nice people, but the media in this country are probably more racist than the ones we experienced elsewhere in our expatriate lives. Between silly tv series depicting blacks as savages, the imbeciles advertisements extolling alleged virtues of white skin, and dubious jokesfrom tv presenters on everything related to dark skin, this country has come to disgust us. If added to that unhealthy curiosity that people in the streets who come up touching my daughter curly hair… My wife and I are shocked. We still do not understand why that people who have suffered so much discrimination and racism from Spaniards, Americans or Japaneses is showing as racist and so complexed with white skin."
-Idriss, DESIGNPINOY discussion

 "Kutis Mayaman" = Skin of the Upper Classes
"Puputi Ka Rin" = You too, will get whiter

Apparently, they think this is attractive. It looks just like death to me. Like Eric Katz quoted above, white skin looks beautiful - ON WHITE PEOPLE! On Caucasians!  But without the features? You just look like DEATH. My best relationships and biggest celebrity crushes have been white women. I love white women. But not women pretending to be white. ... or anyone pretending to be something they aren't, for that matter.

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