Are Filipinos racist or born to be raised as one? How do you discuss the issue of racism in your own Filipino families?
In today’s post, I share with you how to change the conversation of racism within your own Filipino families. There are an abundance of advice on what you should do and so I err in the side of reflective activism and tempered passion to be effective without burning bridges with your loved ones.
Instead of What-To-Do, I will share with you What-Not-To-Do to change hearts, not minds.
In the past few weeks, the call for anti-racism in many States in the U.S. specifically in the amplified voice of Black Lives Matter has created tension between protesters & law enforcement agency. Conversely, a sense of solidarity to those who heed shoulder to shoulder screaming out to plead for No JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
Social media platforms are inundated with the call to break this systemic, deeply problematic issue. But the call of passionate activists in social media outlets & elsewhere did not only intercede the the political & policing arena but also in cajoling conversations in the home.
This means talking with your lolas, lolos (grandparents), moms & dads about anti-racism. A confrontation that is well-intentioned, needed but usually back-fires.
FILIPINO COLONIALISM YESTERDAY AND TODAY
Colonial Mentality is the a construct where anything that relates to white-ness or being American is perceived to be more superior. Part of colonizing is to ramp up the position of superiority for the colonizer and magnify inferiority to the colonized.
Philippines has been colonized by the Spaniards & the American but have long been influenced culturally by neighboring cultures, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Malay and even the Arabs amongst others.
The influence of the Chinese is one that is almost left behind in the Filipino American History, perhaps because Chinese represent Asian, and cancels out the White superiority image of a colonizer.
In your visit in the Philippines, you’ll see more Chinese than any of our cultural influencer in history & thereby continues to leverage the Island Filipino Culture to this date.
I included the Chinese influence because as we tackle the issue of racism, its important to understand the viewpoint of traditional Filipinos. They are still influenced today not just by our colonial history but the interface they have with the predominant foreign culture in the Philippines, the Chinese.
CHANGE HEARTS NOT MINDS
So, if you were trying to change hearts about racism in Filipino communities, you’ll find that you probably don’t have to put a lot of in effort convincing the young. They’re malleable as a rubber band & most of the time, already understand your plea way before you make them.
I’ll infer that the elders, your mom & dad, an older sibling had been the focal point of your well-meaning anti-racism activism.
As I write this, I am quite aware of my own intersectionality within my own family system. I bravely share them with you so you too, can catch my blind spot.
You see, my grandmother was half-Scottish, who is married to a man, my Angkong (grandpa) originally from China.
My Angkong made the best Chi-Noy (chinese Filipino combined) adobo. It’s lathered in oil & it makes anyone over 30 have a headache because of its cholesterol level. I ate it ‘til I was 29. Lol.
Aside from this, I had been a teacher for Social Equity and Diversity along with my other clinician colleagues, check out this free training: Social Justice and Diversity that took 2 years to get it right.
Equivocal to point out & rather a more personal to me is that I’m also a wife of a noble Black husband in law enforcement. Rather than feel conflicted (I do at times but rarely), I honor the privilege to hear voices around the table. Because of this intersectionality, I am usually in deep thoughts but grateful that my growth is inspired by learning and listening to others.
ANTI-BLACKNESS IN THE FILIPINO PSYCHE
The American & the Spanish colonizers used similar tactics to conquer the colonized especially in ruling their minds. Influence was infiltrated both with covert & overt means, by introducing religion, & the worshiping of a patriarchal society for one, or the humanitarian means of building our public school system to submerge our indigenous culture in oblivion.
As a way to sustain this, acting “white” as perceived to be the civilized manner to conduct oneself is rewarded.
Similar to the privilege bestowed on light-skinned Black children, usually resulting from interracial copulation, these children are at times allowed to serve their “Masters” inside the home
rather than soaking up the scorching heat of the sun day in and day out.
Similar phenomenon happened with lighter-skinned Filipinos during the Spanish era, an unspoken caste system existed based on pureness or level of diluted features of the colonizing culture. This is just one example that points to Filipinos’ cultural conditioning why whiteness is favored and Black-ness is not.
As a way to adapt & frankly to survive, Filipinos learned to adapt whiteness characteristics to acquire favor or at least prevent their family to be ostracized. It was not a sudden change or an unconscious movement to want to become white. It was deliberate in beginning to avoid punishment or simply to be left alone in peace.
Later, the deliberate action to tell your children to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, to stay out of the sun became an automatic teaching to garner favor over punishment. Any teaching left unquestioned becomes a lifestyle that has been sustained for decades & have transitioned from deliberate to automatic.
Neuroscience and culture tells us that a sustained way of doing things or being exposed to new experience changes the pattern & the anatomy of our brain. What was new then is NOW the familiar and the safest way to approach things.
LANGUAGE OF RACISM IN THE FILIPINO FAMILY
Rather than cringe on these words, understand that they were used historically as a deliberate action to protect the young, the Filipino family from the cruel hands of the colonizer. When you see it in this manner while knowing that they need to be changed, you don’t just change minds, but change hearts.
Because ultimately, you have to change yours first before you can change others.
Did you grow up, hearing these words?
- Nagbabad ka nanaman sa araw.
- Mag-lotion ka nga (whitening) para matangal yang libag mo.
- Ang itim-itim mo na, mukha kang madungis.
- Wag na wag kang mag-aasawa ng itim.
- Wow, ang puti-puti mo! Kutis artista.
Translations as it appears above-
- (scoldy) there you go again, staying under the sun (contextual)!
- Go get some whitening lotion so you can scrub out the dirt in your skin (dark is seen as dirty).
- You are so dark, you look so dirty!
- Don’t ever marry someone who’s Black.
- Wow, you look so fair. You look like one of the actresses (seen on TV).
ANTI-RACISM CONFRONTATION & WHY IT FAILS TO CONVINCE TRADITIONAL FILIPINOS
I am a therapist and part of being in therapy is gently confronting a client’s blind spot. But this confrontation did not come as a peek-a boo experience. The client agreed to it by entering the therapeutic relationship & therefore, is a willing participant in seeking relief or personal growth through this loving kind of confrontation.
Confrontation coming from fiery passion is not a bad thing. It becomes problematic however, if you startle someone, coming from their back & stabbing them with anti-racism rhetoric, with a list of re-framing statements to counter their refusal just in case.
But, it’s necessary, you might say.
Denouncing racism in the Filipino family context is not in question here. It’s whether you truly want to change hearts or prove yourself (the society) right in the moment. If you ask me, I rather take on a tempered passionate approach to a more sustainable, bite-able change.
In the theory of the anti-persuasion radar explains that when you are in a position to want to convince another person so bad, the radar to accept this new or different notion goes down for the other person. Basically, the more you want to blatantly confront an issue, the more blatantly you are rejected.
Since many traditional Filipinos were not raised to express their feelings where they’ll feel safe to do so. Confrontation feels like an unsafe place, a place of an attack.
If I were to use a oximeter (a machine to measure heart beat & oxygen- I use this in couples therapy) , I can tell you with almost certainty that a confronted traditional Filipino has the physiological response of being attack (raised heart beat, sweating…etc).
And when you take someone in this place, evolution tells us that one cannot listen. In fact, it’s not the time to listen because alarm goes off to signal fight or flight.
ADDRESSING RACISM-WHAT NOT TO DO
- Do not Confront.
As I mentioned before, confronting as if you’re ready to be in the battle ground geared up with your weaponry of re framing words, rarely work. Confronting does not always mean spearing with words. I prefer to use the word, dialogue.
In a dialogue, you ask more questions, you try to understand.
Why does this person think this way? Where have they been burned in their past? Why does this anti-blackness language seem to work out for them and what will be the cost to give it up?
When you discover a person’s roadblock(s), their fears, you speak to this fear instead. Allowing room for a change of heart. Many times, fear can be weakened by giving someone a new experience over & over again.
For example, if your mother sees a lot more news with Black people in it. Try inviting Black friends or placing her in position to meet more Black people that can give her an alternate experience.
2. Do not clean the stove while its Hot.
I understand that the work of fiery passion is to work instantly, right now. I can appreciate this as dormant feelings of complacency sometimes need this type of passion to prompt action. I honor colleagues who embody this zealousness. They do teach me valuable lessons and balance out my too reflective nature.
If you’ve ever had a stubborn debris of dirt collected through the years in a old but sturdy stove removing, cleaning the debris while it’s hot is probably not the best idea.
Sure, you can remove the debris but you can also get yourself burned, or leave scrapping marks on the stove that are nearly impossible to repair.
Cleaning the stove while its cold does nothing. The debris is as stubborn as can be and removing it will be a pain in the …you know what.
The perfect balance is to remove the debris while the stove is neither too hot nor cold but warm, I call this tempered passion. It works both for the stove & the debris remover. The timing is seamless.
During this time, the stove is saying “I’m ready to be cleaned” and the the debris remover responds, “perfect I’m ready to clean”. It’s during this balance where any scraping to the stove may still be abrasive but leaves nothing that cannot be repaired.
Treat your Filipino families like this stove. Strike to clean while it’s warm,
3. Do not use words”ANTI” anything.
There was this story about Mother Theresa during the atrocious Vietnam War & when she was asked to march against war, she refused. She stated though that if there was a march for peace, she will be there.
I know we are all a far cry from Holy Mother Theresa.
Using the language of anti-racism has its place & using it seems like drumming the loudest drum so that its echo cannot be ignored, within the family context of changing hearts, use the word FOR instead.
FOR social equity, FOR social justice. FOR peace.
In fact, many traditional Filipinos may have a hard time understanding the clear slogan of NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
The very use of anti-racism (anti-racist) brings the confronted to the edge. It is unlikely that you will change anything in them & they’ll probably choose to jump off the cliff rather than admit they’re racist or wrong.
If they jump off the cliff, you lose them and you lose any chance to change hearts.
No one wins.
If you simply want to create this tension by confronting your mom or uncle about their anti-Blackness rhetoric (which I hope is not your goal), you can do this anytime of the day with eyes closed.
But changing hearts take a bit of cultural finesse and empathy on how you wish to be confronted if the mirror was flipped.
4. Do not think you’re a clean slate.
Many Psychologists have studied implicit bias & its role in decision making & our reaction to either black or white subjects. The implicit association test (IAT) is free to take. With millions of test-taker samples, this test tells us that even when we consciously denounce racism, we may hold implicit biases that hold the opposite of what we hold true consciously. Whether we will act on it or not is up for further studies.
*There are researches on problems with the reliability of this test. As the Harvard disclaimer suggests, not all researchers are in agreement on the value of the IAT, or on its relevance and significance in terms of actual behavior.
Understanding this is to simply grapple with the human side of our vulnerabilities. We all have some isms we’re working on, whether it’s thinking that old people contribute less to society (ageism), thinking that women are less credible for leadership positions (sexism), or thinking that able-bodied people are more productive than disabled people (ableism) and many others.
When you think you are a clean slate whether on the topic of racism, you trek the path of righteousness, the very thing you were trying to confront- the freedom for others to be accepted regardless of–.
5. Do not rely on social media activists’ advice on how to interact with your own family.
Take activists as well-meaning aunties who wants to give you unsolicited advice about a boyfriend she’s never met.
I expected a number of family discord happening as the movement to: address racism in your family now (or never) mantra circulated. I can see that this may be an opportunity for a few people to have their minds changed, i don’t discount this & welcome any change in the positive direction especially in the name of social equity.
I was worried that many people may not have the support or the self-soothing capabilities after getting burned and scraping the stove while striking to clean it while it was very hot. I noticed that most people who advice these types of mantra are outspoken people with in tact emotional resources within them.
Not everyone has that resource.
Take heart and you can take some time addressing this issue.
6. Do not ask for big change.
Asking for big changes now rarely happens. Studies suggest that small changes lead to bigger impacts. Of course, we should expect this big change in our government but within our own family systems, asking for too much may mean- you get nothing.
The all or nothing aspiration is admirable- racist to no longer racist.
But these things do not happen overnight. When you have a dialogue with your loved one, be in a space where you understand (not agree) that holding onto what they know seem easier than changing it to a new one.
Point out gaps and capitalize on their character of wanting fairness for others (it may not be for black people yet) and use their own stories to ground them. You can say,
Ma remember when we were at the restaurant & you talked to the manager for talking down on this one lady? You didn’t like that did you. When I feel i’m struggling to be fair to others (humility), I remember this scene (capitalizing on their strength. Pointing gaps). Thank you for teaching me how to see others as an equal to me.
Was that easy for you to do? Ask questions and asks more.
7. Do not stop the dialogue.
By writing this post, I do not mean to stop you in your tracks in confronting the issue of racism in the Filipino family. In fact, I support this not as a confrontation but as an on-going dialogue.
It’s a very important subject to ask for a change for, the basic human justice relies in this fundamental “isms” that no one should be judged by simply the color of their skin.
Racism in the Filipino family exists due to ecological & historical threat to our nation & people. What was a deliberate move to gain favor and protect the young within the Filipino family members became an automatic response even when this historical threat no longer exists.
We must find a way to alter our stories, to update it to one that serves our current realities.
This cannot happen with confrontation that simply serve the “confronter.”
Changing hearts entail having a dialogue. A dialogue that prepares not for combat with words but for space to receive, to ask, to inquire, to understand…to be understood.
Striking to clean old debris can be achieved with the balance of warmth, finesse and tempered passion.
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