Monday, September 22, 2008

The Philippines is a Nation full of Uncle Toms

While we were in the Philippines earlier this month, we were told to keep our 20 month old daughter out of the pool until after the wedding in which she'd serve as a flower girl.
I asked, "Why?"
"Soo dat she weel not git too dark!"
"What the hell is wrong with being dark?"
Then my ignorant mother chimed in, "Oh, don't worry, she'll be able to recover in the fall and winter."
How dare they impose such backward, third-world thinking on our young daughter!?! What kind of impact does this have on a whole nation, when its population of brown people are bombarded with such self-loathing messages from cradle to grave?
Every time I go to the Philippines, I am blown away by Filipinos' shame at their brownness, as evidenced by the vast expanse of whitening products at Mercury Drug and Watsons. And it's no longer enough just to be white, now Ponds has a new product that promises a "pinkish white glow". These companies are making a killing off of our people's self-loathing.
This is going to seem harsh, but it needs to be said: the Philippines will continue to be a filthy, backwards third world country with little to take pride in unless our people stop being ashamed of what we are: BROWN. Aspiring for whiteness consumes economic and emotional resources that would be much better focused on improving health, sanitation, infrastructure, fighting the abuse/trafficking of women, improving science and math education, OFWs and the social impact on their children, etc.

Until we stop being a bunch of Uncle Toms, we will lack the cultural self-esteem necessary to elevate our people to greatness. Speaking of which, check out this other photo: a chicken and ribs joint in Iloilo City, Philippines... For a bunch of people who don't want to be "itim" (black) , we seem to like soul food staples quite a bit.
It's worth noting that some of those whitening products contain mercury and/or lead. I'm not sure of the effects of mercury poisoning, but I do know that lead poisoning can lead to serious mental impairment. I guess that would explain why many Filipinos lack the mental capacity to vote for anyone other than their favorite actors and pop singers. And we thought American politics was entertaining!


Chris said...

I haven't fully understood the drive either. I happen to have very light skin, and the running joke is that I'm whiter than white. Some young lady, having met her the first time, says "Oh you have such white skin, I bet everyone's so jealous!"

My light skin is kindof annoying. I burn way too easily and I look like I'm sick half the time.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you and cancelled my subscription to TFC after finding that there are more mestiza looking filipinos on their programs than brown filipinos.

I was once told that my new-born daughter looked half-white as if it were a compliment or something, but I was offended since I am as brown as they come. And then they proceeded to act like they were offended since I didn't thank them profusely for such a supposed compliment.

Anonymous said...

"How dare they impose such backward, third-world thinking on our young daughter!?!"

It's not about classism & what you term, "third world thinking", brother. You have to ask yourself why some of our people impose what was imposed on us.

333 years of Spanish colonial rule.

47 years of US colonial rule, not including time served as a client state within the US sphere of influence.

Think about where it came from and aim your fury at those who taught us to hate ourselves and the system they propagated.

SoulSnax said...

Amen, Ka_Jun. I don't deny the fact that these are our influences. The media... ooh, I won't even go there, cuz I'd go on and on...

I do admit that "third world thinking" may not be the best term to use. But my hope is that the more I use the term "third world" to describe skin whitening and other such Uncle Tom behavior, the more disgusting it will feel to others. Because, I don't think enough people find skin whitening as disgusting as they should.

There comes a time when we've got to stop blaming others (colonizers, imperialists) for our own problems. There comes a time when we've got to be accountable for our own actions. There comes a time when we've got to stop sleepwalking. We can aim our fury at those who taught us how to hate ourselves all we want. But it won't bring us as far as it would had we focused on ourselves. You can't force others to respect you, but you can begin by respecting yourself.

And that's why I used such harsh words. We need to wake up, get angry, get calm, then get to work. We must be vigilant in protecting our children from such "third-world" thinking. Self-respect begins here. NOW.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. I'm Filipina-American, and I'm on the fair-skinned side. I have dark skinned Filipina friends who almost apologize for their skin color whenever we meet. I have three children - one extremely fair, one medium and one dark. People ALWAYS comment on how cute only the fair skinned child is, and I'm offended. Filipinos need to get over the self-hate and realize that brown is beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I totally hated the "Don't go outside! You'll get dark!" comment I got a lot while growing up. My daughter, who is a quarter caucasian does have light skin. I think there are plenty of things about her that are totally cute but when it comes to filipino gatherings, people always say she's cute because she is light skinned. So annoying and yes - backwards.

Anyway, excellent post. I wish I could make all filipinos read it.

Anonymous said...

i wrote a little about this very subject at kimchimamas.

sadly this issue is not limited to the philippines. this is a topic of concern for MANY people of color. though there is no fast and easy solution to this problem, there is hope - and it's in our hands.

sunnyday said...

Hi. I don't even know how to begin voicing out my agreement with the attitude many Filipinos subscribe to when it comes to skin color. I am a Filipino living in Manila, of Chinese descent, and my skin is light-colored. I work for a national magazine, and we've gotten flak from some big advertisers for putting brown-skinned babies on our cover (it's Baby magazine, after all) instead of Caucasian-looking ones. I, along with the rest of the editorial staff, are one in our belief that we are a Filipino magazine, therefore we should feature Filipino-looking babies in our publication, including the cover -- of course, without discriminating against mestiza/mestizo subjects. I think that preference is easy to understand.

At the same time, I'm aware that it's unrealistic to expect an overnight change in the mentality of people. Hence, we are doing things slowly -- getting a nice mix of babies to be cover material while still working to get the public used to the sight of brown-skinned babies, and making them look good (which is not a difficult thing to do -- they are all so cute!). I tell you, it is a balancing act. The good news is that we have been getting good feedback (the key is to get readers to email their feedback to us instead of just saying it), which is quite encouraging for us.

Four times a year, though, we are already assured of a mestiza/mestizo baby on the cover, courtesy of a nationwide baby contest held by the biggest department store chain here. Part of the prize is being on our cover. But the owners of that store (Chinese) prefer Caucasian features; hence, the winning babies reflect this preference, always.

This colonial mentality is deep-seated and will take a long time to be wiped out. But we do what we can to speed it up and help us Filipinos appreciate what is special about us instead of wanting to imitate others and be what we are not.

It's great I stumbled on this blog. Thanks for posting on this topic. Cheers!

sunnyday said...

Reading over what I just wrote, I realized my first sentence sounds as if I agree with the warped mentality of wanting to be fair-skinned. Sorry about that -- what I meant to say was that I agree with what you guys expressed about most Filipinos' attitude regarding skin color =)

Ed said...

Agree with everything you've brought up in the post - I just wish more Filipino bloggers had done a "collective WTF" about this issue sooner.

Anyway, I've heard similar sentiments traveling within Java and Bali, Indonesia. The situation is not as overt as it is in the Philippines, but in some ways, it's a bit more problematic.

They describe the skin tone of the majority of people as "hitam" (black), which it's surely not - it's a solid brown. But they continually say that they're "black" in a self-deprecating manner. And they do make a point that it's because they "stay out in the sun too much" - their main occupations (as farmers or other low-paid laborers, usually) require them to be outdoors for lengthy periods of time. Of course, this smacks of colorism and classism simultaneously.

For many Indonesians, the ideal "brown" is the color of langsat (or lansones to us Filipinos), which is somewhat yellowish. In fact, to be literally described as "kuning" (yellow) is the highest complement of beauty one can get. This also means that Indonesians of mixed heritage are regarded highly because of the higher possibility that they and their children will be "kuning".

Over here, of course, we'd say that you're "jaundiced".

White people of European descent, on the other hand, are described with the appellation (orang) bule: orang = 'man'; bule = an albino water buffalo calf. Not so flattering.

And people who are overly pale are described as "green" - as in physically ill.

Anonymous said...

I live in south San Diego, which houses one of the largest Filipino-American communities in the country. I'm a dark skinned Filipina-American and it irked me tremendously when my classmates would compare Eskinol products. Screw that. I've been made fun of for being dark skinned, but I've received just as many compliments for my golden brown complexion. In the past 10 years, I've actually seen the trend change to where young Filipina gals WANT to be tanned, which I love.

I've also met just as many Filipino men who love darker skinned girls. :)

Jo said...

I read this post with dismay. I'm Irish, and here, most of us are so white we glow a pale green. In the summer we go pink and the Irish on sun holidays are known to locals as 'lobster people'. When we burb bright red at the first hint of sunshine, people, especially of an older generation, say 'oh, you got a good colour'.

Horrified as I am at the thought of 'whitening products', we also the fake tan market afloat - all these attractive pale women are turning themselves orange.

Here are some celebrities. Imagine what the normal home-jobs look like.

Anonymous said...


Kababayan, my hesitance to embrace your construct of “third world thinking” stems from Rudyard Kipling and his ideas of the “White Man’s Burden” and “Little Brown Brother”. Let me be frank, I share your disgust about skin whitening and the self imposed self hating. In my opinion, a lot of the self hate stems directly from the ideas propagated by colonial thinking, turning Filipino-Americans against Pinoy from the RP, Tagalogs against Ilocanos, rich coños against the tao. To awaken minds, you have to break it down to people and teach them to love themselves, I don’t have a problem with you using inflammatory language to get your point across or to mobilize, but you can’t get to where people love themselves by falling into fallacious thinking where we set up a bipolar “civilized vs. uncivilized” argument. Slapping someone and tagging them with the label “sellout”, while getting their attention probably won’t get the outcome of self respect that we’re trying to instill. I’ve seen so called “first world thinking” thinking from second generation Pinoy, and it can be equally bad as so called “third world thinking”.

I personally think that language is key to ensuring that we prevent this type of self hate. There has to be a way to illustrate to our children that their culture and roots have inherent value and that assimilation is not a desirable outcome. Participating in our community’s social organizations (while ensuring that we limit and educate our kids about the reactionary things that involves, like a social preference for whiteness), actively working with our kids teachers to prepare them with how to deal with bilingual/multicultural kids. It’s a brutal uphill slog. We’ve only got one chance to do this properly with our kids, no do-overs.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure there's a better way to promote that brown is beautiful to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines without disparaging them for their lifestyle and mentality.

I understand your intention of wanting to incite for the purpose of change, but why is it that a lot of criticism against Filipino culture, behavior, way-of-life, etc., comes from Filipino-Americans living in the U.S.?

Yes, it bothers me that many Filipinos want to have light skin. It also bothers me that a lot of Filipinos who are poor spend their hard-earned pesos at Harrison Plaza buying stupid knick-knacks (including those skin-whitening products) instead of putting it in savings. And don't even get me started on the rampant corruption going on over there...

It's presumptious and arrogant for us to assume that our Brown brothers and sisters in the Philippines will rally behind us and cry, "Brown is beautiful! Down with white images of beauty!" This is not their cause, it's ours'. No offense, but this is something that middle-class, Asian-Americans, have the privelege of complaining about. And that's a good thing! Despite all the frustrations of being a minority here in the U.S., I would not trade it for a life in the Philippines, even a priveleged life over there. I love being an American.

But we have to remember that there is a perception that Filipino-Americans, having had the "privelege" of living outside the Philippines, are somehow better than their counterparts in the Philippines. And a lot of Filipino-Americans believe that way too. And that's why it looks bad when a Filipino-American disparages Filipinos or life in the Philippines when they're speaking from a totally different POV.

Lastly, IMO, I find it annoying when Filipinos get mocked for having a terrible accent when trying to speak English. Imagine how we must sound when we're trying to talk Tagalog and totally butchering it, or worse, speaking Taglish! But again, due to forces way bigger than us, a Filipino butchering English with his Filipino accent is not as "cute" as a Filipino-American butchering Tagalog with his American accent. Go figure!

Maci Miller said...

Wow, what a good blog. Just found you while on someone else's blog. We are adopting a little girl from Thailand and have been there many times. It's the same there. As a "white" American girl I was shocked to go to the drug store - admittedly looking for self tanner for a little "glow". I think it's a general rule that we all want what we don't have and yes the media doesn't help. What I found in Thailand was every skin product had skin lightening ingredients in them! We are going to be teaching our daughter to celebrate her beautiful skin and embrace who she is inside and out!

SoulSnax said...

davin's mom: I fail to see the problem with Filipino-Americans criticizing certain aspects of Philippine culture, especially since contemporary Philippine culture is diseased to the point of crippling the self-actualization of its own people. Yes, we Filipinos in the USA have a totally different POV, and (for the most part) it's the difference between being asleep and being awake, the difference between being drunk and being sober. And as such, we have an obligation to our people and to our culture to point out the negative implications of aspiring for whiteness.

After all, when a loved one suffers from substance abuse, isn't it the sober friends and family who seek to provide some sort of an intervention?

Regarding the perception of Filipino-Americans being perceived as "better" or superior than their counterparts in the Philippines... I've witnessed evidence of that notion, and it is unsettling.

Whenever I am in the Philippines, I try my darndest to not stick out as an American. That's why, when we are out in public (malls, shops, restaurants), I let my wife do all the talking. I might look Filipino, but no matter what I do, I'll never sound Filipino. When I have to speak, I speak as softly as possible.

But as soon as they can tell that I am an American, they immediately switch gears and act so much more deferential, practically becoming a bunch of slobbering ass kissers with no self-respect at all... I thought it was just me and my imagination until my brother in law pointed out how much it annoys him too. Just because I'm a Balikbayan, they feel the need to be so subservient!

The closest thing to that behavior I've seen here in the USA is in some areas of the deep South. My white friends would be walking down the street, and any (older) black men coming from the opposite direction would immediately step aside to let them pass. It's the most bizarre thing, and I know exactly where it comes from... a lack of pride in one's self... which is also the root cause of skin whitening in the Philippines.

SoulSnax said...


There's a specific reason why I've employed the use of a civilized v. uncivilized dichotomy. Filipinos are motivated by shame. Filipinos are ashamed of their brown skin, thanks to writers like Kipling, who implied that with whiteness comes civility. It is this shame that motivates Filipinos to spend millions of Pesos on skin whitening. I endeavor to leverage this insecurity to shift their object of shame away from their brownness, and onto their third-world thinking.

Filipinos aren't as ashamed of their third-world thinking as they need to be because it's more widely known as a "colonial mentality." Frankly, the term "colonial mentality" is not offensive enough. We need to co-opt the term "third world" by equating "third-world thinking" with attitudes and behaviors that result from the blind submission to a colonial mentality: skin whitening, copycat culture, and unconditional deference to white people.

Despite what Kipling may have implied, civility has nothing to do with whiteness. With the example set by our Asian neighbors, Filipinos should learn that civility is not tied to race, as other Asian nations have achieved a level of culture and civility that rivals and predates the ancient empires of europe.

Anonymous said...

SS, while I understand what you're saying, I feel that by using the nomenclature of first vs. third world, we fall into the trap of characterizing ourselves into stereotypes. Are the Mangyan, Ifugao, or Bontoc peoples "less civilized"? When I hear the term "third world", for me, it's inextricably linked to ideas of "Orientalism" noted by Said, the East being less than the West, Civilized vs. Uncivilzed, black vs. white. An interesting point is that while some other nations in Asia have been able to obtain a higher standard of living, they STILL have the skin whitening products, the welder's masks, the blepharoplasty. I guess I don't see the problem of using terms like institutional racism, racialism, white privilege, orientalism, colorism to describe these things. IMHO, using "third world thinking" takes the focus off race and puts the primary focus on economy/class, and when it comes to skin whitening, I think that first and foremost it has to do with racist thinking and self hate.

SoulSnax said...


I don't recall anyone referring to the Mangyan, Ifugao, or Bontoc people as less civilized. If anything we could learn a lot from them.

But I hear you. I totally do. Your concerns have always been mine as well.

But being polite and pedantic can only get you so far. Like I've said, we need a more offensive term for what has been referred to as "colonial mentality": institutional racism, racialism, white privilege, orientalism, colorism. Frankly, those terms are just not offensive enough to shake Filipinos out of their self-hating behavior. Besides, most Filipinos don't even know what those terms even mean.

We need a Filipino equivalent of the term "Uncle Tom" that's just as offensive, if not more so. With your help, maybe we can come up with such a term, perhaps referencing a well-known Filipino literary character. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I'm on the same page as you are when it comes to not following the idea of "the nail that sticks up, gets hammered down". Trust me when I say I know how the idea of pakikisama can sometimes work against us, and I agree that sometimes, you've just got to start some shit to advance your agenda, and it's not always going to be pretty. Your post has shown that people do feel strongly about this. As for a literary character, have you ever read the Noli and the Fili? I'm currently reading Hagedorn's "Dogeaters", I don't know of a literary character that has quite the same political charge as does Uncle Tom, I do think that I'm seeing signs in the community, as second & third generation Fil-Ams come of age, of aggressive political action and identity awareness that wasn't there, before. The only term I can think of, other than "sellout", is cono...which again, doesn't quite get the flavor you seem to be going after. For me, "colonial" gets that across, but I'm sure not in the same way Uncle Tom does for the AA community.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! I just recently wrote a piece on "Being Brown" and loved that I found this. Very, very great writing!

Anonymous said...

its not just a phillipines thing...or an east asian be frank, its worldwide. it's in asia. it's in africa. people bleach their skin to appear whiter.

SoulSnax said...

Yes Anonymous, we all know it's not just in the Philippines. That's one of the most common responses to any criticism about the Philippines. "Yes, the Philippines is among the most corrupt. At least it isn't the most corrupt." or "Yes the Philippines is poor, and people are hungry, and the children don't have access to good education. At least it isn't Africa. Africa is worse." "At least the Philippines isn't the worst." "It's not the only one."

Those responses are pointless because the fact that these things take place in other countries DOESN'T make it okay. It's still wrong. Imagine an Olympic athlete saying, "Oh, too bad I didn't get a bronze medal, but at least I'm not in the Special Olympics." Comparing oneself to those who are worse off to justify complacency doesn't bring positive results.

Anonymous said...

Des Nachts am Mississipi sieht man die Kreuze brennen, und so manches dreckige Negerschwein um sein Leben rennen

Der Ku-Klux-Klan regiert dieses Land. Trägt die Fahne fest in der Hand. Unbändiger Stolz, eine weiße Nation.

Die totale weiße Revolution

Sie hassen jede Rasse, die nicht weiß ist. Nicht stolz, nicht arisch rein.

Sie hassen jeden Weißen, der nicht stolz ist. Nicht stolz weiß zu sein

Ein Mann in roter Robe empfindet töten ohne Reue. Und an seine weißen Brüder schwört unerbitterliche Treue.

Der Ku-Klux-Klan regiert dieses Land. Trägt die Fahne fest in der Hand. Unbändiger Stolz, eine weiße Nation

Die totale weiße Revolution.

Sie hassen jede Rasse, die nicht weiß ist. Nicht stolz, nicht arisch rein.

Sie hassen jeden Weißen, der nicht stolz ist. Nicht stolz weiß zu sein.

Mit Wut im Bauch, Hass im Blick, die Fäuste sind geballt. So stehn sie ihren Feinden gegenüber bis es der letzte schnallt

Der Ku-Klux-Klan regiert dieses Land. Trägt die Fahne fest in der Hand. Unbändiger Stolz, eine weiße Nation.

Die totale weiße Revolution

Sie hassen jede Rasse, die nicht weiß ist. Nicht stolz, nicht arisch rein.

Sie hassen jeden Weißen, der nicht stolz ist. Nicht stolz weiß zu sein.

Sie hassen jede Rasse, die nicht weiß ist. Nicht stolz, nicht arisch rein.

Sie hassen jeden Weißen, der nicht stolz ist. Nicht stolz weiß zu sein.

Mit ganz feindlichen Grüßen

En schwarzer Neger grabbelt auf einen Bananenbaum, und ich steh daneben und schau dem Neger zu.

Dann säg ich den Ast ab, auf dem der Neger sitzten tut.

Dann fällt er runter, dann fällt er runter.

Und schon ist mitm Neger ruh, dschickebuh!

Mit ganz feindlichen Grüßen