Racism is a big issue in other parts of the world, such as in America and Europe. Not so much here in the Philippines though. But just because it’s not widely talked about doesn’t mean it does not exist.
“Are Filipinos racist?” is a question a lot of Filipinos would answer no to. After all, we are known to be hospitable to foreigners who come here. At times, we even feel like we are often the victims of racism especially when we see stories in the news about our kababayans being maltreated abroad. But looking deeper into our culture would say something different.
Hints of racism in Filipino media?
When I was young, I remember how often I heard the song “Butse Kik” by Yoyoy Villame on the radio. It’s a parody song to the tune of Dee Dee Sharp’s “Baby Cakes”. The lyrics of “Butse Kik” was made to sound Chinese, but is in fact just gibberish. Although the song isn’t meant to be racist, it has been used many times to make a mockery out of Chinese people, often in tv shows or in neighborhood banters. A playful tease as I recall.
Comedy shows would also put up stereotypical characters of foreigners goofing around in the most uninspiring manner. One popular character is “DJ Bumbay”, a Hindu salesman portrayed by Michael V in a hit TV program called Bubble Gang. DJ Bumbay mirrors the Hindu-Indian immigrant who sells faulty items door-to-door and offers loans with high interests. I must admit that I still laugh at this whenever I see it. I would classify this as just something playful and nothing as serious as the racism in America. I guess by looking at it that way it makes it permissible. But this can go a bit too far.
Foreigners experiencing disrespect in the Philippines
Sometimes our playfulness can go too far. One night, I was walking in P. Burgos in Makati City. It’s a known place for foreigners to visit for the nightlife. While waiting for a taxi in front of a convenience store, I happen to notice one black man, who I assume was an African-American based on his accent, was talking to a Filipino local. I was eavesdropping on their conversation and I realized that they weren’t friends and just happened to bumped into each other and progressed with some small talks. The black man wasn’t the stereotypical “yo-yo-wazzup” kind of guy we see portrayed in American media. He spoke eloquently and was well mannered in his gestures. But as their conversation went on, the Filipino started to ask weird questions. He started asking the foreigner if he knew LeBron, and then followed up another question if he knew Kobe Bryant, and then if the knew Michael Jordan, and then Usher, and then James Brown, and then Mike Tyson, then 50 Cent, then so on and so on. I was looking at the foreigner and noticed the awkwardness from him playing along with the Filipino’s strange questions. I can see he was trolling him based on we know what. But that awkward experience is nothing compared to Elayne Peddy’s story which she calls “the worst holiday” in her life.
Elayne Peddy is a British woman who vlogs about makeup, fashion, and lifestyle. She went to El Nido in Palawan Philippines for a vacation in 2016. But instead of having a joyful holiday, she experienced all kinds of harsh ridicule from Filipinos. The locals teased her for being black, her body frame, and looks.
She shares her nightmare experience while holding back her tears in her video. She was called horrendous names and often was pointed at and laughed at for her looks.
Colorism: Racism’s baby in the Philippines
Whitening soaps, creams, medications, and products are in big demand in the Philippines. You can find these things at the grocery, pharmacies, and shops that specializes in skin-whitening. This is a clear indication that many Filipinos are not proud of having dark brown skin, especially the women who are mostly the consumers of these products. It is as if having a dark skin is a curse.
There have been plenty of times when my friends wouldn’t want to go out in the sun in fear of their skin getting darker. Even in conversations it’s normal to hear people say things like:
- “mas maputi naman ako kesa sa kanya” (at least i’m whiter than her)
- “ang itim-itom niya!” (he’s so dark!)
- “huwag tayo diyan sa may araw, baka umitim tayo” (let’s avoid the sun, we might go dark)
- “anong gamit mo pang paputi?” (what do you use to whiten your skin?)
Historians and sociologists would explain that this kind of colorism stemmed from the racism Filipinos experienced during the Spanish colonial times when there was a social hierarchy imposed by the Spanish colonial government based on people’s race. The darker skinned people, who were also the most native, were at the bottom of that social hierarchy.
But in my opinion, Filipinos wanting to have whiter skin is really just a culturalized vanity and not something we can blame the Spanish for. Spain’s grip over the Philippines has been gone for over 100 years now. Nobody speaks Spanish anymore and there are only 2% of the population today who has direct Spanish blood from that colonial period. We could say that K-Pop has more influence to Filipinos these days than Spain.
It’s a culturalized vanity because Filipinos normalized glorifying lighter skin and normalized ridiculing darker skinned people. They see white skin as the “it” trend. If you don’t have it, you’ll fall behind.
I’d argue that if having black skin becomes popular, Filipinos would find ways to darken their skin in a heartbeat. Apparently, skin color is part of fashion in the Philippines.
In general, Filipinos are not racist
Hating another person just because of their race is not ingrained in Filipino values. Racism stems from the fear of not knowing a person and hatred is taught. But Filipinos do not fear foreigners nor do we teach our children to hate. We might show curiosity and playful teasing, but by no means do we use race as a basis to glorify ourselves or to belittle others.
We do recognize differences in appearances and culture. We adopt what we like from other’s culture, and forget what we don’t. We lack originality. And so the average Filipino needs to be exposed to other races to find himself.