Racism in the Philippines

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There is extensive and pervasive racism in the Philippines. I'm not a Filipino myself but a Black American who has lived in the Subic area for more than three years. As an outside observer I can speak on this impartially. Also, I have experienced racism most of my life so I am quite good at spotting it.

Actually, this is not racism in its purest form. Filipinos are not so much discriminating on the basis of race as much as mere skin tone. Philippine society is very much segregated by skin color. The paler your skin the greater the level of success is available to you. Likewise, dark skin is a fast ticket to the bottom. Another writer on this topic comments on the fact that most of the idols of Philippine music and cinema are fair-skinned with sharp, European features. I noticed that myself. Further, most of the dominant families in politics are disturbingly pale skinned.

Historically, this traces back to the Spanish occupation. The wealthiest, most powerful Spaniards who came to the islands were pale skinned Castillians. During their time in control of the archipelago they vigorously spread their gens among the brown skinned natives. The lighter offspring of these pairings received higher social status and even became eligible (worthy) of marriage. Soon, an even paler generation of native Filipinos emerged. These were born to privilege and lived in the big hacienda bearing the name of legitimacy, their father's name.

The brief decades of American governance did little to change these embedded patterns as America was equally segregated by skin color. Filipinos adjusted to some degree as the Civil Rights Movement eventually lead to a degree of equality for Blacks in America. The Viet Nam War brought a large independent, strong Black men to the islands. Eventually, Black enclaves grew up around the bases where Filipinos freely mixed with Blacks.

This brings us to modern Filipino society. It remains very conscious of color, promoting the lighter skin above all. Virtually every product in the country contains skin-whitening ingredients. Women walk around on sunny days huddled under an umbrella afraid to tan. They go to the beach in long pants and shirts for the same reason. This also explains the fact that natives of tropical islands do not know how to swim!

I had to deal with a confused population during my time in the Philippines. On the one hand I was perceived as a wealthy foreigner. An American who could open the door to citizenship, higher education and life in America. On the other hand I was dark skinned. I had Filipinos who could not earn as much in a year as I do in a week still looking down on me (metaphorically) because of my skin tone. I say metaphorically because at 6'2" I was taller than 99% of the population.

Yes, the Philippines has racism. However, they will never solve the problem until they first acknowledge the problem. Unfortunately, one of the traits of Spanish Catholic cultures is to deny any faults and to become angry and defensive if somebody points them out. That perhaps is the biggest difference between American and Filipino cultures. We face our faults and act to eliminate them.

More about this author: Morgan Johnson

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