Dale Asis’ Personal Essay on race, racism, and Anti-Blackness Among Filipinos and Filipino Americans
“Naku, huwag kang pumunta doon. Maraming itim, nakakatakot.” (Don’t go there. Lots of blacks live there. It’s dangerous.)
“Ay ganda naman niya. Mukhang mestiza!” (Oh, she looks beautiful. She’s a mestiza.)
“Ay ayoko magpaitim. Ayokong pumangit” (I don’t want to get dark. I don’t like to be ugly.)
“Ay Intsik iyan. Nangungurat lang iyan.” (He’s Chinese. He’s just gonna take advantage you.)
I always hear many comments during family conversations. At first, I didn’t really give it much thought. But on a deeper level, these comments tell the real story of race and racism within the Asian American culture.
On May 29, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis, MN, after white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the street (New York Times, May 2020). In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Asian American activists and social justice organizations have made renewed calls for solidarity and allyship with Black communities. This is also an opportune time to reflect on the deeper notions of race and anti-Blackness among Filipinos and Filipino Americans (The Power of Colorism, Bayanihan Foundation, 2018).
These notions of skin color are rooted on our deep notions of anti-Blackness. They’re connected to what we believe of what is beautiful or ugly; of what is good or bad; or what is a safe or dangerous. These hierarchy of skin color and colorism runs deep in Filipino culture (History of colorism, June 2018). It is ingrained after hundreds of years of colonialism. Why do you think most Philippine stars are ‘mestizas’ and considered to be beautiful? How about the aisles of whitening creams in many stores?
How about the notion that Filipinos and other Asian Americans are the epitome of “good immigrants” and the “model minority”? Many of us have internalized this mentality, operating under the false assumption that being a “good” immigrant could help us assimilate into whiteness and align ourselves with white people (Model Minority Myth, National Public Radio, April 2017). This is a false narrative.
Since the end of World War II, many white people have used Asian-Americans and their perceived collective success as a racial wedge. The effect? Minimizing the role racism plays in the persistent struggles of other racial/ethnic minority groups — especially black Americans.
Most of my family thinks that we as Filipinos work harder than black Americans and that we embody better the American values of individualism and self-reliance. We internalized this “racial resentment,” a moral feeling that blacks violated these traditional American values of self reliance. We absolve ourselves from dealing with the complexities of racism (Donald Kinder and David Sears, ‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks, NPR, April 2017).
It will take a lot of work to untangle and eradicate this, acknowledging that we as Asian Americans face our own racism throughout history — including during the current COVID-19 crisis — but have also sometimes instigated anti-Black racism, as many activists and social justice organizations have pointed out in recent weeks of demonstrations (How Asian Americans Are Reckoning With Anti-Blackness In Their Families, HuffPost, June 2020). So let’s start this difficult conversation in our dinner tables and perhaps someday we would own our notions of anti-Blackness and start the process of healing and taking down systemic barriers of racism in our lives.