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Philippine racism

Philippine racism
by Manuel L. Quezon, Jr.

The Philippine Graphic magazine
November 2, 1966

Many Filipinos still believe the “white” man is superior to the “brown” man.

THE stresses and strains which any structure can undergo and still survive are limited. The limits may be very broad but they are there.

Society is a kind of structure and, like other structures, has a limited capacity for survival. A society does not fly apart the way a mechanical structure –a machine– may fly apart if made to operate beyond its design limit.

When Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of the West, he described what he thought was the downfall of Western society as being like the slow sinking of a ship. The ending of a society may also be conceived of along the lines of a building crumbling, or a steel structure gradually being corroded by rust. However, a society can be split.

The United States was almost permanently split in two pieces, or possibly more, by the American civil war. In standard histories (which are today being questioned by some historians) the causes blamed for the civil war are: increased Federal centralization of power as against States’ rights, and the question of slavery.

Whatever the real or ultimate reason may have been, the fact remains that for a period of four years, the American national society was actually broken in two, the United States of America and the Confederate States, and the breach was healed through a process of conquest and reincorporation.

A hundred years after the end of the civil war, it was made clear, during the struggle for Negro rights, that the southern Confederate mentality has not been laid to rest as completely as the world and the Americans themselves thought.

However, while the structure of American society was not strong enough at the time of the civil war to prevent a temporary split, today it is inconceivable that American society could again break apart. Its structure was too weak in relation to the stresses it had to undergo in 1861, it is far too strong today for any stress –short of armed conquest and forcible dismemberment– to tear it apart.

The United States was less than a hundred years old as a nation at the time of the civil war, more than a hundred years of existence as a people since then have given the necessary, and more than necessary, strength to the national structure to resist any stresses successfully.

The American case has been cited –there are others.

Let us consider the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which existed for a much longer period of time than the United States has up to now. The Empire was divided up at the end of World War I into its component parts.

The United States and the Confederate States might very well have grown together into one nation again even had the Confederacy won the civil war. The former components of the Austro-Hungarian Empire have shown no tendency to grow back into one. Apparently, there was no process of formation of a true national consciousness, which would survive divisive forces. The various peoples constituting the Empire retained a sense of separate identity despite their unification under the Emperor.

All this may seem irrelevant to any discussion of the Philippine national structure. It is not, at least not entirely.

Although our consciousness of being Filipinos is apparently quite strong, our consciousness of being Ilocanos or Tagalogs or Bicolanos or Visayans or from the Muslim areas is still very much in the forefront of our minds.

It was Rizal who expressed the belief that the Filipino national consciousness arose only with the execution of Fathers Burgos, Gomes, and Zamora in the 1870s. Assuming that Rizal was correct, that means a national consciousness less than a hundred years old, of which only 20 have been uninterruptedly under a politically independent government.

To make matters worse, American and other foreign influences have so strongly overshadowed our independent national life that –to me, at any rate– it is not limpidly clear whether or not the colonial mentality is advancing or regressing.

We are conscious of being a people, yes, but are we conscious of being a free, independent people? Some material instances may lead us to doubt.

For example, when a car stops to pay at the tollgate approaching Baguio, the rider’s eye is met by a sign enumerating the vehicles exempted from paying the toll. The vehicles belonging to the Armed Forces of the United States are listed ahead of the vehicles belonging to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, I wonder how many have even noticed, and of those who have, how many have reacted with disgust, or at least displeasure?

The vestiges of the colonial mentality –if we wish to call it that– may be looked upon by those who give it any thought at all as being of minor importance, something that will disappear with time and of its own accord, as it were. In my judgment, this is a mistake.

The colonial mentality constitutes a weakness in the structure of our national society which we can ill afford.

A good deal of legislation has been passed, such as the nationalization of the retail trade, which is intended to make the Filipino master in his own house. But will that automatically make him feel master of his own house? I doubt it.

However, I do not intend to discuss the means of eliminating the colonial mentality as a whole. I intend here to point out a strange defect in the structure of our society, which is intimately bound with the colonial mentality. It adds to the weakening of our society and thus threatens it. Each weakness may not of itself give cause for concern, but, taken together with others may erode our society and cause it to crumble.

I have discussed in my Filipino article, “Mga Panganib ng Bayan” (in two parts, Graphic Pilipino, Oct. 19 and 26), the three great dangers to our society –extreme economic imbalance, a collapse of morals, and the loss of faith and principles. Ultimately –and, for that matter, very immediately– the three are interrelated, since the present extreme economic inequalities and the collapse of morals can be attributed to only one thing –the loss of faith and principles. Otherwise, we could never allow such an economic situation or a breakdown in morals. I shall not discuss the matter here, except to point out that the three together are quite sufficient to end our existence as a stable national society.

Our national cohesion is also weakened by a very strange manifestation of the colonial mentality –racism. It is of course not the Nazi type of racism. Truly colonial, it is a racism in reverse.

When we read of racial disturbances in other lands, we are justly indignant, we are being more than a little absurd when we have feelings of self-righteousness as a result. It is wicked and stupid enough for one people to look down on another, it is more stupid for a people to look down on it itself, to do both. And that is exactly what we do.

Do we look down on others for reasons of race? As a rule, I do not think we explicitly argue that the Mongoloid and Negroid races are inferior –although I have had the shocking experience of hearing some Filipinos do so.

However, remarks derogatory of Negroes and Mongoloids –Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc.– are so common that they indicate very clearly a racial turn of mind. It is wicked and stupid in one way of another, it weakens man and man’s activities. But the weakening effect on our social structure is not so immediate and it is the latter which concerns us here.

Our looking down on ourselves is a different matter. Do we look down on ourselves? Let us see.

From the standpoint of beauty, what do we consider a handsome man or a beautiful woman? Filipino features and Filipino coloring –a good, healthy brown– never attract admiration among us.

A light-skinned man or woman with Filipino features will be called, respectively “simpatico” or “simpatica.” A dark-skinned person with more or less good Caucasian feature may be called good-looking kaya lang maitim.

A fair-skinned person with mediocre or rather good Caucasian features will immediately be called maganda. It is still common to hear “mestizo” used as a synonym for good-looking. “Ay, mestizong-mestizo” is supposed to be a compliment.

Our movie-idols –excepting the comedians, of course, who are not expected to be good-looking– are really all mestizo types, light-skinned.

Leopoldo Salcedo was in his day a notable exception, since he was dark, but his features, particularly his high nose, had a strong Caucasian cast.

Why, it is almost necessary not to look like one’s own countrymen in order to be considered good-looking by them!

Apart from the situation and examples cited above, we abound in remarks which indicate the same frame of mind.

It is common enough to hear people say that so-and-so looks like a houseboy or maid or lavandera or driver. The implication is that people in those occupations –perfectly honorable, let me protest with vehemence and considerable indignation– have, as a rule, Filipino coloring and features and are, therefore, according to that stupid frame of mind, ugly.

Which brings us to a peculiar racial in economic-social observation: features and coloring are often connected with social and economic position and possibilities. There is a clear tendency for this situation to disappear but it is definitely still with us.

We have been accustomed to linking menial stations in life with the average Filipino appearance and upper stations with Spanish or Chinese mestizo types. The explanation seems to be that such used to be the case generally. While it is not necessarily so today, the thought lingers. It would not be so bad if it were only the thought without practical consequences. But such is not the case. At least, I seem to observe certain things which indicate that such is not the case.

I already pointed out how it seems impossible to crash into the world of Filipino movies unless one fits in with the popular prejudices regarding good looks. Receptionists and other office personnel seem to be selected also with more than a mere glance in the direction of our social preconceptions.

More and more I think I notice the same process at work in the more expensive restaurants, night clubs, stores, etc., although the process is, naturally, less rigorous.

Still, it is disturbing to think that, possibly, someone who needed the job just as badly or even worse may not have gotten it because of his more definitely Filipino appearance.

Which brings me to the last observation I wish to make on the subject: I believe we generally expect the less average-looking Filipino to be more intelligent than the rest. This is a much more subtle mental connection and much more difficult to prove, but I think it is there. If it is there –and I believe it is– it is a sign that we consider ourselves to be less intelligent as a race than lighter skinned ones. This of course reaches the heights –or the depths– of absurdity.

If someone has a preference for one type of features rather than another, he can always plead that beauty is after all, relative and a matter of individual taste, however that taste may have been formed. He has a point at least and, as long as he does not allow it to influence him to the point of being unfair to others because of their inherited appearance, it is not so bad.

Scientific Studies Disprove Theory of Racial Superiority

To link intelligence and/or ability with race and the mixture of race is an entirely different matter. This is a case of plain and simple irrationality.

All scientific studies have shown that the various races are equal in intelligence and potentialities. The United States being a welter of races, it seemed the ideal testing ground for theories of racial superiority and inferiority.

During World War I, those who enlisted in the armed forces were given tests. The man who devised the tests concluded from the results that at last it had been scientifically proven that the so-called white race was superior. The same man, years later, restudied the question and had the scientific integrity to announce publicly that the tests had, after all, failed to prove anything because decisive factors had not been taken into consideration.

Racism Becomes Barrier to Progress and National Unity

All subsequent scientific research has shown that the human races are equal in intelligence and potentialities. There are highly intelligent, mediocre, and dull persons belonging to every race and they are so, not because they belong to a particular race but because of factors independent of race.

The so-called intelligence tests are really indices of intelligence plus education plus a host of other factors, of which, very definitely, race is not one. There are superior and inferior individuals, superior or inferior as to intelligence, talents, achievements, virtues and so on, and these are scattered among all races -there are no superior or inferior races.

This is the firm conclusion of scientific anthropology and other sciences which study man.

Our surviving tendency, therefore, to consider Caucasians as superior to us in intelligence by the mere fact of their being Caucasians is outrageous. Our tendency to be impressed by those who have Caucasian blood in their veins and to take it for granted that they are more intelligent than the Filipino free of such mixture would be funny were it not so disgusting.

Fortunately, in business, government, the arts and sciences, and the professions, competition has gotten so stiff that the alleged superiority of foreign or mixed blood is getting to be a negligible factor –no one can afford to allow such belief to get in the way of getting capable people. But it is still there in a good number of cases.

The importance of the Filipino version of racism lies in this –it weakens the bond uniting Philippine society into a cohesive whole. It easily leads us to overlook possibilities in people just because of their appearance or descent. It leads us to have an almost servile attitude toward Americans and Europeans.

It leads us to be less self-confident as a people, for how can a people be truly self-confident when it believes that it is, by and large, condemned to inferiority by Nature.

How can our society reach the level of social cohesion which it otherwise could have if the members practice or feel discrimination against each other? How can that baneful influence on our national life –the colonial mentality– vanish when we continue to indulge one of its strongest bases –the belief conscious or unconscious, that we are by nature inferior to others?

A sense of inborn inferiority can only lead to a diminishing of the drive which we so badly need in order to attain that truly dynamic national life which alone can enable the Philippines to survive and progress in the midst of the difficulties we face. As was pointed out earlier, although the smaller individuals weaknesses of the structure of our society may taken separately, be of little importance and have little effect, when they are all taken together they favor decay of our society.

The particular case of our variety of racism, productive as it is of a weakening of unity and mutual regard and esteem, is certainly an added danger.

It is time we eliminated it by educating in the minds of our people and changing their attitudes, not by adopting a pugnacious or haughty spirit, which would only be an inverted complex and would leave that complex basically untouched, but by making them –all of us– realize the truth that we are all Filipinos, that as a people we have no inborn inferiority, that we have the same inborn potentialities as other people, that what we are and what we shall become depends under God, on what we make of ourselves.

Turn the glaring light of truth on racism and show it for what it is –a harmful myth.

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  1. Nino Gonzales

    Hello, Mr. MLQ3. Just wondering if you have written your own piece on Philippine racism (I couldn’t find any in this blog using your search). After more than 40 years, do you think the situation still the same? Did the nationalist POV’s of Agoncillo and Constantino, the imposition of the national language, and the songs of Florante level the playing field for the brown man? Does whiteness/darkness still count? Here’s what I observe:
    showbiz – whiteness still counts
    corporate world – it never counted (except perhaps in the soriano companies of old; i don’t know about the chinese owned ones of today; perhaps nepotism; but racism?)
    entrepreneurship – it never counted
    politics – browness is a plus (if you are a guy)
    being a pretty girl – basing on the sales of whitening soaps, it seems to count a lot (yeah, the thing’s really unfair for filipinas)

    I drifted into this topic since I was sort of examining my own race and class prejudices recently:

  1. Filipino Revolutions « massthink

    [...] article by Quezon, Jr. (Quezon III’s father) on the Filipino colonial mentality I mentioned above. Some insighting paragraphs: Although our consciousness of being Filipinos is [...]

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