People ask me why Cambio & Co. has dedicated so much of our platform to speaking about Black Lives Matter. After all, we’re a fashion company, right? We create livelihood for Filipino artisans in the Philippines, and we celebrate Filipino/a/x heritage and culture. What right do we have to speak about anti-Blackness?
To this I respond that it’s not only our right as Filipinos to speak up. It’s our moral obligation.
As the political activist Angela Davis said, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
To be anti-racist means to be active. We have to actively seek new information outside our comfort zones to learn, unlearn, and continuously check ourselves. We have to call out injustice when we see it in our workplaces, our schools, our friend circles, and, perhaps most difficult of all, our families.
Facing Our History: Anti-Blackness From A Filipino Context
Anti-Blackness is ingrained into Filipino culture, and it’s no wonder why.
During Spain’s violent colonial rule in the Philippines for 333 years, Spain instilled a racial hierarchy which afforded legal and social powers to those at the top, and systematically disenfranchised those in the bottom.
People of pure Spanish ancestry born in Spain (known as the Peninsulares) were at the top of the Casta system, and descending categories were assigned based on the mixing of the races.
The term Filipino, for example, was initially applied only to people of pure Spanish descent who were born in the Philippines. The term Mestizo de Español was applied to people of mixed Spanish and Malay ancestry, an Indio was a person of pure Malay ancestry, and Negrito was a person of pure Aeta ancestry (assigned purely on the colour of their skin).
Your place in the racial hierarchy determined where you could live, work, and how much tax you paid. The blancos (whites) paid no tax and lived within the walled city Intramuros. Meanwhile, the Chinese population paid four times the base tax and was forced to live in the Parián, a region outside Intramuros on which the Spanish had their cannons pointed and within range (is it any wonder the Philippines is also wildly anti-Chinese?). This colonial caste system was in place until the Philippines gained independence from Spain in 1898, in which the term ‘Filipino’ was then applied to everyone regardless of racial ancestry.
However, it’s not hard to imagine what 300 plus years of racial segregation and blatant White supremacy can do to you. I realize now that each time we repeat, “mixed babies are beautiful” we’re reinforcing the same anti-Black casta system that was forced upon our ancestors.
And even once the Philippines gained independence from Spain, the anti-Blackness didn’t end there. We were literally handed from one colonizer to another.
I've been following how #antiBlackness has been discussed on twitter by those in the #Philippines and #Filipino America. One thing I'd like to emphasize is how anti-Filipino racism is not just related, but overdetermined and conditioned by #antiBlack discourse. A THREAD— Allan E. S. Lumba (@uglyhistories) June 8, 2020
The USA and the Philippines have had a long and complicated history fraught with racism and violence.
According to Allan E.S. Lumba, an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech, anti-Filipino sentiment in the U.S. wasn’t just rooted in racism. It was rooted specifically in anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
Lumba references a paper by Paul Kramer, who identifies the Philippine-American War as a “race war.” In his paper, Kramer quotes U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. In a speech, President Roosevelt justified the ongoing war with the Philippines as not only a matter of “honouring the American flag”, but also as “the triumph of civilization over forces which stand for the black chaos of savagery and barbarism.”
Filipinos were depicted as savages and “black devils”, evidenced by the violently racist imagery that appeared during the war between 1898-1902. Many of the anti-Filipino propaganda at the time also used the n-word and anti-Black caricatures.
Lumba writes, “Articulating anti-Filipino racial and colonial relations through anti-Blackness was not limited to the Philippine American War but also conditioned the lives of Filipino migrants in the settler ‘mainland’ US.”
In the 1920s and 1930s, Filipinos living in the U.S. ‘mainland’ were categorized as “colored” (the code for Black), and experienced mob violence and lynchings. The podcast Long Distance Radio dives into the history of Stockton, California’s Little Manila and its troubling past.
The conclusion: Racism has evolved, but it never left. And it certainly stayed with us Filipinos.
Confronting Our Internalized Racism
In my opinion, the fact Black folks are being brutalized and deeply oppressed should be enough for any of us to act and speak up. It shouldn’t have to take our own oppression to make us care about others' freedom.
But it’s important nonetheless for us to acknowledge how anti-Black racism has been used to oppress us over centuries. And of course this has a major impact on our collective psyche. Our traumas run deep and across generations.
The term colonial mentality refers to internalized racism and self-hate. It’s when we, as the group of people who are being oppressed, begin to adopt ideas, beliefs, actions and behaviours that support the racism being used against us. Read this reference here.
The “imported is better mentality” and loathing towards Philippine-made products is one example of how internalized racism manifests itself in Filipino culture. That many of our parents taught us English instead of our native Philippine language is another. Not to mention our culture’s obsession with skin whitening products.
And this is how we as Filipinos can become complicit to the racist systems that actively oppress us.
Think of the model minority myth. As Filipinos, we’re told that we’re hard workers, we’re polite, we don’t complain, we’re good employees. Companies love to hire us because we behave and don’t make trouble.
We’ve happily bought into the idea that, as minorities, Filipinos and Asians are “the good ones”. However if we’re the good ones, this automatically implies that there are “bad” minorities.
We distance ourselves from those groups because we fear being attached to them. Growing up, our parents tell us to stay away from the Black kids because they’re a bad influence. Our Titas and Titos warn us that “those ones” are lazy criminals, drug addicts, and troublemakers. We’re taught to fear Black people.
Rather than look deeper into the systemic problems that plague many Black and Brown communities, we tell ourselves things like “if they only worked hard like we do, they’d be fine” and “We did it, they can too.”
White supremacy wins by pitting minorities against one another. And because we happen to have gained the favour of those in power (aka. White folks) we’re happy to play along as one of the “good ones.” We live in a proximity to Whiteness which brings us power and privilege, while distancing ourselves from other minority communities.
But think of the ways we reject Blackness and Black people in our families, yet we embrace Black music, art, and Black culture.
Justine Abigail Yu writes, “As a community, we pick and choose the parts of Black culture we like, the parts that we deem to be ‘cool’. The parts that elevate our own social status and boost our own appearances. But we actively dismiss all other parts of the Black experience that do not serve us.”
The truth is - you can both be the target of racism and still benefit from and contribute to racism.
If that sentence feels strange to you, I suggest you sit with it and let those questions and feelings come.
Then, when you’re ready, come back here and keep reading.
What Does Anti-Blackness Look Like In Our Families?
There are countless ways anti-Blackness shows up in our families; some insidious, others more obvious. Part of the process of moving towards racial justice and healing is to first identify the problems, name them, and begin to unpack them.
We asked our Cambio community to share their experiences and what anti-Blackness looks like in their families.
You can share your experiences in the blog comments below or head to our Instagram to see the full conversation thread.
How Do You Call Out Anti-Blackness? Experiences From The Cambio Community
Once you identify anti-Blackness and its various forms, how do you actually go about addressing it? How do you call out or call in loved ones who have hurt us?
I’ll preface all this by telling you now: there’s no good answer to this. No matter what you do or how gently you phrase things, bringing up race and our implicit racism is going to be difficult. It’s going to be messy and uncomfortable. You’re going to offend people and potentially burn friendships. I speak from personal experience.
But I hope you know that you are not alone in this. We’re in this fight together because it will take all of us to dismantle White supremacy and fight for justice.
We asked our Cambio community to share their experiences speaking up within their families and what they’ve learned.
Is there something that resonates with you?
Resources And Advice To Help You Speak Up
- Send A Letter To Your Family: Sometimes speaking through a letter is easier than a verbal dialogue. Letters For Black Lives is a crowd-sourced project helping Asian-Americans discuss issues of Anti-Blackness and police violence with our families. They’ve translated versions of the letter in multiple languages, including Tagalog.
- Continue To Educate Yourself: Confronting our implicit biases and unlearning colonial mentality is a lifelong process. We strongly recommend you prioritize resources by Black writers, activists, and educators FIRST (Rachel Cargle's The Great Unlearn is an excellent place to start). Once you're ready, we suggest you also check out these Filipinx-specific resources created by our friend Justine Abigail Yu. Click here to access.
- Plant Seeds & Be Consistent: Change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of feeling the stress of having to convince people, think of your role as planting seeds. You’re planting new ideas into your loved ones, and you have to water those ideas consistently. Speak up every time you witness injustice or anti-Blackness. It may surprise you how much people can grow with time and consistency.
- Practice Calling In Instead of Calling Out: None of us were born woke and we need to help each other be better. There are situations when a person’s behaviour is toxic, harmful, or gaslighting, in which you have no choice but to call a person out loudly and clearly. For most of the people we love, however, it’s more effective to call them in gently and to give them opportunities to grow. Speaking up is always hard, but it can also be gentle.
- Give yourself grace: Be kind to yourself. It’s better to show up imperfectly than to not show up at all. Rest when you need to, but don’t stop. We need you and your voice. Thank you for being here.