In front of a really f*cked up ad for some kind of skin whitener. (photo by k.ancheta)

In a family bathroom I recently found a bar of soap that featured “WHITENING EXTRACTS” (caps theirs), that would apparently “reveal the whiter skin that glows with health.”

Later that night Vince was asked “Why are you so dark?” by a well-meaning friend of a friend.

Sigh.

In the Philippines whiteness does often equal beauty.  This, of course, is no surprise revelation to most of you readers so I will spare you the usual outrage.  Instead I’d like to talk about why I think this is.

I’m very glad to hear my sisters and brothers in Canada speak of this problem as a problem.  It’s no longer uncommon for Filipinos/Filipinas in Canada to talk about the obvious colonial mentality that results in our people (as well as other people of colour) to equate their skin colour with their inferiority to those with less melanin.

It is a clear truth that the constant bombardment of Western, primarily American, media where White is best has a clear detrimental effect on us as a people.  Just look at the billboards here in Manila and you’ll see that only Caucasian and pale skinned Asians are used as models (on billboards that represent glamour and prestige at least—Pinoy faces are used for comic relief and other non-status ads).

But I personally feel that the discussion is incomplete.  I feel that in focusing on our colonial past, and our modern-day fixation on European/American culture and standards of beauty, that we ignore our collective Philippine-based causes to this issue.

Now DO NOT at any point think that I am dismissing or discounting colonial mentality, or modern-day neo-colonial influences to our culture.  Those of you who know me personally should know this is in no way the case.  I simply want everyone to consider that perhaps this isn’t the only reason dark skin is seen as negative in the Philippines.

I believe in individual responsibility, or in this case, national/racial responsibility [*I’m using ‘race’ as a sociological term].  I believe that while there are external forces at play that result this racial self-hate, there are also very powerful internal forces.

The Philippines today is a country divided.  It is a country of sharp contrasts within itself (as you know if you’ve been following our blog and what we’ve seen these past couple months).  It is a country where, for many, status is everything.

This is a country where 75% are landless peasant farmers and 1% are the large landlord elites.  In between there are the urban poor and the small middle-class.  Basically it’s a semi-feudal society.

So it’s a society where the vast majority are poor, and where everyone else wants not to be—and everyone doesn’t want to even appear to be.

Thus like in feudal medieval Europe, whiteness becomes associated with the lower classes.  And to be linked to the lower classes means not having access to the social capital associated with pale skin.

This preference to pale skin is not purely a link to the worship of the Caucasian physical ideal, in my opinion it’s a natural outcome in a society stratified in a feudal manner.  This can be seen throughout history, and across geographical divides.  Though of course this is again just one reason for this form of prejudice.

IMO, to argue that our White fixation is due to Western influence alone is to practice a warped form of self-hate without realizing it.  It’s as if to say we are not capable as a people to create internal prejudice on our own and that we had to be taught it by outsiders.  I disagree, just like I believe that we are fully the equal of other races in positive ventures, we are also fully equal in negative ones.

Whiteness IMO is not just about colonial mentality, it’s equally important to realize that there are internal political reasons for the obsession with paleness.

If we want to finally rid our people of this ridiculous preference for one end of the tonal range of skin, we have to solve our economic problems.  We have to find fairness in the obviously unfair system within the Philippines.  We have to value our farmers/fishers, and our workers, and our indigenous peoples.  This is what is of prime importance because this is what is within our powers.

So in a nutshell, that’s my POV on this.  I know a lot of you have opinions as well and I’d be curious to hear them.

A magazine store in Alabang. How many non-white faces do you see? Other than the asian female sex symbol stereotype of course.
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