Are Filipinos racists like Trump?

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Greg B. Macabenta

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According to critics, President Donald Trump is not just a racist, he is also a barefaced liar and a coward who doesn’t have the cojones to admit his spiteful attitude towards people of color. This biting criticism follows Trump’s denial that he had referred to African nations, as well as Haiti — all predominantly populated by blacks — as “shit-hole countries.”

While Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, have confirmed that Trump did make the racist remarks at a bipartisan meeting in the White House to discuss immigration matters, the Republican leadership has been deafeningly silent on this issue, and some have actually supported Trump’s denial that he ever made his vulgar statement.

Ironically, this makes the neo-Nazis more forthright and truthful — in fact, even manlier — than Trump and the Republicans because they have openly declared their racism and contempt for people of color, and to hell with what others think.

In the wake of the racism-laced controversy in the US, which has reverberated across the world, Filipinos in America are, in a manner of speaking, anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Will Trump eventually come around to calling the Philippines a shit-hole country? Hopefully not. Of course, we can guess President Rodrigo Duterte’s automatic response:


P– ina mo rin!”

At any rate, no matter how much Trump and the Republicans deny it, and no matter how religiously America observes Martin Luther King Day, racism is still a harsh reality in the US — but not just in the US. It is also a harsh reality in many parts of the world..

And, oh yes, in the Philippines, as well.

When I was still actively delivering talks on multi-cultural marketing, one of the points I often made was the Filipinos’ perception of how we look. I would use Filipino movie personalities to illustrate my point, with photos of the fair-skinned, tall-nosed, thin-lipped mestizo stars as “the way we think we look” and photos of brown-skinned Malayan-looking character actors as “the way we actually look.”

Call it denial or upward strivings, the desire to look tisay/tisoy isn’t new. This attitude goes back to colonial days when Las Islas Filipinas were subjugated by the Spaniards. Lapu-lapu’s massacre of Magellan and his men could not stop the white man’s dominance of the natives. Thus was white superiority established and ingrained in the Pinoys’ psyche. And with that was developed latent racism.

Those of us who consider ourselves relatively enlightened may never openly admit it, but white trumps brown and, even more so, dark or black in many aspects of our lives.

Rizal parodied this attitude in Noli Me Tangere. His characterization of Doña Victorina de los Reyes de Espadana who tried very hard to look like a Spanish mestiza by wearing heavy makeup, among other pretensions, is still apparent in the Philippines. As a matter, even more so.

To this day, a whiter, fairer skin is what many Filipino women (and even men) aspire for, thus creating a huge market for skin whitening products.

A big market for hair coloring has also been created with the average Pinay’s perception that blonde is beautiful — or, at least, brownish is chic.

But that is the harmless aspect of this “upward striving.” The bad part is the way dark-skinned persons are regarded. On TV and in the movies, dark-skinned characters are the butt of jokes and variations on the Cinderella and Ugly Duckling plots invariably have the heroine starting out as a dark-skinned rag doll who is transformed into a fair-complexioned princess.

Of course, the Spaniards cannot claim sole credit for our white-is-beautiful mentality. America’s colonization of the Philippines at the turn of the century provided another dimension to what I refer to as our “inferiority complexion.”

It isn’t a compliment when Filipinos are described as having been reared for centuries in a convent and, subsequently, indoctrinated in Hollywood.

But this is not unique to the Philippines. In some Asian countries (like India) and in Latin America, latent racism is still prevalent, with the fairer skinned being regarded as superior to those with darker complexions.

The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World, which is honored as a public holiday in the US, is observed as Dia de la Raza or Day of the Race in Mexico and other countries that came under the heel of the Spanish conquistadors.

While that day commemorates the Hispanic heritage of Latin America, it also recalls the genocide committed by Columbus and those who came after him, who literally wiped out, not just the native population but their traditions and cultures, as well.

This may have been the most severe manifestation of the white man’s superiority, not just militarily, politically and economically but also in terms of the psyche of those who were colonized.

It was hoped that the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president would usher in an age of racial enlightenment in the US. In fact, that may simply have further threatened the white supremacists who still thrive in substantial numbers across America.

It seems that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency has given the Jim Crow advocates something to literally crow about.

Through the years, Trump was always regarded with uneasiness because of his racist tendencies. In the 1970s, the FBI investigated Trump for discriminating against blacks in his rental apartments. During the presidential campaign, he characterized Mexicans as rapists and criminals and, as the Republican presidential nominee, he questioned the credentials of a US district court judge because of the latter’s Mexican heritage. Among his very first acts as President, Trump issued executive orders discriminating against intending immigrants from Muslim countries.

Now comes his explosive slur against “shit-hole” — meaning predominantly black — countries.

Of course, the ostensibly enlightened Pinoys frown on such blatant racism — until they are asked how they would like their daughters to marry people from those “shit-hole countries.”


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.