Latent racism

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Greg B. Macabenta

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My earliest experience with racism was as a boy growing up in Tacloban City. Because we lived near Cancabato Bay, which connects to the San Juanico Straits, much of my free time was spent in the sea. I was thus so sun-burnt and swarthy that my playmates called me “negro.” This was supposed to mean being inferior.

It took maturity (and frequent fist fights) for me to get over that “inferiority complexion.” Former Vice-President Jojo Binay knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The fact is — whether we are conscious of it or not — the average Filipino is racist. Centuries of Spanish and American domination have ingrained in us the perception that being fair-skinned is desirable and, thus, superior.

In fact, in Philippine television and the movies, the mestizos and mestizas — Caucasian and Eurasian — get first crack at becoming stars. Except when confronted with really mind-blowing gifts, talent is the least of the producers’ concern. Small wonder, skin whiteners are hot-sellers in our country.

The kayumangi (brown skinned) flat-nosed Malayan types — which is what the average Pinoys look like — are usually consigned to being extras, bit players, villains, or comedians.


For almost three years, America has had a president who is, from all indications, a bonafide racist, although he claims that he does not have a racist bone in his body.

Of course President Donald Trump has his own version of truth and reality. But if he is not a racist, then he is certainly an opportunist who is exploiting the anxieties of his voter base, the white segments of the US populace who feel that their entitlement to the American Dream is being threatened.

Although some of these whites perceive themselves as racially superior (in the Nazi tradition of Aryan genetic superiority), others may simply be clinging to their vision of Middle American life, characterized by peaceful working-class neighborhoods, spic-and-span homes with white picket fences, friendly church congregations, corner soda fountains, and segregated schools.

Perhaps they sense that this idyllic lifestyle is being eroded by the influx of new immigrants, mainly people of color. They perceive these immigrants as predominantly welfare recipients living off the taxes paid by hard-working Americans.

In other words, the racists (also referred to as white nationalists) feel that they are being exploited and victimized and have a right to protect their way of life.

Is this a new perception among these self-designated “victims”? Has there been a resurgence of racism in America?

Not so, says Eddie S. Claude, Jr., professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. In a paper entitled “Don’t Let the Loud Bigots Distract You. America’s Real Problem With Race Cuts Far Deeper,” he wrote:

“The fact is that Americans have grown comfortable with racism resting just beneath the surface of our politics — to be activated whenever a politician or a community needed it, or some racist incident exhumed it only for us to bury it once again. What has resulted is an illusion that blinds us to what was actually happening right in front of our noses and in our heads — we believed that our country had become less racist, because we were not as brazen as we once were.

“Trump has shattered that illusion. He rode race, the third rail of American politics, straight to the White House. He challenged Obama’s citizenship, called Mexicans rapists and criminals, proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the country, insisted on the need for ‘law and order,’ argued that immigration was changing the ‘character’ of the United States and openly courted white supremacists… His pledges spoke directly to the forgotten American’s sense of victimhood: that he had been left behind during the Obama years and that his way of life was under threat… For instance, among white millennials who voted for Trump, (there is) a sense of white vulnerability — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to others.”

The election of the first African American to the White House, President Barack Obama, whom Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich described sarcastically as “the most successful food-stamp President in American history,” most certainly exacerbated this perception.

The racial make-up of California, the most populous state of the union, has certainly not been lost on the self-designated victims. From a population of 46.6% in 2000, non-Hispanic whites now account for only 37.20%. Hispanics, are the most dominant, at 39.15% of Californians; Asians 14.37%; non-Hispanic blacks, 5.47%; non-Hispanic native Americans, 0.37%; Pacific Islanders, 0.35%; other non-Hispanics, 0.27%; and those non-Hispanics claiming more than one race at 3.05%.

The white supremacists must be warning each other that what has happened in California could happen in the rest of America and must be resisted by any means.

For those who understand that psychographic trends drive advertising themes which, in turn, intensify the trends, the increasing use of multi-racial couples in TV commercials and the more frequent use of bi-racial children are a sign that must surely be upsetting for those espousing racial purity.

This, too, could explain the more strident racist rhetoric, encouraged by the divisive language of Trump.

Given these developments in America, I am puzzled by the number of Filipino-Americans who have been echoing Trump’s racist rants. It is as if they feel that they are exempted from the definition of “people of color.”

But that could be like holding the tiger by the tail. The beast is bound to snap at them sooner or later.

My family and I have been living in America for more than 33 years. While I have spent most of that time in California, our children studied in Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, for some five years. Out there, members of the Klu Klux Klan proliferate.

At the Cambridge South Dorchester High School where our two youngest sons were the only Asians, the white and black divide was very apparent. The two boys once mentioned a comment by their classmates to the effect that our kids were lucky because “among whites you are considered white but among blacks you are regarded as black.”

My wife and I gently cautioned our children against taking sides. “Make friends with everyone,” we advised.

It didn’t occur to us to use the analogy of holding the tiger by the tail. But, with due respect to our FilAm friends who have had a tendency to echo Trump, I think that analogy should be given serious thought.


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