To my fellow Filipinxs: Why we need to step up and support Black Lives Matter
These past few days, in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, have been tough. These past few days have really gotten me thinking. They’ve shown the true colors of a lot of people: which people are going to speak up in solidarity with our Black neighbors, and which people are going to pretend like nothing’s happening. Which people are going to denounce racism and police brutality, and which people are going to fixate on the riots. Which people are going to insist that “all lives matter” (ugh), and which people will proudly support the Black Lives Matter movement, recognizing that Black lives have not been given the same careful attention and respect that others have received. Which people will get it. Which people will care.
Obviously, the more people who care, and who speak out, the better our chances are for enacting change. For pressuring our lawmakers to enact police reform and to get justice for the victims of these brutal attacks. For teaching others to slowly chip away at their own subconscious bias — and we all have some of it; it’s ok to admit that we are still learning. But the important thing is that we are learning. And that we commit to continually learning.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the words of some people (especially those whose opinions I haven’t always agreed with), and really disappointed at the silence of others (especially those I considered close friends or open-minded people). Let’s make one thing clear: this is not a political issue. This is human rights. People have died. If you don’t care, you should. And if you’re afraid of speaking out on a “sensitive issue”, then let me say this — none of this should be sensitive to people who aren’t racists. If somebody finds this issue uncomfortable or sensitive, then they have their own issues they need to work out with themselves. And it’s ok if some of this is uncomfortable and if some of us realize that we do need to learn, that we do need to do a better job of stepping up and speaking out — if you find yourself in this boat, then scroll back up to the part that says it’s ok to admit that we are still learning — but the important thing is that we are learning. And that we commit to continually learning.
I want to take this time to implore my fellow Filipinxs and FilAms to take up the mantle and speak out against racism and police brutality. I want to invite you to use your voice, to educate your friends and families and neighbors, to do your part to help. Even if you feel silly that it’s just a small post on social media, or that it’s just a private conversation between friends or family— the small things add up. I’ve been so proud seeing fellow FilAms do this — but I’ve also been disappointed at seeing others so silent on this issue. We can’t afford to be silent. We have to be on the right side of this (and there IS a right side). We don’t get to be silent on this because this issue affects us all, even if you don’t realize it, even if you don’t feel like it does.
If you think that because you are considered the “model minority,” because of your income bracket or socioeconomic status, because you have a Caucasian last name by marriage, because you’re conservative— that you are inoculated from the effects of the oppression of BIPOC — you are wrong. Oppression anywhere is oppression everywhere. If one group faces oppression, then none of us are truly free. If you think this movement doesn’t concern you, you’re wrong. It does. This is your fight, too.
Let’s start with the “model minority” thing. I have all sorts of issues with this. Firstly, who the fuck came up with the term “model minority”? Was it us? ’Cause I’m not sure it was. The biggest issue with “model minority” is that it makes it sound as though minorities are inherently bad, but the model minorities are “one of the good ones.” And that’s a problem. “Model minority” is simply a tool used by white people to justify the mistreatment and continued oppression of BIPOC. The “model minority” is a stereotype that is used to continue perpetuating other stereotypes. It’s a stereotype² (squared). So we shouldn’t like that we’re called the “model minority”— this is basically us clambering up a fucked-up racial hierarchy at the expense of other oppressed groups, even though we are oppressed ourselves. It’s a bad deal, one that really only hurts us and other marginalized groups. It’s like in Oliver Twist, where the destitute kids still try to distinguish themselves from other poor kids — even though those other poor kids are not the real enemy. The enemy is the system —in this case, it’s a system that was designed to reward you for whiteness and punish you for being “other.” We’re all groups that have faced oppression in some way — and the only way we will truly be free is not to play by the system set in place, but rather, to change the system completely.
As a side note, when people use the term “model minority,” they’re not necessarily talking about us. They’re not necessarily talking about Filipinxs. They’re not necessarily talking about Southeast Asians. They’re usually talking about East Asians. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans. Pale-skinned Asians, not dark-skinned like most of us are. Not many people outside the APAC community realize that there is colorism and racism even within our community. That even within the APAC community, whiteness is valued over darkness — white skin is beautiful while dark skin is not. Darker-skinned Asians from SEA countries, including the Philippines, are called “jungle Asians” or “FLIP” (funny-looking island people), and many work low-level jobs in East Asian countries. In the Philippines, there’s a huge market for skin-lightening products (many of which are of questionable safety) — because God forbid you have dark skin. Most of us are brown-skinned and instead of working to change standards of beauty, instead of working to address racial bias and colorism, we bleach our skin. We play right into a system that isn’t designed to support us, a system that frankly doesn’t give a shit about us. Change starts from within, and as a community, we still have work to do in dismantling the colorist bias that is so pervasive and harmful.
Even if you are East Asian or you’re a light-skinned Filipinx or you’re ethnically ambiguous so nobody can really pinpoint what box they want to put you in — that does not mean you are “safe.” Do not forget the Japanese internment camps. Do not forget the anti-Asian sentiment that spread at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Do not forget Asian fetishization. Hell, don’t forget that for the longest time, our only representation in the media was Long Duk Dong and the landlord from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And, specifically for my fellow FilAms, do not forget the Filipino attacks in Stockton in 1926. Do not forget the anti-miscegenation laws against Filipinos and the “No Filipinos Allowed” signs. Do not forget that we have a history of oppression as well — that we still face some sorts of oppression today. We may fall under the model minority umbrella now — but do not mistake that as a sign that we are immune to racial bias.
The whole point of this schpiel is to say that, no, you’re not “safe.” And for you to say that because you’re “safe” from this kind of oppression, therefore you won’t get involved — you are basically saying that you are OK with oppression. That you find this oppression acceptable. And I would like to think that nobody should find any kind of oppression, much less this kind of oppression and police brutality against Black people, acceptable. Let’s not forget that Black people fought with us in our fight for Philippine independence from the US. They showed up for us. We need to show up for them.
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
— Martin Niemöller
Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.