Sunday, October 28, 2007

Racial (In)Sensitivity, ESL, and My Own Racism

A highschool friend, MJ, a young, bright, beautiful Filipina woman posted an article as a bulletin on MySpace this morning that was originally posted in the Star Bulletin (a local paper). The article, entitled ‘Housewives’ angers Filipinos in medicine (original article) stated that a racist comment was made on the popular show, Desperate Housewives, that has the US Filipino community up in arms.

The quote:

When a gynecologist suggested Terri Hatcher's character (Susan) might be reaching menopause, she said: "Can I just check those diplomas because I just want to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines."

While I agree that this is, indeed, an inappropriate and offensive thing to say, I think that this, like many "racial issues," may be taken too far. ABC, Inc. (my former employer, heh) has issued a formal apology for its stupidity. After receiving notice from the Filipino community that they had pissed a lot of people off, they recognized their insensitivity and tried to make amends. But apparently, sorry isn't enough.

The Filipino community wants more. They want ABC to "... produce shows recognizing Filipino [contribution to society]" ... or else.

I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. There are tons of ethnicities, minority and otherwise, who have contributed to making this world what it is... who have helped the world move forward... and not everyone gets a show about their ethnic triumphs on primetime. To demand such a thing is ludicrous. Where does an ethnic group get off making such a demand? Are their contributions to society that much more important than everyone else's? Isn't that a bit elitist and self-important and quite possibly... racist?

I guess racial insensitivity doesn't stop at big corporate productions.

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that one of the statements quoted in the article from a Dr. Fernando Ona (who I am sure is a bright gentleman with a great education) makes absolutely no sense. "[It was a]... reprehensible insult to the racial diversity... of doctors of Filipino ancestry."

I'm sorry. What?!

Ignoring the fact that there is only the human race and everything else breaks down into ethnicities, doesn't "racial diversity of doctors of Filipino ancestry" seem to contradict itself? Or is that just me being nit picky and looking too closely at semantics? What is he trying to say? Granted, I've cut up the quote a bit, but even in its entirety, the meaning is lost.

Can anyone explain this to me?

In talking to another close friend of Filipino ancestry, when I brought this quote to his attention, he told me that, " thing I think is common with 'educated' Filipinos is that they have a tendency to want to use 'big' words and 'flowery' phrases...that don't necessarily make sense. It's part of the Filipino culture to be flamboyant...not in a malicious or mean-spirited way, but it's just their way."

My response?
But that makes them look stupid.

And I'm sorry, but his saying that DOES make him look stupid. And if that's the norm, no wonder the editors and writers for 'Desperate Housewives' let that quote slide. While it's never good to base things on stereotypes, they exist for a reason. And that reason is that there is some truth to it.

I'm horrible. I know. And I know that lots of people use big words inappropriately. It's not just Filipinos. I want to say that people who learn English as a second language do it more often than most because they want to demonstrate (often subconsciously) their true fluency and harness of the English language. I want to say it, but hell, I know LOTS of English as a FIRST language speakers who butcher English all the time, in ignorance. I'm sure I'm one of them (although technically Thai was my first language... I don't remember a lick of it). But I think it's just more blatant when the speaker doesn't have English as their mother-tongue.

I personally am of the mind that everyone's a little bit racist. (Ha! Avenue Q was right.) I am no exception. I know that I am quite racist, and unfortunately, because I went to a high school where I was the minority in a world of what was often called "Little Manila," one of the ethnic groups toward which I harbor the most animosity is Filipinos. Ignore the fact that some of the people I love most are Filipino. Heh. (*Waves at all my Filipino friends who KNOW I am often anti-Filipino*)

And it is because I have always felt that the Hawaii Filipino community is too self-engrossed, too close-minded, and too culture-centric. I think it's healthy to remember where you come from. To have ethnic pride. But what about welcoming other cultures and learning from them and embracing them? What about expanding one's world and accepting that people are different and stopping the jamming of your own culture down someone else's throat until they gag?

It's not happy to gag on someone else's culture.

Mind you, this all coming from a girl who knows well not to eat the chocolate pork, but to steal all the banana lumpia, who understands what it's like to pack and ship balikbayan boxes to the family, who loves patis, who laughs at the barrel man, who has sung "Dahil Sayo," who has done tinikling in two states, who has gotten into a fist fight for not being Pinay and to DEFEND Pinay, who has taken friends to get Alibata tattoos, who looks for the Fork & Spoon, the Last Supper, and plastic runners when she goes into a Filipino house, and who understands the meaning of "Mahal Kita."



charles said...

hmm well put... i think me as hawaiian tends to do the same thing sometimes, but atleast i want to see the super ferry work. heh heh... but yes sadly i think we all want to be heard to much and not think about others and the way they might react to what we say. i think the key to all of this is being able to come to a common understanding... and it doesn't need to be like force feed... well thats just me

abbie said...

You know what?! Hallelluyah for what you said. I love with when people can actually be raw and honest about these things. I always thought that filipinos overreacted to the incident. It's hard being part-filipino and having a filipino mom who is a Registered Nurse. What makes it even more difficult is when I disagree with my "kababayan" (countrymen). Personally, I never took the actor's line seriously. After all, it's a fictional show. What actors say in the show isn't their personal view; it's a character they have to portray. It is ironic that I am choosing to further complete my studies (after receiving my undergraduate) to study abroad at University of the Philippines. It means a lot to me to graduate in the same school as my grandfather. I've never met him and so this may actually make me feel closer to him. I give you kudos for admitting your racism. I believe everyone is racist in some way or another. Especially if a group of people representing a race is acting as if they're "big dicks" or like you said--elitist. For Gushness sake, your former BF was a filipino, some of your friends are filipino ... people would know what you said wasn't personal. So stop apologizing.