Combatting Colorism: For the Future Filipinos

Jana Marquez, Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

“Bumalik ka sa loob, baka masaydong ka umitim,” or “Get back inside, you’ll get too dark,” while playing outside is a phrase Filipino children are likely all too familiar with. Growing up, we are told by our elders to stay out of the sun to avoid becoming dark. As kids, we do what we’re told because we trust that it’s what’s right; it’s probably for our own safety. But the fear instilled in us back then was not of a major threat or scare, but simply of the color of our skin. Early on, we are immediately taught that dark skin is negative and we shouldn’t want it.

Actress Asia Jackson talks about her experience while growing up in the Philippines: “Kids told me I couldn’t join their games because I was maitim (dark).  I couldn’t have a single conversation with anyone without someone mentioning how dark I was. Complete strangers called me ‘bruja’ (witch) because of my hair texture. Imagine the effects that all of this has on a child.”

Colorism is defined as “the process of discrimination that privileges light-skin people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts.” Essentially, this is evident in the Philippines’ colonial history. When the archipelago faced three centuries of European and American colonization, it faced the “white beauty” mentality that Filipinos’ culture and skin tone was inferior. Spaniards brought the idea that those working in provinces and agriculture stayed out in the sun all day, getting dark, while the upper class stayed inside, thus establishing the hierarchy between light and dark skin. Japanese and U.S. colonization, along with countries such as Taiwan, Malaysia, and South Korea also spread the influence that fairer skin was superior.

This outlook unfortunately still resonates today, as what’s left behind is our own historical trauma. It takes form as a prejudice attitude towards dark skin. That colonial mentality is currently still very prevalent as the stigma is integrated in society, pop culture, and family’s homes. Colorism has been woven into the culture, though some may not admit it. It’s been bred into normality, which is a huge problem.

Earlier this year, a photo of a Filipino school textbook caught global attention for its blatant glorification of Western features. It showed a drawing of a mother holding her baby with the caption, “Unlike most Filipinos, she has curly hair which makes her more beautiful. She looks like a mestiza with her pointed nose and white fair skin.” It got a heated reaction, as people criticized it for teaching young kids that those who don’t have those features are less beautiful, advocating for “discrimination in your own backyard.”  

Those of half-white descent, or “mestizos” were also acknowledged as the upper class during colonization. Translating into modern times, eurocentric features among Filipinos are idolized, such as prominent noses and cheekbones, and lighter skin. On an even more modern scale, the entertainment industry glamorizes individuals of half-white descent, emphasizing their representation in their most renowned movies and tv shows.

In fact, darker skin is hardly ever represented positively.  On the Filipino network GMA, a fair-skinned actress was completely painted in blackface as she played a half-black woman in the show Nita Negrita. Her character faced ridicule for her skin color, and got a “happy ending” when she somehow became light-skinned.

Additionally, it is way too often that a light-skinned charismatic character faces off with a dark-skinned antagonist. Commonly, the darker-skinned actor is given the role of a maid, servant, peasant, or villain. The portrayal of the negativity of dark skin in Filipino multimedia and the lack of diversity is only contributing to the problem.

The discrimination against dark skin is evident not only in the entertainment industry, but on billboards, magazines, and ads continuously campaigning for lighter skin. A multi-billion dollar skin-whitening industry exists as a result. Supermarket aisles are filled with lightening creams, papaya soap, or some kind of skin-whitening product.

The messages from these marketing techniques blatantly teach whoever sees them that light skin is indeed superior, and that if they’re darker, they should change it because it’s something wrong with them. A toxic beauty standard is being enforced and becoming the norm, and its effects aren’t being reiterated enough.

Calling out this issue among Filipinos is taboo and almost frowned upon because of how normalized it has become. A key part in solving the issue of colorism is to addressing it in where it is most common, and that starts in homes and on the media. In order for true acceptance, the issue must be addressed unapologetically. Pride in the beauty of darker skin tones in the Philippines should be celebrated and encouraged.

Diversity in skin tones should be celebrated among Filipinos. The goal should be to progressively transform the colonial standard of beauty for future generations. With the many platforms we have today in mainstream media, the youth will be so influential in making lasting change. There are already movements on social media, such as causes, hashtags, and communities supporting Asian groups of different skin tones, being proud and embracing them as a part of the culture. There are so many powerful tools aimed to target at these traditional standards and rapidly spread influence on a global scale.

Asia Jackson has called out this issue multiple times on her social media platforms, urging for representation and criticizing the Filipino media. She even created a hashtag that went viral, #MagandangMorenx. Translated, it means “beautiful brown skin.” Jackson’s goals were to encourage the diversity of the Filipino people, ultimately empowering those who are darker skinned, so they are not embarrassed or ashamed of their color. Her influence was a milestone for Filipinos living both in the U.S. and the Philippines, as millions felt inspired to share their own stories, post selfies, and truly embrace themselves.

It’s time to combat that internalized message that’s been rooted in for centuries and be proud of the culture’s diversity. With a changed mentality, Filipinos can be free to feel confident and love the skin that they’re in, embracing and feeling proud to be Filipino.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email