It’s time to talk to your parents, titos and titas about internalized racism

Originally published in Filam Courier, June 16, 2020 issue, by Kit Zulueta (Batch 1 – 2012)


You may have heard these phrases: “Those thugs mean trouble.” “Hold on to your purse.” “Marry a white guy so you have better-looking children.” “I’m worried about inviting your Black friends.” “Ganyan talaga silang mga itim…”


With all things considered in our Filipino history of oppression and colonial mentality, won’t you agree that most Filipino families have anti-black sentiments? We don’t just bleach our skins with whitening products, the papaya soap made our minds white, too. TV ads in the Philippines literally demonstrate how better your life will be with opportunities if you have fairer skin.


I think the time is now to make an effort and have difficult conversations in our homes to cultivate a culture of empathy. If our goal is to have racial equity and justice for our kids in the future, everyone in the family needs to be on the same page: we need to make conscious choices with our words and actions. Otherwise, the bad habits will just be passed on.


Before I proceed, it is important I set the framework for what’s to follow. I’m a 30-something millennial who is not a counselor nor an expert at the topic. I just want to share my experience and research as it might help you. Some of the points I’ll raise may not apply to you, and it’s important to note that Filipino families are not all the same.


IF YOU FIND COURAGE to speak up, I need to commend you because the path to get there is difficult and stressful. I know because I tried and it wasn’t received very well. I wasn’t surprised though, and I’m glad I did it.


I wouldn’t be writing this article if my experience was an isolated event. Reading so many similar comments online gave me hope. What I found validates this: a lot of Fil-Am youth chose to speak up because we love and care for our families.
You must come from a place of love and concern when you’re pointing out something they don’t see. If you are expecting to be labelled “disrespectful,” or if they come back with “kapal ng mukha mo, akala mo kung sino ka” (How dare you, who do you think you are) rhetoric, I may have some tips that will help manage your expectations because this will be an emotionally charged endeavor.


1. Proceed with caution and proper timing. Before you say anything, make sure you are in the right mind. We are coming from the heels of COVID-19 anxiety, highest rates of unemployment, too-many zoom meetings, and we don’t even know what day it is. If the timing, mental capacity and situation doesn’t align for you, I say revisit the family talk at another time.


2. Research and prepare. You may be gearing up for a debate, so get educated about the issue. Learn why using the hashtag #AllLivesMatter is not helpful in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Find memes that have concise and impactful responses to usual points of confusion. If they are religious, prepare your Bible verses. If they love cooking, use food as examples. If they idolize certain basketball players, research if the athletes have made statements to support your position. If you find the right “language” to use, you may increase chances of getting their buy-in.


3. Dami mong alam! You know too much. You might hear this as a common tactic to shame your knowledge. The status quo is typically kids don’t have an opinion because speaking up and disagreeing are disrespectful. I say give them the credit for it. Our parents, titos and titas have worked hard to provide us education so we can “have a better life.” Now that we are educated and have different experiences of our own, we are simply sharing the blessing of knowledge with them.


4. You cannot change the world. This statement or a variation of it might come when the complexity of the issue is discussed. There’s systemic racism that involves many players in society – how can one possibly do something about all that? This is the same mentality that dismisses the power of ONE, which is why others don’t vote. They may acknowledge the importance of family in one’s upbringing and that’s your opening to explain your objective of changing certain things inside the home, instead of the world.


5. Looting is easier to understand. Don’t be surprised if the whole racial narrative is skipped and the focus of your discussion will revolve around the looting. If you support the Black Lives Matter movement, their assumption is that you support the looting. Set the record straight by condemning the act and acknowledge their fears because these are all valid. Use the opportunity to reassure them that you are on the same side – stealing is wrong.
Videos of police brutality in general have been shared excessively that we are now desensitized every time we see one. But looting images of young ladies smiling with armloads of bras from a Victoria Secret are strong new images that cause worry.
It is important to differentiate peaceful protesters and looters – these two are separate things. The root cause of the looting is racially charged police brutality. If they are concerned about the looting, the solution is to address the root cause.


6. But I’ve been discriminated against as a Filipino. The purpose of this argument is to seek empathy from you, and that’s alright. The unsaid portion of this sentence is “I’ve been discriminated against as a Filipino, so I’ll discriminate against Blacks.” There may be trauma from a past experience, so the fact they are openly sharing this with you is already an indication of openness that will bring you closer. Again, use the power of “listen” and acknowledge their experience. If you have a similar story, share away.


7. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. There’s a sentiment shared among young Fil-Ams that the effort is “useless” and that we should just accept the fact that they will be stuck in their ways. I agree the effort is difficult but if we are trying to shape the moral compass of our kids, it will be more difficult to shield them from the previous generation’s influence. Plus, we want our children to have a relationship with their grandparents.


8. There’s power in shared experiences. Prejudices usually disappear with exposure and experience. It is important to remember that you will not change their minds over night. Maybe you will not change their minds at all. But the key is you have created a channel where you can now freely navigate and discuss unintended racist remarks when they come up.


Remember that while their generation is busy making a living for you and me, assimilating to the “white culture” may also be an act of survival to blend in. The act of speaking up will allow for much needed self-reflection that’s built on a foundation of honesty and love for each other.


If you find this effort exhausting, remember that our friends in the Black community have fatigue fighting for justice every day in their lives.
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