Saturday, July 18, 2009

Two comments, one sentiment

Really now, why do most people whom I get to talk to seem to regard dark skin as inferior to fair skin? It sure looks like it, based on the conversations I remember having in recent years. But then it could probably mean that I should meet more people from different parts of the world--those who may have a totally different viewpoint about the whole thing.

Two brief comments from two people in two conversations really had me wondering if I should just forget about it every time I encounter this all too obvious lack of appreciation of dark beauty--or of diversity in general.

The first conversation was over lunch, not too long ago. Talk was on Michael Jackson's sudden demise, the memorial tribute, and the expected scrutiny of other issues surrounding his death. I hadn't caught a glimpse of the singer's two sons and was wondering if they resembled their dad more than the daughter did.

"Do they have more African-American features?" I asked. "Wala!" was the reply I got, uttered with a bit of horror. "Guwapo sila, mga puti! (They're handsome, they're white!)"

"Oh," I said, too stunned (and a bit saddened) to say anything else.

The other chitchat I had was with a simple middle-aged woman who is in Manila to earn some money to help pay off some debts incurred back in her hometown. She is good-natured and, as mentioned, simple, which is why opinions she held would occasionally be revealed easily. I think she was looking at some photos of the family, then while gazing at a recent picture of one of my nieces, she remarked, "Maganda na siya ngayon, ano? Dati maitim..."

"Ikaw talaga!" I chided her with a smile, part of me finding her bias quite humorous (for reasons I didn't--and still don't--understand). "Bakit ba kung maitim ang tao, pangit agad para sa 'yo?!" and she broke into a smile, then laughed. She probably realized the implication of what she had just said, and remembered our casual conversations about the obsession of some people with turning their brown skin into ivory (she related more than once how quite a number of impoverished neighbors back home would spend whatever little money they had left on skin-whitening products even if it meant incurring debts for daily meals, fiesta celebrations or hospitalization expenses).

Well, what can I say? In this part of the planet at least, white skin is highly regarded. Aggressive marketing of products and services that promise this aspired-for whiteness don't help in any way to ingrain a love for one's own when it comes to the skin tone that's fit for the tropics.

It goes beyond skin-deep for me. The way I see it, the inability to appreciate one's own (be it our skin color, traditions, language, products...) is tantamount to being overly impressed by what's foreign. And this is partly what's responsible for our people's overly welcoming attitude toward principles, fashion trends, and even legislative measures that come from foreign shores--betraying an inability to hold on to what ought to be held dearly. Sometimes, it's not even a matter of holding on to one's own--culturally-speaking--but a question of holding on to what is true, good and beautiful, which is mirrored more closely by the various facets of our Filipino culture.

What's your take on this whole attitude about maputi-maitim?

This matter of skin color figured in the piece I wrote in Baby mag's summer issue this year. Click here for a look at Kayumangging kaligatan.


petrufied said...

many things in the media do poison us with the white = beautiful equation, so though a lot of people are aware that beauty can come in different shades, there is still that knee-jerk assumption that beauty has to be white etc etc. i wonder what's the root cause of this. any anthropological wild guess? haha XD

sunnyday said...

slavery :-(

and the negative attitude toward working -- particularly doing manual labor under the sun. that's according to a friend of mine.

ano'ng say mo? ;-)

WillyJ said...

My theory has to do with man's history. Remember that those who figured prominently (wisely, humanely, or otherwise) are the Europeans and Westerners. This is with respect to their being colonizers and at the forefront of "civilizing" the world at large. Thus, they were perceived as being superior in a sense, and that perception of superiority was extended to their external features. Thus the standard of outward looks creeped into the consciousness of the masses around the world who were subjugated. Well, maybe not all of them. But imagine if the conquerors of the world belonged to the African or Malayan race. If that twist of fate happened, it seems quite plausible to say that today, Caucasians would be the ones who would scramble to darken their skin, flatten their noses...somewhat the reverse of what Michael Jackson did (bless his soul).

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