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On Roots And Racism

You Filipinos have no culture, someone told Dr. Herminia Meñeez.

When she told us about this, we members of the Philippine Folk Epic Group burst out laughing. Our group is affiliated with UCLAs Folklore Department and one of our activities includes studying Philippine folk epic songs that date back to as early as the 9th or 11th century. No culture, no culture? we repeated incredulously. Then Jocelyn another member, related that an American told her the only thing we Filipinos can be proud of was the February Revolution.

Shaking our heads, we became somber. Our talk turned to the issue of prejudice. Another member said that while prejudice does exist against Filipinos, she believes this is the prejudiced person's problem. She ignores the barbed comments, plunges ahead, knowing that she is better traveled and better off than a lot of Americans.

Her comments made me realize that her strong sense of self- worth came from having grown up in the Philippines. But, I wondered, what about second-generation Filipino Americans? They must have a difficult time being exposed to racist comments and innuendoes from the time they are infants.

An article I read pointed out how a kindergartener may associate the color black with dirt and think that dark-skinned people are dirty. The article told of how a teacher handled the problem. She confronted the issue, showed the child different colors, making the child understand that there are different colors in nature, that these colors are all beautiful.

The article mentioned the two theories of how racism begins: psychological racism and institutional racism. Psychological racism originates when individuals, for reasons more or less specific to their own situation, develop biases against persons of other races. For example, if a gang of blacks harassed a person, that person could develop negative feelings towards all blacks. Institutional racism refers to society as a whole promoting racist attitudes. If those attitudes can be arrested in time, significant amounts of racism can be averted or at least diluted. The situation in South Africa, where racial segregation is law, is an example of institutional racism.

As one who reads a lot, I am aware of pre-prejudice in written materials. Stereotypical characters in novels of the lazy black, the dumb Pollack, the shrewd Jew, the dirty Mexican, and so on, promote unfavorable attitudes toward people of those ethnic groups. The use of derogatory words like nigger, Jap, Flip, or spic, has the same effect.

The Chinese American author, Maxine Hong Kingston, related that as a girl she read all the works of Louisa May Alcott. She identified with all the little girls, but popped out of the story when one of them married a little Chinaman and he was so odd. He wasn't beautiful like the other people in the story, the author said. Then you start to think about where you (as a Chinese American) belong in literature, she continued.

There was recent publicity about dark-haired actresses like Joan Collins and Barbara Carrera portraying villains, while fair- headed Linda Evans played the nice girl. There are numerous written materials that carry this same symbolism-dark being evil, fair being good. Some erroneously say that this symbolism is mythic in origin; I have not come across non-European myths that use this symbolism. While I am certainly not suggesting the elimination of blonde or dark-stressed characters from writings, ft is important to be aware that this type of characterization may be pre-prejudicial.

This Eurocentric view that blonde, fair-skinned people are somehow better than dark-haired, dark-skinned people (remember that commercial about blondes having more fun?) permeates our daily lives. This view dominates Western societies, and people in general need to be educated that there are various interpretations of the world, of history, of religion, of beauty. As Verma and Bagley noted in their book, Race Relations and Cultural Differences: The world is not homogeneous . . . different people have different ways of doing essentially the same things.

We Filipinos and Filipino Americans have our way and we must remember to remind our children that our way is just as good as other ways. We have our own culture, and a rich one at that and, yes, our children are just as beautiful and wonderful as other children. We must let them know that.

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