Sometimes, people mean well. Sometimes, people passively (or submissively) accept definitions the West prescribes to ‘Other’ people. Sometimes, those people are your own family members.
Earlier today, I checked with my mom to see if all of our relatives were okay in the motherland. Typhoon Haiyan is documented as the strongest to date, and it has traveled right through the Philippines. She reassured me everyone is okay, and then with the best intentions, emailed me this photo from CNN. When I opened it, I felt that sensation similar to a stone dropping through your brain and down to the pit of your stomach. There’s so much going on here that I won’t even go through and dissect the wording. I am glad for those who can read with a critical eye and extract the message behind the words.
The problem is that people read this in a positive light. We have so much work to do. The idea of Filipinos as happy, noble savages is one that sadly perpetuates in this quote. If that isn’t enough, it illustrates us as obedient and yielding – and totally capable of putting up with HUNDREDS of years of colonialism, missionization and Western imperialism. But hey, that’s okay, because we’re resilient and we just shake it off and smile. What an amazing ‘privilege‘. Lucky that the typhoon devastates their homes and love one’s lives. This message is pretty despicable, but what’s equally disappointing is that people unquestioningly welcome this image created of Filipinos.
I won’t blame ignorance, but I sure hope to help educate it. When I brought this up to my mom, she got really defensive and scoffed at me, ‘with a chip on [my] shoulder’. I juxtaposed the CNN quote with this American political cartoon from about half a century ago:
To me, the parallel is clear. Here is historic colonialism: the entire race of the Philippines embodied in this puny character who is depicted as beat down, uncoordinated, undignified. This image gives off a very strong ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ attitude, and doesn’t give the Filipino character a voice. Enter: postcolonialism – the quote from CNN is written in a us/we format, speaking for and not from the perspective of Filipino people. (If it is, in fact, authored by a Pin@y, then a paradigm shift is in order).
I can’t make it any more obvious that the CNN quote builds upon residual colonialist ideologies, therefore continuing contemporary postcolonialism. The thing is, we are aware. We are conscious. Many of us were once programmed with a colonial mindset, and now more than ever I have encountered a push to DEcolonize. This has been ongoing amongst generations, I’m sure, but now that I’ve started this process, I keep encountering more and more on the same journey. As far as decolonization goes, complete rejection of our upbringings or reversion to complete indigeneity is unrealistic, as we (I) are (am) living in contemporary, urban conditions. But perhaps we can incorporate the indigenous mindset and use it to inform our guiding principles. Striking this balance is where I think a lot of power/dynamism rests. Let’s harness this energy and help lead others to critically confront postcolonialism, shall we? Future generations will need it. As for my mom, hopefully she comes to enlightenment as well.
Think above, y’all.