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The Colorism Within Us: Celebrating Multi-Faceted Filipino Identities

When I was younger, I used to compare and contrast my skin tone to my sisters’ skin tones. My eldest sister had the lightest skin. My middle sister had the darkest skin. My skin was found somewhere in the middle. My eldest ate used cosmetics, like Eskinol, to keep a fairer complexion. We could only find these types of products at the local Filipino market or at Seafood City. My second eldest ate, who usually got negative comments on her darker complexion, refrained from using the products.

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I wanted to try these products for myself, but was advised not to because of my young age. I had no idea what the products did. I had no idea why my family used them. I just knew that I wanted it. I wanted to look like my eldest sister so that people wouldn’t say that I wasn’t light enough.

Filipinos, along with other brown Asians, have been contrasted to East Asians and their hyped stereotypes. Unfortunately, the popular ideology of colorism within the larger APIA community has trickled down into our own Filipino community.

The Philippines’ colonial past haunts our community. A bad omen that has helped socialize us into thinking that whiter is better. Skin lightening products advertised around the Philippines, and throughout the continent, reinforce this idea. This new form of white supremacy stigmatizes Filipinos with darker skin tones and adds to an anti-black ideology that many Asians, including Filipinos, have adopted.

The racial hierarchy based on skin color is made up. It was created by Filipino oppressors, but also reinforced by Filipino society. Despite the fact that it’s all fake, colorism and stigmas on darker skin tones have real consequences.

Why is it that most of the major Filipino stars in the Philippines have lighter skin tones? This inherently attaches a monetary value to people’s actual bodies. Folks with lighter complexions are thought to be of an upper class or even more desirable in society’s eyes. Filipino American celebrities with darker skin are praised – ultimately claimed by the larger Filipino community because they are famous and well known in American society.

Colorism and white supremacy linger over our heads, influencing a lot of our everyday thoughts and feelings of people who are in our community, and even those who are not in our community. These skin-lightening products that bombard our lives reinforce the popular Anti-Black sentiment that many Asians, including Filipinos, have adopted.

In honor of Filipino American History Month, I feel as though it is important to celebrate being Filipino, in every aspect of the identity. It’s important to appreciate, love, and accept every facet of being a Filipino. Along with celebration, it’s important to think critically of our positions, having and lacking privilege. I think that in order to truly love being Filipino, you have to be able to critique what Filipino-ness looks like within the larger APIA community and society in general.

Yes, I am trying to call out our community. No, I am not saying that all Filipinos are anti-black. No, I am not saying that all Filipinos want to lighten their skin. Yes, I am saying that we as a larger Filipino community can do better in terms of loving others. We as a larger Filipino community can do better in terms of loving ourselves.

Filipinos are multi-faceted. We come in lots of different shapes and colors. We must be accepting of all of our differences in order to become a stronger community for our future. I love my people, and its time for us to love each other together.

Isang Bagsak

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