Sunday, 5 July 2015

Thoughts While Bathing in the Sun

The best of the summer heat in Britain may be over but the sun is still out in the garden and there I was sat in the lounge chair with yesterday's copy of The Times while the other inhabitants of our house went out for Sunday lunch and a little male bonding.

There are a few things I've been doing in my adopted country that I have never done in my homeland and one of them had been to bathe in the glorious sun until my skin colour turns chocolate brown, just the way my British husband likes it (I know, that sounds so sleazy!). The reason is simple, in most Asian countries, the Philippines included, sporting my now deeply tanned skin would have been akin to inviting stones be thrown at myself.

Colorism, or 'prejudice against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same racial group', is an ugly affair that has haunted me for most of my life. As a child I had been bullied and made inferior just because the colour of my skin was a few shades darker than everyone else's. As a teenager I drowned my fear of taunts by never wearing anything that would show off any body part, staying mostly indoors and making friends with my books instead of people. As an adult I was forced to smile when told I am a 'Black Beauty', even though I found the term deeply insulting that my sort of beauty was so second class it needed to have its own label. But it was something I just had to live with because in my culture whatever is different can be made into a butt of jokes.

That is why I find it a travesty whenever I see or hear of fellow Filipinos raising arms against perceived racism - over an American with Filipino genes losing out on a song contest, the Daily Mail demanding stricter measures in ensuring only qualified nurses should work for the NHS, a BBC comedian highlighting child labour in the Philippines or comments describing Manila as a picture of hell in the latest Dan Brown novel. But when prejudice happens domestically, no one bats an eyelid. In fact, celebrities are being defended over rape and gay jokes on primetime TV. And a television series was made front lining a dark-as-soot child with flat nose and unruly hair (remember Kirara?) that was sure to make any dark-skinned child's life as hell as it did mine.

No I'm not saying we shouldn't protest against any form of racism abroad, perceived or otherwise, because that is what living in democratic societies are all about. What I am against is the double standard, that we say it's not ok for other people to be prejudiced while we are in their home turf but we can be equally as prejudiced about them in our own country and we are perfectly within our rights to racially discriminate our own countrymen.

So yes, you could say I had a lucky escape when I first reluctantly became an overseas Filipino worker who was eventually sucked in by the Western way of life. In Britain, for all its reported prejudices (because I have never experienced it firsthand), it is illegal and unacceptable to make racist remarks or even an inference of it. Only in the last few years, have I learned to undo years of psychological damage to my self-esteem brought about by my unlucky draw at the genetic lottery of life that I have finally embraced this outermost layer of my being and not let it define my self-worth. I became plain beautiful, not chocolate or vanilla. I was finally 'normal'.

But where I came from, it is still a non-issue that holds back those few of us who are categorised this way from being able to see ourselves on the same level as everyone else. As a society unless we admit there is injustice, we cannot start the way to equality.

We cannot change what we cannot see. 

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