• Jomay Amora-Dueck

Filipinos and Racism: We Were So Wrong to Make Fun of Dark, Black People – And We’re Sorry


Photo: Safeguard


I am Filipino, born and raised. But unlike most people back home, I have a fair skin. Maputi ako, so growing up I was used to being called tisay, mestiza, or anak ni Tisoy. Everyone seemed to adore me and my unblemished, fair-looking skin.

When I was young, people would ask my brown-skinned mother if my father was American. Meanwhile, others would ask me directly if I was mixed, and if not, then what soap, lotion or secret potion I use to get this fair complexion. It was annoying, and the truth is, I really didn’t care about my skin color.

But growing up, I witnessed how darker people were constantly being made fun of. I saw my girlfriends get upset with whitening products that didn’t seem to work for them. I noticed that people often mistook me as a rich kid just because I’m fair-skinned, and looked down on my friends who were morena (brown) or dark-skinned (even when they were rich). I never had to hide under the shade, or use whitening lotions.

Back then – this may sound so inappropriate, but please don’t hate me for thinking out loud – I couldn’t help but thank my Dad, and his Spanish ancestors, for giving me the genes that spared me from constant ridicule, bullying, prejudice and heartache.

It’s unfair, I know that, but I was aware that my privilege has allowed me to thrive in certain situations. And I truly feel bad that the odds being in your favor still somewhat depend on the skin you’re in.

Human Zoo: A Tale of Indigenous Filipino Headhunters

Young Filipino girl, Coney Island, N.Y. Courtesy of Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ggbain-03951

While we’ve known for a fact that our ancestors were often looked down upon by their Spanish and American colonizers as dark-skinned uneducated savages, the lowest point of this centuries-old discrimination came in the form of America’s human zoos in the early 1900s.

In 1905, the Igorots of Bontoc, Mountain Province were taken from their homeland and displayed in exhibits for the American people to gawk.

The human zoo in Coney Island, New York displayed indigenous Filipinos inside a square bamboo fence – they were barefoot and naked except for loincloths; their backs and arms were covered in tattoos celebrating the human heads they have hunted. They were made to live out their daily lives in full view of the public.

Are We Racists?

Centuries later, much of the racism in the Philippines can be traced back to our colonizers, namely Spain and the U.S. Our ancestors were called indios, negritos, dog-eating headhunters and dark-skinned uneducated savages. They were vilified, humiliated and denied of freedom, rights and privileges.

Back then, and even to this day, the fair skin of the Europeans and Americans were praised and glorified. It birthed the colorism we experience now and the mentality that anything that isn’t white is bad.