Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Other/s

“Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning novelist... said something years ago that I’ve never forgotten: That in their desire to become part of America, many immigrants embrace the views of the dominant white society--including the prejudiced, distorted image of blacks.

“'In race talk, the move into mainstream America always means buying into the notion of American blacks as the real aliens,' she wrote in Time magazine in 1993. 'Whatever the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be African American... It doesn’t matter anymore what shade the newcomer’s skin is. A hostile posture toward resident blacks must be struck at the Americanizing door before it will open.

“Many Asians, including Filipinos, have embraced this view, consciously or unconsciously. As the respected Asian American civil rights attorney Bill Lee told me many years ago when I wrote about this issue for the San Francisco Chronicle, 'Immigrant communities generally tend not to know the history and to buy into the biases and prejudices of the dominant group. Unfortunately, becoming American often means buying into the prejudices. They want to identify upward. They don’t want to identify with those at the bottom.'”

-- “Barack Obama through Filipino-American Eyes”, by Benjamin Pimentel, in last Sunday's Starweek magazine. Mr. Pimentel is the author of Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street, a novel about another group of people at the receiving end of racial bias--elderly Filipino war veterans fighting for much-delayed recognition and recompense by the US government for their heroic service in WWII.

(The novel has been turned into a play by Rody Vera, and will open on Nov. 7 at CCP's Tanghalang Huseng Batute as Tanghalang Pilipino's latest production. Tommy Abuel, Bembol Roco, Lou Veloso, Dido de la Paz and Joe Gruta star, with Chris Millado directing.)

For a frightening look at the prejudice some Filipinos and Fil-Americans have for Obama and blacks in general, take a look at the firestorm journalist-blogger Howie Severino generated here and here with his forthright posts on the issue. Not Pinoy ne'er-do-wells, mind you, but mostly educated ones, to judge by their comments.

In a few hours, America and its citizens--black and white, male and female, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, redneck and urbanite, natural-born and immigrant, Christian, Jew, Moslem, Zoroastrian and atheist alike--have a once-in-lifetime-opportunity to say “Enough” to racism. To reject the likes of Georgian senator Saxby Chambliss, who, as Paul Krugman reports, “observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that 'the other folks are voting.'”

To choose, instead, a path that, at long last, begins to fulfill the promise of the Constitution they all pledge allegiance to, that “All men”--not white men alone, but all men--“are created equal.”

Drama critic-turned-op-ed heavy-hitter Frank Rich: “Obama doesn’t transcend race. He isn’t post-race. He is the latest chapter in the ever-unfurling American racial saga. It is an astonishing chapter. For most Americans, it seems as if Obama first came to dinner only yesterday. Should he win the White House on Tuesday, many will cheer and more than a few will cry as history moves inexorably forward.”

Time for dinner with “the other folks,” America. Astonish us.

[Photo: Damon Winter/NYTimes]


Anonymous said...

For Filipino immigrants, it doesn't take much to buy into the dominant group's prejudices, because many of us already grew up with bigoted notions about skin color.

Maybe an Obama presidency will make even Filipinos in the Philippines start questioning their biases about not only blacks but anyone who is different: Muslims, gays, disabled, promdis, etc.

beektur said...

sad but true. but the hopeful aspect is that this is true only mostly to the older generation and the FOBs. the kids who were born here, or who came too young and grew up here, are readier to embrace differences. which means that these biases are still leftovers of a culture that sees any difference as either suspect, an object of ridicule or outright target of malice. i hope that pimentel mainly refers to the elderly in san francisco. my reference is the older pinoys in chicago who outspokenly dislike obama for his color. sad. on the other hand that generation is passing, is almost over. there is hope.

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