Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia Online
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, August 12 — The ever-increasing popularity of bleaching creams and skin-whitening soaps in the Philippines brings to my mind what a friend told me a few years back about a question asked by one of her nephews.

The boy is some sort of a child prodigy. He was reading newspapers at three and knew how to operate a computer at four. I have heard him over the phone and he speaks without eating a single word, which was very remarkable for his age. He had won gold medals in past Recognition Days and his teachers had offered to accelerate him to a higher grade level.

All this did not matter to his schoolmates, however. They had been teasing him for having darker skin than theirs, which had caused him to develop an inferiority complex. My friend related that once, when he was five, the child asked his mother, "Is it okay that I'm dark?"

The boy could not be blamed for asking such a question. It is surprising how many dark-skinned adults in this country still think like he did then. They eternally ask God why He had to make them that way, while the more moneyed ones among them frequently rush frantically to stores to buy bottles of bleaching cream or blocks of skin-whitening soap.

Indeed, it is hard to find a country where bleaching creams and skin-whitening soaps are more popular than in the Philippines.

Looking closely, this may be part of the attitude we have taken towards the Americans. Whenever American soldiers enter the Philippines purportedly for military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), they are generally welcomed with open arms despite decades of documented US military atrocities against Filipino civilians -- including the rape of a young woman in Subic, Zambales in late 2006.

Of course, not all Americans are white. However, it does not take an anthropologist to know that whites are a majority in the US. For Filipinos, America will always be associated with white skin; think American and you tend to think of white, blond men and women.

However, everyone should realize that it is not color that makes a human, but the knowledge of right from wrong and the adherence to right. Therefore, the darkness of skin does not diminish humanity.

Malcolm X, a black man, taught his fellow blacks to stand up for their rights. He was infinitely more human than Adolf Hitler, a white man, who violated the rights of roughly a fourth of the human race.

Oseola McCarty, a black woman, donated most of the money she earned from washing clothes to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), to fund scholarships for black students. She was infinitely more human than Evita Peron, a white woman, who enriched herself by ravaging her country's treasury.

This leads us back to the five-year-old's question, to which the boy's mother replied, "It's okay, you're still handsome anyway."

She should have gone beyond that. Her answer implies that it is all right to be dark only if you are handsome, and that it is all right not to be handsome as long as you are fair, but not if you are dark. She should have said that color does not matter at all. She should have told him to ask his schoolmates' parents instead why it is not all right that he is dark.

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