Friday, March 02, 2012

Project 52 2012 (9/52): On Discrimination (And Why It's Gotten Worse By Getting Subtler)

.:Project 52 2012 (9/52): On Discrimination (And Why It's Gotten Worse By Getting Subtler):.

And so we get into all this safe space and anti-discrimination stuff I sometimes touch on every now and then. You might even say that within my tiny sphere of influence, I treat it like an advocacy at this point. I've even written this two-part article about it this week.

This has been a rather interesting time for anyone with a modicum of interest in race relations. Admittedly, this is a weird concept in a country like the Philippines, seeing as our seemingly desperate sense of Filipino pride extends all the way to taking pride in anyone with a drop of Filipino blood in them, up to and including Rob Schneider. Rob. Freaking. Schneider.

What? No Betamax? Rob Schneider, you fail!

Sure, the whole FHM cover brouhaha was also tinged with class issues, but they aren't mutually exclusive from race issues, and both are rife with glaring examples of discrimination. What does get annoying is when some people insist that because they don't see anything wrong with something, then there's nothing wrong with it. Sorta like how people generally miss the fact that there's an arrow in the FedEx logo. And yet it's there.

You might say they're keeping themselves in the... should I even go on?

The above was the ill-advised, or at least, the troll-bait cover from FHM's upcoming issue, featuring Bela Padilla. Now, the cover is reportedly being replaced for when the magazine actually comes out, and FHM and even Bela Padilla herself apologized for the cover. I'm not writing this to crucify FHM or Bela Padilla, but that doesn't mean the discussion about issues of discrimination should similarly stop. If anything, this whole thing should spur further discussion with minimal shaming or condemnation in order to facilitate understanding.

Except that probably won't happen.

Every single time discussions about race crop up, the only time Filipinos really feel a noticeable sense of outrage is when it's a Chip Tsao or an Alec Baldwin or a Teri Hatcher making the apparently racist statement, and Filipinos far and wide crying foul. We'd even happily do it when one of our own dares to spit upon the sacred altar of "Filipino pride." However, it seems that whenever we do come out as racist to other nations, we don't really do much to put ourselves in check, or else there would've been a larger uproar for the time Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, much as I love her to pieces, actually said that the Chinese invented corruption.

This whole issue is no different, as every single play from the Derailing For Dummies handbook was utilized just to sweep the issue under the rug, either because the issue seems irrelevant to most of us privileged people, or because a topic like this may be uncomfortable for privileged people who get upset when they find out they're actually racist. It's pretty coincidental that even Cracked has a relevant article about racism up this week, and it parallels a lot of the things I say right now, with a whole lot more comedy mixed into their take, obviously.

Granted, we don't live anymore in a world where it's okay to segregate blacks from whites, or women not being allowed to vote is par for the course. These things have become galvanizing symbols to rally against: these very blatant, egregious examples of inequality will find very few supporters.

Unfortunately, this also means that these blatant, egregious examples are normally the only things we look for when trying to find inequality in our world today. We seem to need something galvanizing before we so much as consider that maybe, just maybe, something oppressive is already happening right before our very eyes.

Most of us do live with privilege. In an ideal world, everyone would think the same way people of privilege do, where we assume we will get by this world on our own merits, and we can afford to be color-blind or gender-blind because everyone else is more of the same. Race as a mere social construct becomes completely obliviated because there no longer is no need for it. But then, neither would we have need for any of the other social constructs like sovereign nations or families. Which is to say, we don't live in an ideal world, and whether we like it or not, these social constructs are here to stay.

As people of privilege, we can afford to live without being conscious about race, because it rarely affects us, for as long as Desperate Housewives doesn't take another swipe at us. With privilege, we can afford to not be disturbed by, say, a pun likening dark-skinned people to shadows because it's just words, and only sticks and stones can break our bones, and these black people better toughen the fuck up and stop trying to find excuses to get offended all the time.

Of course it's easy for the privileged to say these things. They don't go through it every single day, much like a man in general would not have to live in fear of being raped, and might find it easy to make jokes about how Michael Bay's take on Transformers pretty much "raped" their childhood. What's not easy is to check one's privilege at the door, and to actually recognize what's important for the Other in front of us, instead of what's important only to ourselves.

Now that discrimination has gotten subtler, it has become fashionable for people to cry about the likes of affirmative action or the PC police, as if avoiding saying a word or two for the sake of not upsetting a marginalized group that has institutionally been discriminated against since they could remember would be the end of the world for the privileged. Is perpetrating the endless cycle of oppression against the Other all for the sake of "freedom of expression" really more important than just striking a couple of words from your vocabulary?

I find it a bit bewildering how someone who is caught doing or saying something racist feels so offended, and suddenly makes it about them, instead of the fact that they actually went and offended someone, to begin with. This very casual shift of denying acknowledgment of the Other and her issues only proves that the Other is indeed being marginalized, to the point that we, in our privilege, feel entitled to have the focus about us even when dealing with or simply dismissing their issues.

Discrimination has gotten worse because the fewer instances of discrimination remain seemingly non-taboo, the more steadfastly we will insist on holding onto them. Just look to homophobia and ableism, if you don't believe me. Because we're so busy looking for burning crosses and gas chambers, we forget that little daily affirmations of oppression can and do ruin the day for those who are marginalized.

And no, a lack of malicious intentions or even outright good intentions is not an excuse for offending people. When you step on someone's toes, you apologize for it especially if you didn't mean to do it (If you did mean to, you're clearly looking to start something, anyways.). Intent isn't magic. It's not a get out of jail free card.

Furthermore, since some people know I do contribute to the Filipino Freethinkers, and I even went and supported their call to uphold the right to offend in the middle of the Mideo Cruz issue, why am I suddenly being seemingly inconsistent and suddenly wishing people don't get all offensive against the marginalized?

If you're reading carefully enough, the key word is "marginalized." Obviously, if you're Catholic and in the Philippines, then you are anything but. If anything, atheists are the marginalized ones, and their crusade for secularism is precisely their call for equality. If people are free to insult the beliefs or lack thereof that atheists have, why is the opposite, insulting the beliefs of the religious, suddenly taboo? Does believing in God suddenly make you and your opinions (And make no mistake about it: the existence or non-existrence of God still stands as an opinion, albeit a very important and personal one.) superior?

True, not every single dark-skinned person was offended by the FHM cover, much like not all of us were offended by Chip Tsao's satirical tirade against this "nation of servants." That doesn't invalidate the feelings of people who were offended by any of these, either. It's the opportunity to discuss and educate ourselves from these occurrences that is one of our takeaways from this, rather than to be dismissive of the feelings of people who feel hurt by acts of actual or merely perceived discrimination.

For example, wouldn't it be better to explain to your black friend that the word "niggardly" isn't exactly what it sounds like, rather than to just point and laugh at him for making an honest mistake?

Some things require more explanation than others, though.

And if, after reasonable discussion, your friend still feels put off by the word, then is it such a big deal for you to just never use the word around him again? I think while one cannot rely on human decency in this world, this should never be an excuse for not displaying it. This is akin to how while Mideo has every right to offend religious folk in the manner that he did, I didn't have to like his art (I was never a fan of post-modern art, period, so this is no surprise.), nor do I need to do the exact same thing.

True, everyone's a little bit racist sometimes. And while it doesn't mean we go around committing hate crimes, there's a lot to be said about displaying basic human decency and compassion when it's within our power to do so. While it'd be nice if everyone could take a little joke, the last thing we have the right to do is to tell other people how to feel, because nobody in their right mind goes out of their way wanting to get hurt or offended.

Ultimately, discrimination happens in an imperfect world the more we are blind to the differences among us. It takes a lot of perspective, and genuinely walking a mile in the shoes of the Other for us to even begin to understand. Otherwise, we end up doing another unintentionally condescending "If I Were A Poor Black Kid," and no amount of good intentions could conceivably excuse the sheer insensitivity and ignorance of that.

Stop being insensitive, or he's comin' for you...
no good will come out of completing that statement, will it?

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