I once blogged about colonial mentality, stating that seeing it as a problem is a myth. After more thought and encountering further opinions on the subject, I still think it is a myth – a dangerous one. A bogeyman, an imaginary monster in the closet. I’ve seen so many discussions where others fiercely blame it for many of the problems of the Philippines and that foreigners are the reason why the country is messed up. But I realize that it’s all a decoy meant to throw us off the course we must take to truly fix our broken nation.
White is Beautiful?
Some often cite the popularity of skin-whitening products as proof of the effect of colonial mentality. But now, someone is debunking this explanation. The Wikipedia entry on Colonial Mentality, indirectly quoting Maria Bernadette L. Abrera of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, has this to say:
Many Filipinos believe that the idealization of fair skin had its roots during the Spanish colonization. Actually, fairness of complexion was attested as a characteristic of the upper class women and appears as the standard of beauty among the Austronesian peoples of the pre-Hispanic Philippines. The desire for white skin is definitely not a result of colonial mentality during the Spanish rule.
(Postscript: sadly, this text was edited out since then, but the article still quotes the study saying the desire for fair complexion predates colonial rule)
If people say white skin is better, it does not include only Caucasians: Asians, including Chinese, Koreans and Japanese have white-skinned people as well.
And there is another issue, a common analogy used all over the world: the color white is a symbol of cleanliness. The darker, the dirtier. Isn’t that why we sometimes use, “Ang puti ng labada” (the laundry is white) instead of “ang linis ng labada” (the laundry is clean)? I don’t think you can say that this laundry phrase comes from colonial mentality; that would be stretching it.
Creation of an Historical Decoy
Some Filipinos believe that shedding colonial mentality is the way we can move forward. However, after I analyze it, I realize that it is based on a lot of myths and misconceptions. Hatred of colonial mentality is red herring – it distracts us from the real problems. Yet why are we concerned with colonial mentality? What is it that causes people to violently hate it?
One reason is how biased and propaganda-riddled our history education is. We have many biased and history books in our schools that influence our views one way or another. Two major writers of these were Teodoro Agoncillo and Gregorio Zaide.
Gregorio Zaide was anti-Spanish and pro-American. Because his history books were common and became official, he may have been influential in causing even the post-American era young people to chase after American culture (even if American commercialism was already doing that). He may have even taught that Rizal and cohorts wanted independence from Spain, when this is clearly false. Rizal and cohorts wanted the Philippines to be a province of Spain, similar to how some would want the Philippines to be a state of America. Such twisting of history has led to wrong perceptions and growth of anti-foreign hate campaigns.
Both writers are biased in my view. Firstly, Agoncillo had leftist views, and his writings were staunchly anti-foreign. He promoted peasant culture and the bahay kubo, and divestment of modern influences to reach the “real Filipino culture.” What he failed to realize is that the bahay kubo is common with Vietnam, Thailand and other Southeast Asian cultures, and is not uniquely Filipino.
The net effect of these two historians’ work may have been to promote demonization of anything foreign. Although Zaide promoted America, Agoncillo’s attitude of anti-foreignism became very strong in Filipino culture. Somewhere along the line, the notion of colonial mentality came in to define the “evil” left by our former colonizers.
The Manipulative Media Monster
We always see this slogan, “Kaya din natin,” (we are also capable), “We Filipinos can do it too.” That’s the basis of colonial mentality – Filipinos think of themselves as inferior and look at their colonizers as superior. But hold on; where did this attitude come from? Who told us this?
Perhaps the answer is, the Filipinos never felt inferior before. Perhaps they never did. Until someone gave that idea. Who’s that someone? Local mass media.
Media depicts Filipinos as downtrodden, depressed, oppressed and inferior… but point to the wrong causes. They conditioned the minds of people with an inferiority complex and diverted the blame to those who are actually not to blame (because the real culprits actually own the media companies). It’s also a play on the victim mentality of poor people in order to get viewers for garbage shows like Wowowee. And it helps in resistance against solutions… solutions such as bringing in foreign investment to create jobs.
In the end, colonial mentality has been used as red herring, just as the use of Villar by the Yellow faction during the election and the use of GMA by media today has led Filipinos on wild goose chases.
What see on TV and radio (even local media) drives us into a love-hate relationship with foreign ideas. We see a lot of skin-whitening products because they are the major sponsors of the shows. As I stated above, what is passed off as colonial mentality is merely commercialism. They are actually part of a new health and wellness fad that uses white skin as a sign of health. The pseudo-patriots or even leftists jump at this to point an accusing finger at “colonial mentalists,” but themselves wear Levi’s jeans and Lacoste shirts while doing this.
Media is also hypocritical in depicting foreigners. They copy American concepts and shows, but portray people from other countries as cruel and inconsiderate. The notion taught is that people from abroad are all bad apples. Media portrays foreigners as robbers and spoilers of our “nation’s wealth” and takes advantage of it to draw attention away from who is actually robbing and spoiling our nation’s wealth.
What to Do?
Of course, I agree that Filipinos have to believe in themselves and work to solve the country’s problems. But it’s not the colonial mentality thing that’s holding them back. It’s not lack of belief in themselves. It’s the lack of means. Such means have been limited thanks to the lack of economic opportunities here.
OFWs go abroad, get separated from their families, get abused and all that. Some people may be blaming foreign countries for taking OFWs. But the cause of the OFW phenomenon is lack of opportunities at home. There are just not enough jobs. And the way to generate jobs, which is to bring the companies here, is being blocked by those using colonial mentality as one of the excuses to oppose foreign investment and want to maintain a monopoly over business in the country.
I do agree that there are some things not worth taking from foreigners. For example, one of our former bloggers has mentioned that the primadonna style of sports from America is being imitated by our basketball stars – and thus they lose to foreign basketball teams. He also claimed that Americans also introduced the idea of racism, saying that while Spanish mingled with with indios, Americans forbade their kids from playing with them. While it may be argued that Spanish also had the indio, insulares and peninsulares descriptions (not to mention that Filipino actually meant only a specific class of people in the archipelago before), such racism may still be around today. We also have rampant consumerism and commercialism that comes from America. These are the things we must practice discernment on.
One other effect of hatred of colonial mentality is not just diversion from the true sources of corruption. The most harmful effect is that it is dividing Filipinos. Some Filipinos are quick to raise a finger and point to other people, blaming them for colonial mentality, while the thieves do their worst under their noses.
It also looks to me that hatred of colonial mentality reflects the mentality that nations SHOULD be enemies. It’s like, ang Pinoy, naghahanap talaga ng away (Pinoys are really looking for a fight). It’s like the teenage gangster picking a fight in the street to try and prove he’s superior to get over his inferiority complex. We’ve been taught that we are oppressed by other countries, so we should pick a fight by blaming them for our problems.
Let’s get rid of this fixation on colonial mentality as a problem: it isn’t. The real problem is that our own corrupt countrymen, who have power both politically and in the media, are duping us. They’re most likely using this to draw attention away from them and divide the Filipinos so that they’re busy witch-hunting the “colonial mentalists” while the kurakots get away.
As stated in other articles here in GRP, let us embrace the good parts of our lineages, which includes “colonial” influences, and forge a real identity with them. And, let us focus on the right goals.
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