Apparently, quite a few Filipinos seem to think so. Given the highly hypersensitive nature of the Filipinos, it was only natural that they would react with rage to the screenshot below found in certain Hong Kong textbooks.
The blog site Hongwrong.com couldn’t help but make a parody of such depiction of “racial harmony” as is being propagated in Hong Kong, and came up with the picture below. (Do remember that it’s satirical, please.)
Before we go around exploring the question I posed in the title, I think it better to answer other more important questions first.
What is wrong, if anything, with being a domestic helper (DH), per se?
By itself, nothing. Every job has its function in society. Domestic helpers are tasked with taking care of the house, cleaning up after their employers’ messes, taking care of the employers’ children, etc.
In other words, they do the “dirty work” so that their employers don’t have to. As a friend of mine said: Marangal din na trabaho naman ang DH ha. (A DH job is a noble one too.)
If we refer back to the controversial page in the textbook, maybe we should ask: Is there a stigma attached to being a katulong in Filipino society?
In Filipino society, an integral part of many households is the katulong, or household help. As much as Filipinos don’t like to admit it, many households would feel either helpless or inconvenienced without one.
Labor, however, is cheap and plentiful in the Philippines. Many Filipinos who are unable to finish their schooling and lack technical and vocational skills often have no choice to become household help in order to make ends meet.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that a prevailing attitude towards the katulong is to take him/her for granted. I would hazard a guess that many families pay their household help cheap wages to work under conditions that are difficult, and oftentimes border on oppressive.
We cannot neglect to mention that the employment situation in the Philippines is dire. The number of jobs available is limited; the number of job-seekers and unemployed is much larger. Not all the available workforce is qualified for the jobs that are in demand. Those who are employed find that their salaries are not enough to meet the ever rising cost of goods and living here.
As a result, many of them are left with no choice but to seek employment abroad. And a lot who do end up as domestic helpers.
But why do Filipinos consider being depicted as domestic helpers racist?
The only answer I can really think of: because Filipinos themselves regard household help with a certain “disdain”. Katulong ka lang. (You’re just household help.)
Socio-economic class is a big divide to cross here in the Philippines. Upward mobility is difficult, if not impossible here; if Filipinos are born poor, very few of them are able to advance out of it. It is part of Filipino culture to be resigned to one’s fate and to wait for “blessings from above” instead of the ethic of hard work being inculcated at an early age. Unfortunately, it is also part of Filipino culture to be deferential to people with higher social rank than one’s own; on the flipside, those with higher social rank act like spoiled, entitled brats. Such is the nature of the beast.
Based on the comments I was able to glean in various communities and forums, Filipinos seem to think that the textbook is generalizing ALL Filipinos as domestic helpers, which, to their credit, is certainly not true. Filipinos work in various other fields in companies here and abroad such as engineering, finance, oil and gas, service industry, and natural sciences, to name a few.
There is a reason, however, that that stereotype or perception of Filipinos as domestic helpers exists: because there are so many of them. It is but a natural human tendency to tend to make an all-encompassing statement if one’s observation is consistent. That does not make it right, but it is what it is.
Now comes a hard question that Filipinos will most likely avoid answering:
If we don’t like the DH stereotype, what do we plan to do about it?
The DH stereotype is linked to the overseas Filipino worker phenomenon (OFW). Filipinos going abroad has become all but a way of life. Certain Filipinos have more children than they can feed with their meager salary. Certain Filipinos have become excessively consumerist that they need more money to feed their lavish lifestyles and their unrestrained “need” to have the latest trendy gadgets and other stuff. Certain Filipinos are just unable to find good work here because they either lack the skills needed or are just having a hard time keeping up with a ballooning workforce.
The DH stereotype is an unfortunate but inevitable result of the Filipinos’ lack of long-term planning, lack of vision, and lack of ability to habitually honor commitments. The visible outcome: a good number of Filipinos living in poverty and being forced to work in jobs that they might not want.
The DH stereotype is not racist. Filipinos made the bed that they currently sleep in; they had it in their power to control how they are perceived by the world. Instead of controlling things we had power over and developing them as best as we could, we harvested our “assets” early and shipped them of as raw labor. We could have chosen to develop more professionals in fields such as science, engineering, but we didn’t.
So now, we are stuck with a perception that is ultimately our fault.
To be fair, it has been observed in Hong Kong that despite being a multicultural city, there are still pockets of underlying discrimination against certain ethnic groups. Certain sectors, such as textbook publishers, are still known to propagate stereotypes of other ethnic groups. But discrimination will remain in any society, that is a given; all the more so in a country whose name literally means “the middle kingdom”.
We may not be able to control how other ethnic groups perceive us, but it doesn’t change the fact that we can ultimately change how we show ourselves to the world. As I said above, the DH/OFW phenomenon is a consequence of the choices we made as a people in the past, and now it’s coming to bite us back, and hard. We had a chance to make ourselves self-sufficient, but instead we rely on foreign powers to provide for us what we can’t provide for ourselves.
To borrow words from the GRP webmaster, whether we see ourselves as members of the global community, or merely its employees, is entirely up to us.
Image-conscious Philippines has reared its ugly, balat-sibuyas head yet again. And, predictably, falls flat on its face.
[Photo of OFW’s courtesy: heart-2-heart-online.com]
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