Why ‘racist slur’ hurts Filipinos skin-deep


A JOURNALIST in Hong Kong, who had described the Philippines a “Nation of Servants” in his column, may have written his article a “satirical’ and the comments he made were “not intentional”, but the Filipinos’ reaction demonstrates they could not take it lightly; and it hurts skin-deep, satirical or otherwise.

The article, entitled “The War At Home” written by Chip Tsao, was first published in HK Magazine on 27 March 2009, but his publishing company, the Asia City Publishing Group, had to pull it out from their website three days later. The massive condemnation, here and in the Philippines, forced them to make an apology on March 30.

Even before Chip Tsao’s article come to light, another local newspaper, The Standard had also published a report in February 25 claiming Filipinos were ‘carriers of an infectious disease’, “Super Bug”, by quoting an expert from the Center for Health Protection (CHP). I took the latter a serious issue and personally wrote to the CHP asking for clarification, only to find out the report did not even “express the views of the CHP”.
But not like the HK Magazine, neither The Standard made an apology nor their editor, Ivan Tong, replied to my letter and email. The journalist, who wrote the article, Patsy Moy, has stood to her story despite having it being disclaimed in the CHP’s letter to me.

When I tried to find ways to get remedies, I had been told that the newly passed law, “Racial Discrimination Ordinance” in Hong Kong, though it has provision to protect the ethnic minorities from being discriminated against, there is no remedy for a certain ethnic group claiming offended by published articles or reports, but only at workplaces.

Thus, Filipinos in Hong Kong, for lack of remedies from being discriminated against and to register protestation to offensive and false comments, has had to resort to at least, issuing statements and press releases. The Filipinos reaction to Chip Tsao’s suppose ‘satirical’ column would not be the last as it was not also the first. It is just amongst numerous incidents upon which the Filipinos stood collectively to comments they thought offensive.

To my own recollection of these controversies, a Hollywood actress made an apology after having been declared ‘persona non grata’ and her movie banned from being shown for commenting the City of Manila is infested with cockroach and rats when filming there; a Canadian mentor was condemned over her offensive comment on a Filipino toddler for not being able to use spoon and fork at a primary school; and just recently, a comedy show aired by the BBC in London showing a character of a Filipina helper told to perform sexy dance before her employer’s friends, amongst others.

These were controversies for simple reasons; firstly, Filipinos do not think they deserve humiliating criticisms from a foreign actress who had been shown with hospitality that way we treat our visitors during her stay; secondly, the use of spoon and fork are habits of people in the west, not of ours as we use bare hands to eat before the colonial period; thirdly, domestic workers could not be an object of any joke.
The Filipinos may be fragmented and divided in some sense, like by their social class, ethnic groups, dialect and ideology, but once the very foundations of them being a Filipino, as a byproduct of their historical colonial past and oppressive regimes, is shaken, if not being humiliated or offended, it is what would tie them altogether.

Let takes Chip Tsao’s column as an example. He may argue that his article was ‘satirical’; however, he touches the very foundations of why Filipinos has had to come to Hong Kong to work as domestic worker.

They are forced, not of their own choice, due to lack of any opportunities back home, as a result of either of the abject failure by our government or for making this labor export a policy during Marcos regime in the 1970s.

Therefore, it was not the Filipinos’ choice as citizen, which is actually composed of different ethnic minorities scattered in over 7,000 islands in the archipelago, that had pushed them to serve foreign households as ‘modern slaves’, but their presence is rather a product of a policy crafted by a dictatorial and oppressive regime that lasted to this day.
Writings and literary articles satirical in nature is not a monopoly of any writers as this approach is also nothing new to Filipinos. This type of literary had in fact been a tremendous part in the writings of Filipino nationalist, like Jose Rizal in his novels, and others, which inspired the Philippine revolution against colonial Spain in 1800s. Thus, to argue that the Filipinos, in reading Chip Tsao, either could not or have not been able to ‘read between the lines’, is not accurate.

Filipino domestic workers are themselves even better English speakers and writes English than some of their employers do because English had been our mediums of language from the time we begin our grade school to finishing our degrees, once again a product of our colonial American past imposed on us in 1900s that continue exist in our education system to this day—which explains as not accurate we could not read subtle meanings.

But in Rizal’s writings, in his politically charged satirical novel, Noli Me Tangere, he used as his object of ridicule the Spanish Friars, the oppressors and plunderers; not those who are in immense suffering due to oppression, the Filipinos. The latter is what to my impression the approach Chip Tsao had taken in his attempt to be satirical making it condemnable. His objects of satire were the domestic workers—those are already in immense suffering and are forced to separate from their families, to serve foreign households.

The problem with some writers is that they know full well what is offensive but they nevertheless test waters. Journalism also entails responsibility. When U.S. Barack Obama was elected as president, a Filipino-owned newspaper had the title of their headline story which read: “Black in White House“; and not “‘Negro’ in White House”. In our modern times, not only Filipinos, but other nationalities we knew how deep it hurts for blacks to be described as ‘Negroes’.

To end this article, I would like to borrow the word of the late Filipino Nationalist, Jose “Pepe’ Diokno, in his essay written in 1984, of what he has described the Philippines: “A Nation for our Children”; not of servants as Chip Tsao had it described in his column. The former had been the long aspiration of all Filipinos, like me.


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