Shade is the new black

SLOW DOWN, DILETTANTE - Jam Pascual (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2016 - 10:00am

Let’s wind the clock back to 2013.

There were two kinds of criticism hurled at Nancy Binay when she was elected senator. The first, rightfully so, were attacks on her severe lack of experience in the realm of public service. She claimed her 20 years of “on-the-job training” as a personal assistant to her father, Jejomar Binay, were adequate credentials to take up the position of senator. She and her father were mocked for it, and rightfully so. It’s criticisms like these that almost convince you that we as a nation have become informed, and more wary of political dynasties. (I mean, sure, there’s Bongbong, but that’s a whole other can of worms I am not willing to open.)

You probably have a handful of friends who do nothing but post about politics. It’s not the prettiest sight to see, watching people get angry on your feed, reminding you that you live in a piss-pot country with little to no political will, but at least those people have useful things to say. You wanna believe the Philippines is supported by a constituency that does its best to stay informed and critical? You look to those people. If you believe otherwise, it’s probably because of the people on your timeline who hurl the second kind of criticism.

Nancy Binay’s skin color was probably the first thing about her people attacked, maybe because it was the easiest thing to attack. Posts that make fun of her skin color are shareable, meme-able, and a welcome, humorous relief to people who don’t like seeing the messiness of political discourse on their Facebook timelines but still wanna get in on the fun of insulting the government. It’s lazy comedy. It’s a poor tone-deaf attempt at looking like an anti-establishment rebel. It gives ammunition to her supporters, who are then able to comfortably get on with the notion that those against her are just uppity bourgeois jokers who don’t know how to craft decent arguments.

Wind the clock to present day, 2016. Now that her father’s vying for the presidency (God help us), he’s the one on the receiving end of that same half-assed ad hominem rhetoric.

That Filipinos still make fun of other Filipinos for having dark skin just isn’t surprising anymore. It’s a stigma almost as old as our history. Mass media perpetuated it, casting dark characters into comedic, clownish rolls. Popular advertising strengthened it, equating whiteness with beauty and anything vaguely brownish as a flaw that needs to be corrected. We’re conditioned to believe that dark skin is inseparable from its negative connotations: poor, ugly, shady, jej, whatever. You call this kind of behavior racist, you’re met with condescending derision. (“I’m not being racist! We’re all the same race! Maybe you’re being racist if you think it’s an issue of race, dude; c’mon, chill out, bruh.”) You call it dumb, you’re accused of being a killjoy, a wannabe gadfly, a political pundit who does nothing but take the fun out of everything.

Sure, you’re allowed to make fun of people in power. Just look at our editorial cartoons. We portray greedy businessmen as fat slobs. We depict oppressive religious leaders as sunken-cheeked, bony old curmudgeons with chronic frown faces. But we do that to attack dominant narratives, using certain images to tear down powerful people who use their power the wrong way. But try making an editorial cartoon about the Binays that makes fun of their skin color. You don’t attack the status quo of dynasties. You just make fun of people of a certain skin color.

This isn’t news to us. It isn’t news to me. I just thought, you know, maybe we were coming closer to getting all our crap together. We’re all kind of moving into an age of sensitivity and political correctness and a bunch of other things that are ideally supposed to strengthen our democracy. But we’re still throwing around the same old jokes. We like to call our government dumb and addled with corruption, yet still find it in ourselves to pelt it with unintelligent rhetoric. We say “F**k the system” while strengthening the system in the process. Hypocrites, demanding change but never changing.

Make no mistake, I don’t like either of the Binays. This isn’t an endorsement. This is more of a proposition that maybe, no matter who we vote into the presidency, if this country’s citizenry is more concerned with mudslinging than actual discussion, we’re screwed no matter what.

A slight digression: I’ve seen friends making the move of unfriending people who don’t share their political or spiritual beliefs. The idea is to disassociate yourself from people on the wrong side of history and gain a little peace of mind in the process. I’ve never been a big fan of the idea. The strategy of unfriending the people you believe are making the world a worse place to live in just closes you off from the possibility of either converting them or tearing them down.

But then, watching stupid people talk and not listen, I admit the idea becomes more and more attractive each day. Can you blame me or anyone subscribing to such a bleak outlook? Of people not changing? Welcome to the club.

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