Paternalist racism
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa () - September 20, 2009 - 12:00am

Little Brown Brother was a term used by Americans to justify colonizing Filipinos. It is also the title of a book by Leon Wolff praised by more enlightened Filipinos and Americans alike.

It captured the sordid facts of how America subdued brave Filipinos who fought and died to be free. Some 225,000 Filipinos died in that war that up to this day official America still calls an insurrection.

The term was not meant to be an ethnic slur. Indeed the word ‘brother” can be regarded as affection. American historian, Creighton Miller wrote that it was meant to be a reflection of a policy “paternalist racism” promoted by Theodore Roosevelt and subsequently passed on to President McKinley on the Philippines.

Official America (meaning its government) through Taft and McKinley believed Filipinos were “our little brown brothers” because they will at least “fifty or one hundred years” of close supervision “develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.”

The operative words here are “close supervision” because that will clarify many of the things happening to us now as we wake up to the realities of why we have been left behind by almost all the countries in Asia.

Perhaps this is the time to re-read “Little Brown Brother” to realize just how much it has affected us in our struggle to shape our nation.

Americans will always treat us like “little brown brothers” if we act like “little brown brothers.”

This is not to say that Americans all think this way. There are just as many who are repelled by official acts of US government and their media supporters who have justified invasion of the Philippines in 1899.

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In these days, when we are struggling to reform our political system through Charter change we should enlist the help of ordinary Americans who understand self-determination.

It was this column that asked why the US ambassador should appear on television and print media to insist on the 2010 elections before Charter change even while the debate was still in full swing. There are at least one or two presidential candidates that can be said to have been selected under American persuasion.

Ordinary Americans have put their beliefs into action by overthrowing a president described as the modern day reincarnation of McKinley and his policy of “paternalistic racism”. It seems that some Filipinos close their mind to this so long as it favors their personal interests and the neocolonial status quo in the country continues.

We must seek Americans who do not agree with this policy of “paternalistic racism.” There are other ways to shape and develop our nation other than to accept that we fall in line with America’s notion of democracy and be dictated upon because we were a former colony.

One way for a more balanced relation with America is to keep firmly in mind that we belong to Asia. With the growing integration of the countries of Asia, the Philippines must do all it can to be just as forceful in asserting its commitment to this region while remaining an ally of the United States. At the same time allies need not be subservient. We belong firmly and ineluctably to Asia. We must be able to balance being of Asia to temper aggressive American influence in our politics.

America’s hand looms large in our politics. Its effects continue to this day if more subtly. The tragedy is that Filipinos point fingers at each other, even kill each other sometimes in what seems to them as merely local politics.

I believe that neocolonialism plays an equal if not a bigger part in the political mess. We have our faults but none bigger than official America’s agenda in this region to make Philippine government and its policies hew to what they want us to be and to do.

“Incredible that in this day and age, nothing much has changed in the Philippines. Today wears a cloak of sophistication, outward love of all things American by a population that has no idea of the blood that was spilled by America in the process of a rough and dirty attempt at colonization of the Philippines,” says one reviewer of Wolff’s Little Brown Brother.

We celebrated the centennial of our independence in a ritual but not in substance. I agree with what the same reviewer said, “it is just a bit more modern, the action faster, the politics the same, the poor still poor and the rich much, much richer.”

He thinks more Filipinos should read “Little Brown Brother” because according to him it is “far more enlightening than Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Indeed, he suggests it should be compulsory reading for all Filipinos.

It is not as if Filipinos are unaware of the pervasive influence of official America in our local politics. They are, but they merely shrug it off and unaffected that no presidential candidate will ever win without America’s blessing. This influence is done through many indirect and subtle ways but can be detected if you put your mind to it.

There is a saying that the darkest part of the night comes before dawn. If it has been a grinding and difficult task for Charter change, it is also true that I am optimistic that we may at last be reaching a turning point. Official America cannot face the fact that the Philippines should shift to parliamentary government because it is a repudiation of the failed presidential system their colonization bequeathed to us.

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Yesterday I wrote about a revival of the historical ties between Europe and the Philippines through the Rizalistas in France. I wonder if the work could be expanded to educate Filipinos of the political heritage we owe to the progressive thinkers of Spain at the time of the Propaganda Movement in the 19th century. Our heroes, among them Jose Rizal, were then young students who imbibed the ideas in the political ferment at the time, with Spain playing a major role.

Through the teachings of our heroes we may find that parliamentary government is part of that political heritage. Parliamentary government is to Europe as presidential is to the United States. The campaign for Filipinos to be represented in the Spanish Cortes also talked of colonies as federal states.

But we can fashion our own government using influences from both our former colonizers. I daresay we can do this without the “close supervision” of America because we are not the little brown brothers they think we are.

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