I have what I believe is an internal white voice. But I’m not white. Not light-skinned. Nor any of the identifiers that some would consider privileged just from one glance at the color of my skin. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I wish I were white. It’s just that my thoughts sound white.
And if you are an American, have lived outside of the Philippines, or idolize anything western in origin, I will argue that your thoughts do, too.
Let me explain.
When the synapses in my brain fire and I’m aware of what I’m thinking or saying, my “default setting” is undeniably white. If there was a way to extract my conscience, it would probably sound like your standard voice bot. (I’m looking at you, Alexa). And when I read, my stream of consciousness takes on a persona that’s western in origin. It tends to be a sort of neutral, coastal American. When a character I’m following is speaking or a narrator is guiding a journey, it takes on said form (if the persona is unidentified). Even when talking with friends in school, they would say I “sound white” when I didn’t throw out a few choice Asian-like words, or the appropriate street slang inflections here and there. I suppose I sounded like a “valley girl,” as they so lovingly put it (how ’90s of them). If this notion has any scientific basis, how could something like this develop? Is there a social hierarchy that exists within our own minds?
Sit back and take a moment to consider your own conscience. Focus on the purest form of it — I’m not even addressing morals here. While you’re breathing in and out, note the first thought that pops up. What does your inner voice sound like? Regardless of where you grew up or currently live, is it shaded with the notion that a more educated persona is desirable? Is it full of elevation, confidence, and even bits of physical superiority of attractiveness? Does it even have a gender, or is it neutral? If you are a woman, is it neutral because even sounding feminine is historically seen as weak? Is your default internal voice setting seeking a more widely acceptable profile in order to survive in the physical world, therefore taking on a form similar to mine?
I bet it does.
Again, I’m not arguing for how you speak, act, dress, etcetera. I’m talking about the rawest form of cognitive thought, and that we all just might be giving in to a higher power that’s so deeply embedded in the world and in ourselves that it’s most likely not going anywhere, anytime soon. And this suppression is taking on countless forms in our media and politics today.
To further these musings (albeit purely based on opinion), let’s dissect my case.
I am a proud, dark-skinned Asian — Filipinx, to be exact. My parents moved from the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest in the late ’70s, when my father had joined the US Navy during the height of the Marcos regime that placed the country under martial law. At the urging of his parents to gain a better life, he joined the US military and earned his citizenship, which makes me the second-generation American I am today.
Fast-forward to the late ’80s, and I’m arguing with a caucasian classmate about geography. “What is a Filipino? You’re not even on the map!” Granted, the Philippines is not spelled with an “F,” so that made it a little hard to find for a first-grader. A country ruled first by Spain for over 300 years and subsequently sold as a territory to the US for roughly $20 million, Filipinos weren’t really set up to have a strong, independent identity. So what did I do? I cried and cried until I located it on our worn classroom world guide. Even when I had pointed my finger with gusto, the kid shrugged and proceeded to pick his nose rather than concede. “You still don’t exist.” I cried again.
This went on and on throughout my life: assimilating into a world where my family is a part of the minority, floating on the precipice of a totally tubular Californian culture while pushing our roots far below the surface. My parents couldn’t hold onto much from their beloved homeland, aside from religion and some cuisine. What would be shared between them would not be so with their kids. We were never taught how to speak our language so that we wouldn’t be “picked on” at school. (That was their reasoning, anyway.) People in the Philippines are often prized if they have light skin. My own mother and grandmother bathed me in papaya soap, in the hope that my skin wouldn’t have the “shade of my father,” or someone who “works in the fields.” (Forgive a foreigner for saying this, but colonialist ideals run deep.)
This points to another glaringly obvious problem: being an Asian American wasn’t defined. I’d even argue that it still isn’t. We fall somewhere in the middle, with blanket assumptions like Asians are bad drivers (my parallel parking is unparalleled), good at math (I am not), or extremely agreeable (I agree with that). In fact, we haven’t really reached a consensus — that’s if you don’t subscribe to the broken English, F.O.B. immigrant identity (i.e. Fresh Off the Boat). In my predominantly white, black, and Latinx San Diego county, there just wasn’t a place for unity. I struggled with a white-American internal voice that was both homegrown and a societal by-product. My very conscience was shaded light.
And after all of this self-exploration and personal discovery, I’ve hit a dead end. There is no answer or remedy in sight. I don’t have an Asian identity within my American one.
I wonder if other second-gen Americans — or you, my native Filipino counterparts — feel the same as I do. In these trying times of xenophobia, neo-racism and overall rampant intolerance for non-Americans, this begs the question: what exactly is an American? Why do we idolize the west? Or better yet, can we start by making a conscious effort to stop idolizing one shade while villainizing another — starting with our prejudice of thought? My internal voice says that it would be, like, totally a step in the right direction. – Rappler.com
Kris Pajarito is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.
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