In the past year, Americans have reawakened to the reality that, not only Black voices, but also Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other voices must be uplifted. This, of course, makes sense from an historical perspective as Black liberation has almost always advocated for (or at least resulted in) the liberation of other racialized peoples and groups.
However, with this also came a change to the often used term “people of color” to specify the experiences of Black and Indigenous people: “BIPoC” or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. This change is significant and meant to cast a positive light on emphasizing the Black and Indigenous experiences and the fact that racialization in the Americas was built upon anti-Black and anti-Indigenous marginalization. However, simply identifying non-Black and non-Indigenous Latinx, Asian, and other racialized groups as “People of Color” also entrenches the same meshing of experiences that many racialized people have criticized the use of the “People of Color” term alone for. While well-meaning, and the founders of the BIPoC project calling the term essential to respecting the experiences of racialized groups, a term that ignores the experiences of any segment of the racialized population is problematic in several ways, but I will outline the ways that harm my existence as a Filipino/Filipinx/Pilipinx person.
For instance, as someone who’s Filipino/Filipinx/Pilipinx, I can state very clearly that my experience is different from someone of East Asian or South Asian origin. Thus, while using the term “Asian” to describe me may be accurate from a Eurocentric geographic point of view, it isn’t exactly accurate to the experiences that I have had as a Pilipinx person in the United States. However, when you think about it, Asia is a large continent that’s historically been home to, not only to census-identified Asian people, but also white people, Black people, Arab and other Semitic groups, Melanesian groups. Surely these people are also “Asian” by definition. Unlike the terms “Black” or “Latinx/o/a”, the term “Asian” refers to an entire continent, rather than having the nuance of a cultural marker. Of course, the term originated, in American usage, as one that was meant to unify East Asian communities and, to some degree, Southeast and South Asians as well. But when you deconstruct what it entails, it makes little sense to identify such diverse peoples as being unified in a single identity, despite geographical proximity in origin. Like it, or not, people of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese origin face different struggles from each other. The same goes with people of Malaysian, Filipino/Filipinx/Pilipinx, Indonesian, or Singaporean origin. However, East Asian and Southeast Asian groups may have similarities in their American experiences as those within, but these vastly differ from each other.
I remember that for an overpriced Testmasters class (that my parents had saved up for despite us living in relative poverty at the time), we had to play a game in teams and I ended up in the so-called “Asian” team, which members of the group had agreed to be named the “Yellow Jackets.” That was absolutely the first, and the last time, that I was ever attributed the term “yellow” and, to some degree, it did reawaken a sort of racial consciousness in me. While I will admit that I was not the most politically correct or even educated person when it comes to race at the time, I did notice the burning question that I received time and time again (as it happened so often): “Are you Chinese or Latino?” Of course, by then, I had known that the Philippines was considered Asian but Hispanicized, I wasn’t about to explain it in that sense to Black and Latinx peers who would always ask me that question (just as white peers used to do back in middle school), I simply stated “Asian”, as I had, eventually, had to just accept it as a part of my identity, despite my ambivalence and resistance to the term personally.
However, as Dr. David stated in an article in Psychology Today from 2016, only 47% of Filipinos also identify as “Asian”. This is due, in part, to the particular relationship that Filipinos have had with the United States. For instance, while the US has meddled in numerous coups in Asia, the only Asian nation to be occupied by the United States was the Philippines. This, an extension of the American concept of “Manifest Destiny” that “gave permission” to Americans to colonize and oppress indigenous groups in lands all over the world. At the same time, the first Filipinos to set foot on American soil was in the 1587 at Morro Bay, California. This gave the opportunity to develop American perceptions of what it means to be Filipino. Filipinos, for instance, were whom the term “Little Brown Brother” was coined for and, in essence we were the very first “Brown” people. However, Filipinos also faced discrimination particular to them throughout American history. For instance, when it was realized that Filipinos were not initially banned from marrying white women in California, the state’s anti-miscegenation laws were immediately amended to include people of the “Malay race” (aka Filipinos), while Filipino laborers formed the United Farm Workers union alongside their Mexican peers due to the shared struggle of awful working conditions for Filipino and Mexican farm laborers alike. At the same time, perceptions of Filipinos are still namely invisible, if not negative. Dr. David stated that 99% of Filipinos at the time stated that they had experienced a recent racist experience. At the same time, Filipinos are not seen a “model minority” in the same way that East Asians are, and are more likely to face similar perceptions of being “less educated” or “less qualified” as Latinx, Black, and Indigenous people may experience in the workplace or at school. Ruminating on the time that I spent at the University of Houston, despite being a 4.0 GPA student (and graduating with it from the time that I transferred from Houston Community College), I was never quite perceived to be “smart” in any spaces that didn’t require or give me the chance to engage in class participation exercises. In smaller groups or classes, I could nearly excel due to my ability to show my abilities while, in the larger classes in the Business department of my school, for instance, or even in larger political science classes, I was sometimes seen as less than qualified (despite making near perfect grades in these classes as well). Although I laugh at these experiences now, especially since I was (likely intentionally) left out of study group opportunities (and made high A’s to 100 in the subsequent tests), at the time, it was demoralizing and only recently have I come to terms with the fact that what I had experienced were microaggressions towards who I am based on appearance, perceived capacity, etc.
However, it is also imperative to understand that my experiences are far from different than those of other Filipinos. As stated, Filipinos face microaggressions in our daily lives, similar to those faced by other groups (albeit of course not the same). But an understanding of these microaggressions, and other forms of oppression, is imperative in understanding the Pilipinx narrative in the context of white supremacy. From 1585 to 1898, the Spanish oppressed the Philippines with forced enslavement, extraction of wealth, and cultural genocide (among other things). From 1898 to 1946, the Philippines was occupied by the United States, which also committed atrocities against the Pilipinx people. This history, on top of that of Pilipinx people in America, combine to form a complex narrative of oppression and subjugation, especially in the all-so-pervasive American context. This narrative, like those of our other comrades, must and should be respected in the goal of solidarity among racialized peoples. Thus, simply including Pilipinx people into a mix of “Asians” or “People of Color” whose histories are simply assumed to be shared and “not as oppressed” is disingenuous to the reality that Pilipinx people face. The same can be stated about other groups, such as Pacific Islanders, who have faced similar histories of subjugation under white supremacy.
To fully appreciate the capability of racialized groups to stay strong in solidarity, we, as people who have been racialized and marginalized under white supremacy, must understand the value of our own and each others’ contributions. This begins by empowering racialized people to learn our own histories and gain an understanding of the ways that white supremacy has negatively impacted us and our predecessors. This realization that our struggles, while separate in most ways, are connected also begins the conversation of tackling other interracial issues, such as colorism, anti-Blackness, Indigenous invisibility and insensitivity to their struggles, etc. internal to racialized groups. Thus, while I do respect, and may even use the term “BIPoC” to refer to racialized peoples, the term lacks the specificity that Black and Indigenous people and communities deserve, while further isolating other groups from feeling that they have a direct stake in the fight against white supremacy.
Solidarity does require an identity, but since calling ourselves “People of Color” or “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color” may not be enough in most contexts, we must respect each others’, and our own, perceptions of what our identities consist of. But, in the same way, we can safely call ourselves racialized people as, in the context of white supremacy, our ascribed race/ethnicity is the onus of our othering from white-led and white-ruled society. Racialized people, together, can transform this world into a better place for people who look like us and will have experiences similar to our own.