pop goes the world: color me color-blind

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  1 March 2012, Thursday

Color Me Color-Blind

Men’s magazine FHM-Philippines buckled under a barrage of negative feedback after it posted a photo of its proposed March cover on its Facebook Page that aroused the ire of Netizens.

“Racist!” said one commenter. “Shame on FHM Philippines!” said another.

The controversial image showed light-skinned soap actress and model Bela Padilla, wearing a strappy hot pink bikini, surrounded by three dark-skinned models, and headlined “Bela Padilla: Emerging from the Shadows”.

Image here.

Over three hundred people signed a petition on change.org asking FHM to apologize and yank the cover.

FHM-Philippines’ publisher Summit Media responded by cancelling the cover, promising to have a different one upon release, and issuing this statement: “We apologize and thank those who have raised their points. We apologize to Bela Padilla for any distress this may have caused her.”

Their full statement is posted on the FHM-Philippines website. Nowhere in it is there an apology to the backup models.

Bela took the flak in stride. Much was made of her video and Twitter apology. In the latter she said, “I’m so sorry to everyone who got offended. I hope all of you see the beauty of the cover and appreciate it,” and, “My cover is supposed to be about stepping out of my shadows, inhibitions, fears, etc. And has nothing to do with race.”

She herself is of mixed race, having a Filipina mother and a British father.

In the first place, didn’t she know better to participate in such a shoot in the first place? Did she not even make a comment during the shoot? Ask the pictorial director why this particular concept was employed? Was she even aware of the racism inherent in the concept? Has she gone on record as having made objections before all this?

It seems not. One might chalk that up to her youth – she’s 20 – or her ignorance. Or perhaps for her it was just a job, and who cares about the image concept and any other deeper meanings that may lie behind it.

The chocolate beauties were treated as background, as mere props to the star, like furniture or a backdrop. They are still unnamed in the media. They are the subject now of global attention, yet they remain anonymous, because props do not have names.

It is they who deserve an apology from FHM, not Bela.

Racism exists as a cultural norm in many countries. Certainly prejudice is universal. I don’t think there is any country that does not have any biases based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, or other factor that would set one group apart from another. The collective, the majority, is always afraid of what is different, as it seeks to maintain its dominance through cultural hegemony.

We are guided by a mindset stillborn from 400 years of Spanish rule and 40 years of American occupation. Despite the advances in technology and scholarship since then, we have not been able to shake of the heavy burden of nearly half a millennium of colonial mentality.

In our culture, light-complexioned girls with Caucasian features are extolled as being more beautiful than their warmer-skinned, ethnic-looking counterparts. This notion is heavily reinforced in the media, which has led to the phenomenon of whitening through chemical means, from soap to injectable glutathione.

With migration to other countries, people crossing national borders to live and work, and intermarriage, we thought the world would become a melting-pot, with all the cultures blending together to create a happy coffee-skinned world population.

Instead, as scholars have noted, countries with high multi-cultural populations have become salad bowls – where different cultures mix yet remain distinct, “maintaining their own practices and institutions” (Laura Laubeova). One example of such a country is the United States.

Unlike the US, the Philippines has not been a focal point for mass migration. The majority of its residents are of Malay extraction – one race. So racism is not the entire issue.

Rather, it is also an issue of class, with the dominant, foreign-descended upper class deemed as the ideal and copied slavishly by the masses as an extension of the colonial influence and the bourgeois status quo.

The good thing about this entire FHM-Bela Padilla issue is the discourse that resulted from it and the immediate feedback. It is also heartening to note FHM’s immediate response and their pull-out of their distasteful cover.

With vigilance and continued action we can bring about a cultural revolution in the Philippines, and lay the foundation for a society that is color-blind, tolerant, and inclusive.

We can change this country for the better.   *** 

UPDATE: 10 March 2012, Saturday – I saw this at a gas station convenience store – FHM’s March issue with the revised cover.

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  1. [...] the Bela Padilla-FHM cover flap last February? The fair-skinned Padilla was shot against a background of dark-skinned beauties. It [...]

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