“Why Are You So Dark?”

by alex

In front of a really f*cked up ad for some kind of skin whitener. (photo by k.ancheta)

In a family bathroom I recently found a bar of soap that featured “WHITENING EXTRACTS” (caps theirs), that would apparently “reveal the whiter skin that glows with health.”

Later that night Vince was asked “Why are you so dark?” by a well-meaning friend of a friend.


In the Philippines whiteness does often equal beauty.  This, of course, is no surprise revelation to most of you readers so I will spare you the usual outrage.  Instead I’d like to talk about why I think this is.

I’m very glad to hear my sisters and brothers in Canada speak of this problem as a problem.  It’s no longer uncommon for Filipinos/Filipinas in Canada to talk about the obvious colonial mentality that results in our people (as well as other people of colour) to equate their skin colour with their inferiority to those with less melanin.

It is a clear truth that the constant bombardment of Western, primarily American, media where White is best has a clear detrimental effect on us as a people.  Just look at the billboards here in Manila and you’ll see that only Caucasian and pale skinned Asians are used as models (on billboards that represent glamour and prestige at least—Pinoy faces are used for comic relief and other non-status ads).

But I personally feel that the discussion is incomplete.  I feel that in focusing on our colonial past, and our modern-day fixation on European/American culture and standards of beauty, that we ignore our collective Philippine-based causes to this issue.

Now DO NOT at any point think that I am dismissing or discounting colonial mentality, or modern-day neo-colonial influences to our culture.  Those of you who know me personally should know this is in no way the case.  I simply want everyone to consider that perhaps this isn’t the only reason dark skin is seen as negative in the Philippines.

I believe in individual responsibility, or in this case, national/racial responsibility [*I’m using ‘race’ as a sociological term].  I believe that while there are external forces at play that result this racial self-hate, there are also very powerful internal forces.

The Philippines today is a country divided.  It is a country of sharp contrasts within itself (as you know if you’ve been following our blog and what we’ve seen these past couple months).  It is a country where, for many, status is everything.

This is a country where 75% are landless peasant farmers and 1% are the large landlord elites.  In between there are the urban poor and the small middle-class.  Basically it’s a semi-feudal society.

So it’s a society where the vast majority are poor, and where everyone else wants not to be—and everyone doesn’t want to even appear to be.

Thus like in feudal medieval Europe, whiteness becomes associated with the lower classes.  And to be linked to the lower classes means not having access to the social capital associated with pale skin.

This preference to pale skin is not purely a link to the worship of the Caucasian physical ideal, in my opinion it’s a natural outcome in a society stratified in a feudal manner.  This can be seen throughout history, and across geographical divides.  Though of course this is again just one reason for this form of prejudice.

IMO, to argue that our White fixation is due to Western influence alone is to practice a warped form of self-hate without realizing it.  It’s as if to say we are not capable as a people to create internal prejudice on our own and that we had to be taught it by outsiders.  I disagree, just like I believe that we are fully the equal of other races in positive ventures, we are also fully equal in negative ones.

Whiteness IMO is not just about colonial mentality, it’s equally important to realize that there are internal political reasons for the obsession with paleness.

If we want to finally rid our people of this ridiculous preference for one end of the tonal range of skin, we have to solve our economic problems.  We have to find fairness in the obviously unfair system within the Philippines.  We have to value our farmers/fishers, and our workers, and our indigenous peoples.  This is what is of prime importance because this is what is within our powers.

So in a nutshell, that’s my POV on this.  I know a lot of you have opinions as well and I’d be curious to hear them.

A magazine store in Alabang. How many non-white faces do you see? Other than the asian female sex symbol stereotype of course.



  1. Thank you Alex for sharing this.
    I only learned recently of this whitening product and the fact it was one of Philippines best seller. I pretty much grew up in Canada in a small Caucasian city from the age of three and I never saw colour, to the point I too thought, I was one of “them” until I moved to Toronto and at a job interview an office receptionist exclaimed: “Oh your English is sooooo good!” That was news to me that gave me a jolt of reality. However, this comment was a contrast to how Filipinos thought I was Chinese. I quickly realized that it wasn’t my eyes, but my skin colour that made fellow Filipinos think I looked anything, but Filipino.

    So now I’m married and have, as one might say, added colour back by marrying a Black man; my son inherited a warm, tan look. As a very young child, Christian would say: “my mom is white, my dad is black and I’m brown.” It was the recent play called the “Cashew Nut Wish” which I wrote for the Tales of the Flipside 2010 that addressed racial issues in a subtle way that most of the audience most likely thought the play was just about a little boy wanting to make friends and fitting in when the boy was based on my son who is mixed Filipino-Caribbean with a big Afro. In the end of the play he declares that he is proud to be who he is. So in a nutshell (my pun) it is important that people and artists address these issues so this Filipino mentality regarding skin colour can highlighted and is addressed.

    Love the work you guys are doing. Keep writing. Playwright, Cherry Farrol

  2. […] is beautiful. 23 04 2010 Alex Felipe’s “Why are you so dark?” blog reminded me of a children’s story I learned in primary school. The story goes like this […]

  3. In response to your blog: http://indaydiaries.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/brownisbeautiful/#respond

  4. What did Vince say? Did he say I’m dark because I have more melanin in my skin? I guess not eh. lol.

    • Vince told her that in Canada it was the opposite, that it was tanned skin that was preferred.

      That’s true of course, for the same reasons that pale skin is here in the Phils, it’s a status thing… the interesting thing is that while ‘tanned’ skin is preferred, ‘dark’ skin (as in naturally dark) still falls under quiet racist stereotypes…

  5. I think skin whitening cream is scary, to be honest. It basically removes the skin’s pigment, effectively transforming one to an albino. It kills all that melanin from the skin and so ironically “burns” one into whiteness. Unhealthy, to say the least.

    When I see pictures of pretty “white” asians, that is what I see. Albinos. I have nothing against people born of albino, but find it confusing when so much of asian popular culture, and individual self-hatred promotes this kind of self-mutilation. We grow new skin cells all the time (a 28 day cycle) and therefore need to apply the cream often to maintain a “whiteness.” It’s analogous to the desire to keep fighting what one is, to keep down a horrific plague, eating one from the inside out.

    When I look in the mirror, I see a brown man. While for some time I felt very indifferent, or passive, and at times, cynicism to this (i.e. “it is what it is”), and then a strong sense of pride and uniqueness, I’ve come full circle and fullly accepted it, neither as something to be glorified, nor ashamed of, but as something wholly authentic about myself. Maybe my skin really is “just right” as my ma and many peers have often said. Maybe growing up in Canada, I’m really one of the “raw” white doughmen, but god turned it on broil for the last few minutes to make sure I was crispy and brown on the outside. Maybe if I lived in the Philippines, my skin would be far darker. If I know anything, a life in constant denial is an unhappy life.

  6. Check out this article on the Guardian:

    The dark side of skin-whitening cream

    In it the author writes: “It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific cultural reason. In India it is partly racist: lower-caste Hindus are usually darker and upper-caste Hindus usually lighter.”

    I think it’s easier to pinpoint than he seems to be able to state. It’s not racism, as racism indicates prejudice of a different race, he’s talking about Indians. The word he should have used, and the word alot of people are still scared of is “classist.”

    Class is still a difficult topic it seems…

  7. Its so funny that I read this the day after an incident last night at my part time retail job selling makeup. I couldnt bite my tongue for long while helping these clients sell a foundation that best matched her skin tone. I explained to her that was her skin tone from the foundation I picked out for her and that she should not be getting a foundation that has a nice sounding ‘beige’ name because that was not her coiour! At one point I had to say that I refuse to sell her a foundation that wasnt her colour and that I would get another person to help you because maybe I am not helping her the way she wanted to be helped. I even told her I was a makeup artist and that women of colour are beautiful and that they should embrace and celebrate the colour they are.

    All I have to say is…Kamalayan group discussssssion series…

    and the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice.

  8. Too bad commercialism has reinforced the stereotype of “being white is beautiful.” When African Americans visit our country, we do give them a second look. For more information, check out my article at:


  9. I am a Filipino who’s born and raised in Philippines. Never been to Canada, it just happens that Kevin Centeno went home for the first time in the Philippines to meet us, his family. Glad to meet Vince and Alex — super cool guys!

    Going back to the topic, I am a MORENA (dark/tan/brown). It’s depressing at times that I’m one, and most guys here prefer fair-skinned girls. And when you turn on your TV, you’ll see several whitening products: whitening underarm deodorant, soap, capsule, lotions, make-up, (Glutathione), teeth whithening…whitening here and there. Sometimes, I just had to give in – buy lotion and moisturizer, etc. –hoping to at least “fit in” and “be liked.” But eventually, I just gave up (haha) ‘coz I don’t think these products work.

    I just had to accept what God gave me –love it and live with it. And hey, this only mean I’m truly Pinoy…with great morena skin.

  10. Whitening skin care has been a cosmetic concern for thousands of years, all around the world. From all races in Asia, the Caribbean, India to Europe and even with the Caucasian race.

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