Whitewashed culture | Inquirer Opinion

Whitewashed culture

/ 05:05 AM February 10, 2023

It started the very moment you were born. Relatives gather around the crib, thanking God that you did not inherit your father’s darker complexion. Followed by older adults—from parents, siblings, to caregivers, forcing you to use an umbrella during perfect summer weather. “But I thought umbrellas were only used during the rain?” you innocently questioned, feeling the sunlight in your eyes. The adults, the big old meanies, quickly dismissed your curiosity as a sign that you did not know any better. You quickly learned to follow without further questions.

Then came television. Teleseryes, commercials, and beauty pageants that you watch throughout your youth all show a certain kind of beauty. “’Yung maputi!” or white skin. So beautiful, so radiant, and so clean that it makes you hope that maybe if you scratch your dark skin hard enough, you will become like them.

The Filipino beauty standard affected our generation more than we would like to admit. Just like using an umbrella to prevent tanning under the sun, you see it in our day-to-day habits. You see it in commercials, advertising their newest whitening soap, creams, and pills. You see it in the desire of young Filipino women to marry old white males to make babies that can sign up for beauty pageants.

Growing up Indian in the Philippines, the Filipino beauty standard leaves a mark on your conscience. Not only does your brown skin color make you unattractive, but your “tangos ilong” and “makapal kilay” make you different. While brown skin Filipinos had the luxury to be forgotten and called insignificant, you were forced into a stereotype—a brown nerd who forgets to shower and eats chicken curry. Lots of chicken curry, apparently, as that is the only Indian food they seem to know.


I paid the price for something that I did not choose to be. Because I spent my childhood defending myself against racial slurs, I tried my best to escape and not be the typical Indian stereotype. Forget flavorful, diverse, and saucy foods, I want a plain cheese pizza. And for the love of God, Mom, do not make me watch Bollywood. That is so Indian!

I did not want to conform to a stereotype. Just because whitening products did not work on my skin does not mean they won’t work on my mind.

Ironically, not being proud of my culture was something that I took pride in. I am not like other Indians, I’m different! However, just as I was set to embody this white-washed personality that took years to perfect, I was forced to attend an Indian wedding

Indians are widely known to go all-out during weddings. A typical wedding lasts about three or more days. To them, nothing is more beautiful, genuine, and carries more honor than uniting two families. I was shocked by how easy it was to fall in love with everything I worked to despise. Tablas, chants, and prayers, everyone working together for the bride and groom. Vibrant and bright colors of flowers, jewelry, and princess-like dresses pair perfectly with the music. And don’t forget about the food, finally more than just chicken curry! Samosas (puff pastries filled with savory meat), butter chicken, and kulfi (thick and rich milk-flavored ice cream)—all delicious and unlimited.


All this time I was hiding this side of me, thinking that someone with the most diverse culture has more to be embarrassed about than someone with none. It took some time, but being okay with name-calling for funny accents, the crazy dances, and the dark complexion did not matter anymore. They had no power over me because I did not let them—because I was proud to be labeled as this stereotype.

The last step was getting rid of the whitening products. My relatives screamed as I threw away our ancestor’s sacred scrub. (Surprise, surprise! It’s just mixed with lemons, limes, and salt.) Even the small umbrella that was designed to protect me against the sun’s tanning rays went straight to the trash bin.


It was quite a journey, but I am happy and comfortable with who I am. If a 13-year-old pre-wedding Krisha would visit me today, she would admittedly be disappointed with the choice I made. However, I would hug her and let her sit on my lap as I tell stories about the beauty of our culture. How it is like to finally stop running from something and become someone you love.

Racism, colorism, and any form of inequality will always be present in our world. We can try to protest, educate, or share a social media post or two, but the truth is, you cannot change the mind of those who don’t want it changed. While I admit that racism has lessened with the shift of our generation, slurs, name-calling, and bullying have left a mark on me. Like a reflex, I will always become defensive when someone asks about my culture, even if it is out of genuine curiosity.

Inequality will always be there, and the only thing we can do is turn these experiences into something that can help this and the next generation. Just like how I would inspire my 13-year-old self, I will always be there to inspire those that need to be inspired by their own culture.


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Krisha Ganglani, 22, is taking up multimedia arts at the College of Saint Benilde.

TAGS: beauty queen, Philippines

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