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Sisyphus’ Lament

A racist and a bigot

F. SIONIL JOSÉ in effect attacks students 70 years his junior in the national media. You must be moved to stand with our youth, whether by patriotism or shame. You must help denounce José’s persistent gospel of racism and bigotry from the rooftops.

Racists and bigots like José create a Philippines where complete strangers publicly state that 22-year-old Tiffany Grace Uy is not a real Filipino after seeing her set the University of the Philippines’ grade record with her 1.004 average. Racists and bigots like José create a Philippines where 22-year-old Carmela Lao, who just graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a 4.9/5.0 grade average, is similarly called not a real Filipino at age 12 (Opinion, 7/1/15).

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Racists and bigots like José create a Philippines where 20-year-old Joshua Cheng, Ateneo Elements magazine (http://elements.ateneo-celadon.org) editor in chief, is made to wonder during high school whether some Filipinos want to send him to a gas chamber (Opinion, 7/30/15). Racists and bigots like José create a Philippines where 20-year-old Rebecca Lee, Inquirer 2bu correspondent and aspiring UP Diliman broadcast student, reads online curses against evil, rich Chinese in reaction to reports of a Chinese-Filipino killed in a robbery or helicopter crash (2bu, 7/25/15).

More broadly, racists and bigots like José create a Philippines where 19-year-old Inquirer editorial assistant Fazniyara Lukman jokes—in the middle of Ramadan, no less!—that she has no weapons hidden under her headscarf (Opinion, 7/16/15). Young Moro leaders are beginning to add José to their arguments for why the Philippines must be more inclusive.

These examples are drawn from last July alone, and just from the Inquirer. Are we not ashamed to read, in the most explicit terms, how the best of the best of our youth feel they are under siege in their own country, not by a nefarious foreign invader but by José’s homegrown racism and bigotry?

Filipinos have no doubt that US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s comments against Mexicans are racist. Inexplicably, some doubt that José’s are likewise racist, including José himself.

This threshold question is simple. José has clarified, with apologies that are more offensive than the original statements, that he only asks: “What I ask of our ethnic Chinese who are Filipino citizens is simplicity itself: In a war with China, will you be on our side? … If you say you are with us … Then go shout it from the rooftops….” (Star, 6/21/15).

Asking this is precisely racist and bigoted. The United Nations Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination denounces any distinction “based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin” that impairs fundamental freedoms. José has publicly called out Chinese-Filipinos solely on the basis of ethnic origin and implied that we are traitors if we refuse to answer his obnoxious question. He is legally defined as a racist.

We overlook how hurtful even seemingly positive stereotypes are. For example, the rich Chinese-Filipino stereotype led complete strangers to complain that a perceived rich person like Uy does not deserve to go to UP over a more deserving, impoverished “real Filipino.” The stereotype continually implies that perceived privileged Chinese-Filipinos deserve less rights. The stereotype leads Cheng to ask how on earth a student like himself is illogically held accountable for 60 percent of the national economy. Further, José’s hidden premise that Chinese-Filipinos are suspected traitors makes his question as objectionable as asking all Muslims to apologize for terrorism.

The Philippines follows the American legal tradition of protecting free speech so strongly that it generally refuses to punish hate speech. Other countries have experienced race riots and are far less forgiving. Singapore controversially sentenced 16-year-old blogger Amos Yee after he posted a YouTube video calling Jesus and Lee Kuan Yew charlatans four days after Lee died.

Our legal tradition, however, is reluctant to punish a José or a Trump because it presumes that if something is so repugnant to a community’s values, its citizens will naturally condemn it. Racism and bigotry are often subtle and near-invisible, but on the rare occasions when they rear their ugly heads in plain sight, we must strike them down decisively.

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I thus condemn José’s gospel of racism and bigotry. I condemn how a Filipino can be made a stranger in his own country solely because he is Muslim, gay, or ethnic Chinese. I condemn our straw man José’s proposition that singling out any group of Filipinos on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is love of country, because neither my parents nor yours marched to Edsa to etch racism and bigotry onto our national values. As José wrote: “A writer’s important function is to emphasize the obvious, to expose and broadcast the truth that lies under the veneer of hypocrisy and induced blindness and ignorance.”

Old news clips show a younger Lee Kuan Yew proudly raising his fist and proclaiming to a crowd of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Eurasian Singaporeans that they built a modern, multiethnic city out of a swamp. Perhaps that will be us one day. Or perhaps our generation will fail to build gleaming skyscrapers, extensive infrastructure and a First World standard of living because we have many legitimate excuses for being poor. We have no excuse, however, for being so poor in spirit that we fail to defend each Filipino’s dignity and let racism and bigotry go unchallenged in our democracy.

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: F. Sionil Jose, nation, news, racism, Tiffany Grace Uy
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