Reflecting on Brown Skin, White Minds

This is my commentary and reflection on E.J.R. David’s 2013 book Brown Skin, White Minds (Filipino -/ American Postcolonial Psychology).

I loved Disney’s happily ever after stories growing up. Like other kids, I especially loved the ones that related to me. My tan skin and long black hair drew me to courageous Pocahontas. She loved her family and the natural environment. I could see myself in Jasmine through my brown skin as well. Mulan and Princess and the Frog too. However, they never completely fit the mould.

Last year, Disney EMEA released ‘From Our Family To Yours’ – you can watch it here. Oh, what a feeling to see representation and familiarity on the big screen. I could see myself, my mum, and my lola’s (grandmother’s) experience authentically represented. To be frank, never did I think the Philippines would become worthy of a story through Disney. (Now, I realise this was my colonial mentality seeping through.) This feeling of representation of my experience, of the importance of my cultural experience, was also the same feeling I felt when reading Brown Skin, White Minds by E.J.R. David.

E.J.R. David has captured his life’s work and lived experience as a Filipino-American and postdoctoral psychology researcher to frame the impacts of colonialism on Filipinos in the Philippines and Filipinos in diaspora – diaspora means those who moved away from their homeland. He does this in a way that highlights the resilience and strength of the Filipino person. He is a leading researcher on colonial mentality and internalised oppression on ethnic minority communities.

From my experience as a Filipino person born in Australia, there are differences compared to my Filipino -/ Australian context. Despite this, it is incredible empowering to gain language and context for my FIlipino culture. I can only imagine that this is a common experience for my fellow Filipino kababayan living in diaspora. It is only a small yet foundational part of my decolonisation journey; in learning to love my Australian and Filipino culture equally.

Brown Skin, White Minds in Australia

We see internalised oppression time and time again in the experiences of Indigenous peoples across the world. Australia is unfortunately a prime example that demonstrates ongoing internalised oppression and systemic racism against First Nations peoples. The health gap, rates of incarceration and deaths in custody, the high rates of depression and suicide within the community are just a few of the impacts of centuries of colonialism that continue to impact First Nations Australians today.

E.J.R. David makes comparisons between the Filipino -/ American experience and the Native-American and African-American experiences in the book. I cannot help but think of colonial mentality deeply affecting our fellow First Nations peoples in Australia too. Within my short year of supporting First Nations youth in my psychological work, the impacts of internalised oppression were obvious and these cognitions couldn’t merely be addressed within the individualised therapeutic frameworks of psychology.

Why does it matter?

In this free society, perhaps we think we have the choice to reject our ancestry and culture. However, when you’re a person of colour in a neo-colonial society that is built on power, privilege, and oppression, I don’t think you can. Heck, from the moment we’re born, our identity shapes the way we are treated in society.

In light of recent events and the emergence of Back Lives Matter movements both overseas and in Australia, it matters now more than ever to re-claim our birthright to know our culture and ancestry equally.

If you’re interested in learning more on this topic, I suggest reading My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem as a starting point.

My dance with gratitude

Purpose: To share my personal dance with gratitude and maybe inspire you to begin yours.

Given that this is a piece on gratitude, I’d firstly like to thank my parents for teaching me the importance of counting my blessings!

My personal dance with gratitude began when I learnt to thank God in daily prayer. Church played a big role in my Filipino diaspora upbringing. I come from a family of devout Methodist Christians on my mother’s side and Catholics on my father’s side. My spiritual practice developed through the power of music, prayer, teachings and meditation. When I was around 5 years old, my lola (grandmother) used to pray with me every night and taught me to count the things that I was thankful for. I’m no longer affiliated with a religious denomination but my family’s practice of gratitude and spirituality lives on within me.

Religion is a specific set of organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group. Spirituality is more of an individual practice and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others.

When I was 12, I remember visiting villages in the Philippines where my relatives lived. At my aunty’s house, I recall sitting on the toilet where there was no toilet seat or door separating the bathroom from the kitchen. At the time, I struggled with the shift of lifestyle – it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before – but later I’d realise it’d teach me to be thankful for my privileges. It’s been many years since then and I’ve gone back to visit so that my family can teach me about the countless blessings in a simple life.

My practice of gratitude deepened greatly through my journey into Eastern philosophy – namely Buddhism and Yoga. I first experienced Wat Pah Nanachat, a beautiful international forest monastery, through the wonderful Angelica Casado who took us to visit during the Australian-Thai Youth Ambassadors Program in 2017. Two years later, I got to stay there as a layperson. This meant that us laypeople lived as the monks did:

  • 3am: Wake up
  • 3:30am: Chanting and meditation
  • ~4:30-7am: Sweep the floors then prepare food in the kitchen
  • 8am: The meal (and only meal throughout the day)

Then, most of the day was reserved for meditation and personal practice. No tech, no music, no exercise. The idea was to allow us to be solely and completely with ourselves.

I had so much time to meditate and think. I believe that gratitude for the beautiful place, for the time, for the disciplined practice, presence of my beautiful friend Michelle, and the quietude kept me going through my time there. After a while, it was liberating to completely disconnect with the world and attempt to connect with my true nature.

Michelle and Maejoy at Wat Pah Nanachat (Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, 2019)

Since then, I’ve developed a habit of pulling out my journal each morning to write down 3-5 things that I’m grateful for. Of course, I miss some days (or even weeks) but the most important part is that I always come back to this practice. This can be helpful on emotionally down days, however, it’s even more important on happier days. Why? Because building these habits across all moments will help us when it’s especially difficult to think of things to be grateful for.

This has trickled into other aspects of my life. For example, I am more appreciative of my loved ones, I am thankful at work which can at times be difficult, and it helped me to beautifully dance through my experience of grief and loss.

I plan to write more on gratitude in the next few weeks:

  1. The science of gratitude
  2. Gratitude through difficult times
  3. How can I start my gratitude practice today?

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. Here are some links to relevant things:

  • Learn more about the importance of respecting spiritual and cultural identities (Australian context): Emerging Minds
  • Spirituality is commonly misunderstood. Read more here: ReachOut fact sheet
  • Wat Pah Nanachat: Website
  • Tara Brach on gratitude: Website

Why self-discipline is an act of self-love

Are you a procrastinator? Do you scroll through your social media feed without realising? Have you ever caught a sunrise or do you find yourself sleeping in most mornings? We’ve grown conditioned to view discipline as a difficult, negative restriction we place upon ourselves. It’s time to re-frame the way you see self-discipline from an unbearable challenge to an act of beautiful self-love.

First, let’s address the question: Why is self-discipline an act of self-love?

1. You learn to face your problems and fears

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”
–Judy Blume

When we face our problems and fears, we allow space for personal growth. It is through the discomfort of facing problems that we cultivate courage and wisdom. Life is suffering is the first Noble Truth posited by Buddhist teachings which encapsulates the life we are all experiencing. That is, life wouldn’t be what it is without our problems and fears which we all experience. Once we can accept that this is inevitable, we have a choice to either become complacent in our problems or discipline ourselves to try our best to solve them.

So, what happens when we shy away from a problem or fear? We limit our ability to work through and solve the problem, meaning that it’s likely to arise again in the future. It is only when we face these situations head on that we can learn more about ourselves, develop personal growth, and move closer to our highest human potential.

2. You teach yourself the skills to build good habits

Delayed discounting is the willingness to tolerate longer delays in order to receive a preferred reward in contrast to receiving a lesser preferred award. Have you ever heard of the marshmallow experiment where children could either eat a marshmallow now or wait a few minutes and instead receive two marshmallows? That’s delayed discounting. Another example is resisting the temptation to check your smartphone when you’re having coffee with a friend. The reward is knowing that you devoted yourself wholeheartedly with full focus to your loved one.

Why is this important? Our ability to delay discounting dictates whether we’ll stick to our habits which are ultimately the building blocks for a satisfying life. In particular, researchers have showed that delayed discounting in our daily activities predicted better eating habits, greater exercising and overall healthier lives (Daugherty and Brase, 2010). Disciplining ourselves to experience pain before pleasure will reap greater benefits for us in the end.

3. You value your time

1440. This number of minutes we have in a day. We are each given 1440 minutes which we never get back. The highest form of self-love is valuing every moment of time we have in this world to bring us closer to our heart’s deepest desires and ultimately, who we want to be.

As Scott Peck describes in The Road Less Travelled, authentically perceiving ourselves as valuable means we’ll care for ourselves in all ways necessary. Just as parents love their children through discipline, we too can strengthen our self-discipline to show ourselves the highest form of self-love because frankly, each and every one of us deserves nothing less.



Daugherty, J. R., & Brase, G. L. (2010). Taking time to be healthy: Predicting health behaviors with delay discounting and time perspective. Personality and Individual differences, 48(2), 202-207.

Peck, S. M. (1978). The road less travelled. New York: Simon and Shuster.