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.

Let’s give solar light to the Philippines

For the month of April, I’m choosing to give solar light to families in the Philippines. Click here if you’d like to contribute.

Each day, we have so many things to be grateful for. The sun coming out, a delicious cup of coffee, not being in lockdown for another day. Sam and I have lived in the van for just a few weeks now and these privileges are becoming even more apparent to us. For one thing, we have the opportunity to travel around the beautiful unceded lands of Australia. Also, it’s not unlike us to be without power for a night – we rely on solar for electricity – yet we can bring out the gas oven and our solar lantern for a few hours before bed.

Now what if you lived in Catanduanes, Philippines? Or Agusan or Zambales? Perhaps, you’re still deeply affected by the 2020 typhoons which are an ever increasing occurrence in the Philippines. If you’re from a family who can afford it, perhaps you’ll purchase a kerosene lamp to last for the night. If you’re a family who can’t, then maybe you’ll just have to go without.

Whilst I’ve never personally visited these communities in the Philippines, I can speak for my experience of visiting Simulao which is within the Agusan del Sur province in the Philippines. My cousins and relatives are so precious and I miss them dearly. Here’s some photos from my last visit.

It’s not just about light…

In Australia, it’s a privilege to even be able to reflect on the environmental impacts of our day-to-day decisions. The United Nations (2019) wrote that the unprecedented impacts of climate change are disproportionately burdening developing countries. The Philippines is one of these countries – the unprecedented frequency of typhoons are just one of the measurable impacts.

The climate might feel like this insurmountable load on our shoulders when we tackle it one by one, but if we are to take one step at a time, our collective impact can change the world.

Let’s start by giving light to families in the Philippines.

Issa Barte is a visual artist and co-founder of For the Future. If you want to read more, her article on vice.com documents her recent visit to Catanduanes. Her pictures tell a thousand words.

10 ways to stay connected with the world

Above: Sashy, the professional of all homebodies. She’s worked from home for 17 years and continues to find happiness in every moment. No one knows how she does it.

It’s a crazy time in the world and we are experiencing unprecedented times. There’s no need for me to bring more attention to the current health climate. Institutions are evolving and our normal way of life is shifting by the minute. We’re physically distancing and spending less time outside our homes. It’s extraordinary to think that we’ve lived to experience a global pandemic to this scale.

Despite these daily changes in the way we know life, one thing remains the same. We are inherently social beings. During times of hardship, humans thrive from having meaningful connections and social support. As such, here are some ideas to mindfully stay connected with the world around us.

Connection: The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenanc and strength from the relationship.

– Brené Brown

1. Smile at a stranger

It may feel like a hostile world out there. Fear not! You have the wonderful power of evoking kindness in others. All it takes is a smile.

On your next visit to the grocery store, make eye contact and smile at the next person who walks past you. This is a simple act that, when conducted collectively, can help overcome the current human bias that people are greedy, hostile and individualist. The simple acknowledgement of another’s presence may become the highlight of someone’s day – who knows, maybe even yours.

Nice people
@aolanow

2. Send a letter or care package to a loved one

When was the last time you wrote a letter or card for a loved one? We have access to instant messaging, yet, communicating through a letter can be a deeply personal experience for both the giver and receiver. Think of the people who may not be as active on social media or their phones. Think of the friend you haven’t heard from in a while.

3. Have a gratitude buddy

You know those friends you talk to on a daily basis? Otherwise, who’s someone you love but wish you could check in with more often? Ask them to become your gratitude buddy. It’s simple. Each day, you tell each other three things that you are grateful for. They can be big things or little things. It helps to keep us reminded that there is always something to be grateful for. It can help shift the collective anxious thought towards one that is grateful. For instance, today I am grateful for my health, the health of my loved ones, and this precious life that we are given each and every day.

4. Meditate for others

Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In he process, we become liberated from age-old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others.

Credit: How to practice tonglen

Personally, I’ve found tonglen to be a deeply enriching form of meditation. It is rooted in Tibetan Buddhism as a means of increasing compassion. It shifts the moment of silence away from ourselves towards others. It goes to show that we don’t need to always be around others to feel connected with them.

Meditation
@aolanow

Another form of compassion meditation is known as loving-kindness meditation. You can try Tara Brach’s guided meditation here.

5. Check in with your neighbours

When was the last time you checked on old mate’s health next door? Depending on your level of physical distancing, you could ring or leave a note (with your contact number) in your neighbours’ mailboxes to check in with their wellbeing. Maybe they’ll need assistance picking something up from the grocery store. You never know how much the simple act of offering can help someone’s day.

6. Share a (virtual) meal with someone

It’s finally time for you to catch up with that friend you’ve been meaning to see for the last… 3… months. Why not from the comfort of your home? Invite a loved one to share a meal with you. There’s less pressure to focus on the conversation (food’s a great distraction!) and you each get to choose a meal of your preference from any cuisine. Win-win.

7. Do something kind for those working on the frontline

Thank you to all the teachers, retail, hospitality and healthcare workers who are on the frontline of the coronavirus. Can you think of something you could creatively do to support those on the frontline?

A simple example could be to support an initiative like @buythemacoffee. They’re fundraising to provide coffees to healthcare professionals across Australia. Visit their page to see how you could support them.

8. Donate blood

People experiencing chronic health conditions have a greater risk of experiencing illness during the COVID-19 crisis. The need for blood and plasma does not stop during a global health epidemic. If you are healthy and well, donating blood is a wonderful way to stay connected to the world. You are contributing to the wellness of someone’s physical being. You can do so by calling 13 14 95 or visiting Australian Red Cross Lifeblood.

How will your blood be used?

Donateblood-Learn

Credit: Donate Blood

9. Set boundaries within the household 

If you live with other people at home, chances are, you’ll be spending a lot more time with them in the coming weeks. Don’t feel the pressure to have to spend every waking moment with them. If it’s physical or emotional space that you need, let them know. When discussing boundaries, instead of starting the sentence with “you always….” , try saying something like “when you ______, I feel like….”. This is a simple way to communicate in a way that focuses on how you’re feeling without needing to blame anyone.

boundaries
@lizandmollie

10. Be mindful of your technology use

Finally, the current climate has increased our technology use. It’s a wonderful time for technology, particularly in the way it is keeping us virtually connected with others.

However, constant technology use can have negative impacts on our wellbeing and mental health particularly if we are not being mindful of our use. I encourage you to reflect on how you’re using technology. While it may make you feel more connected with those online, how does it impact on your relationships with those physically around you?

If you were to put your phone down today, what are some ways you could reconnect with your physical world beyond the screen?


 

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. Here are some links to relevant things if you’ve got the time and motivation.