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.