From Ebony to Ivory: Colorism in the Philippines

by Jiyang Shin

The ever-expanding skin whitening market in the Philippines seems to have distinctive characteristics compared to the markets of other countries that also value lighter skin tones. In the discourse of colorism, many tend to conclude that the phenomenon of skin whitening obsession is largely due colonization by European conquistadors; however, that is not always the case in the Philippines.

I would like to raise an example of skin whitening advertisement, featuring Jinky Oda, an African American comedian in the Philippines. The advertisement is composed of before-and-after pictures of Oda. On the left hand side is Oda’s torso before she went on the skin whitening pill. She is in a white tank top, wears gold hoop earings, and has her natural curly hair all swept back with bandana like hair band; a casual style of a typical African American woman that we can easily relate to.

On the right hand side is Oda after finishing the pill, in her brand new bleached-up skin. However, that is not the only significant difference that one can tell from the picture. Other noticeable features are that her attire is considerably more dressy than the left side (you can notice it although the ad only shows down to her chest), but even more importantly, the texture of her hair has turned silky and straightened like the East Asian look that a vast number of Filipino women crave.

One can observe sinister motives behind this marketing. In the book Shades of Difference, Joanne L. Rondilla argues that there are generally three major messages that are conveyed in skin whitening advertisement in the Philippines:

1. Darkening can and must be stopped.

Why? Because having dark skin does not make you good enough.

2. Lightness comes from “within”.

This message misleads people into thinking that their natural color is lighter than they expected, thus their desire to turn white is achievable.

3. Lightening can happen instantly.

The advertisement that featured Oda is unethical because it links having darker skin with wrongness by dressing up her in casual attire. In addition, she seems to have more weight in her before picture, implying she was sloppier when she had a darker skin tone (fatness is often linked to laziness). Such indirect messages have the great potential of stirring up or further encourage racism and discriminations against certain groups of people.

As for why many women in the Philippines opt for a Chinese or Korean look, I argue that it is due to racial hierarchy that exists among Asian countries. For example, in South Korea, people of Southeast Asia origin encounter difficulties renting rooms and searching for jobs. Moreover, in Japan, Filipino people are often referred to as “Pina”, which is a derogatory term used against women who perform in sex-related work. Such unequal treatment might have gradually developed a sense of inferiority towards people of lighter skin color in East Asian countries. I argue that people attempt to escape from such discriminations by assimilating into those who discriminate against them.

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Mzungu and Colorism in Africa

by Miho Tanaka

Reading “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self (2009)” by Lynn M. Thomas, I was reminded of and reflected on my experiences in Africa. It was inconsiderable that South African care so much about their skin color even though skin lighteners sometimes bring problems to their skin.

However it is true that the people I met in Kenya put value on light skin and they connect it with high social status very much. The other internship students from Europe, the United States, and Asia and I were called Mzungu by Kenyans. I saw Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Americans, Brazilians, Swedes and Germans all called Mzungu. Mzungu is the Swahili word that describes rich and White people from African people’s perspectives. More specifically, not only Caucasians but also people from developed countries with light skin of color are Mzungu. It seems that many Swahili-speaking countries use the term Mzungu, as some websites and blogs show on the internet (Hoff n.d.; Duara 2008). Both Hoff and Duara write that Mzungu is used in central and Southern Africa. When I visited Rwanda this summer Rwandan also called us Wazungu, the plural way to call Mzungu.

Interesting are those African people who are eager to have networks or connections with Mzungu people. For instance, while I and the other internship students were in a community in Kenya and belonged to a Community Based Organization, some Kenyans suddenly joined the organization and many HIV-positive people started to attend our meetings as well. However according to local members in Kenya, they began to be absent from meetings after all of the Wazungu left. However, some of them have tried to maintain their connections with Wazungu. Most importantly, they strongly connect idea of economic and social status mobility with being Mzungu. If they could have been married with a Mzungu woman or man, they would not have to be in trouble of impoverished in Africa anymore. They would be able to get out of their homeland and have a better life.

Considering the case of South Africa, the tendency that they would like to have lighter skin color must be much higher than the other countries since they were harshly segregated by skin color during the period of apartheid. Even though they might have skin troubles from using skin lighteners, upward mobility would be more important for them since it would determine their entire life and success. Therefore, they care more about their skin tone rather than their health. However the status in South Africa must be changed since the abolition of apartheid. Nowadays there are poor Whites going begging in South Africa, and it also might be a factor that changes preference of white or light skin. I suppose the tension between Mzungu and Black Africans, which connects social upward mobility with light skin color, would not change because Black Africans regard Mzungu as coming from totally different background and statuses. However, it might create new black movement as their economic status changes with economic growth.


Duara, D. (July, 19th 2008). The Mzungu term : get it right! Retrieved on November, 22nd 2013 from

Hoff, W. (n.d.). Mzungu Design. Retrieved on November 22nd 2013 from

Thomas, M. L. (2009). Skin lighteners in South Africa: transnational entanglement and technologies of the self. In Glenn, N. E. (Ed.), Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

The Latin Americanization of Korean race relations

by Yang Jicheol

The process of Latin Americanization is simply about keeping white supremacy from other colors. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David Dietrich introduce an example of how the U.S. follows the way of the Latin Americanization for its white supremacy, which is challenged from increasing population of other colors. There is similar example of the Latin Americanization of U.S. race relations in Korea.

As with the United States’ race relations, Korea has also experienced a similar process in terms of racial issues. That appears from young aged population because young aged population tends to be more multiracial. Many Korean consider themselves as a single-race because of same language and skin-tone. However, that single-race nation does not exist anymore. The races are becoming more complex and wider in current Korea. Many western people, whom we regard as white, come to Korea for having job or traveling. Not only western people, but other races such as Southeast Asian also come to Korea for working or marrying with Korean. In that process, a hierarchy has been constructed, which pure Korean place at the top, other western and East Asian people are middle, and others, the Southeast Asian and black people, are at the bottom.

In current Korean society, the interracial marriage rate has dramatically increased between whites with Koreans and nonwhites with Koreans as well. So, there are many multicultural children in Korea now. The multicultural children mean that children have at least two different cultural backgrounds because of their parents’ nations. At the first appearance of multicultural children, it became a hot social issue because of Korean attitudes towards them. The Korean attitudes were harsh to typical multicultural children, who are born from Southeast Asians or blacks. Unlike that attitude, it considered other multicultural children, who are born from the white or East Asian, positively. The multicultural children, born from Southeast Asian or the black, have been considered as negative perspectives such as poor background, dirty, and non-beneficial to Korean children. Nonetheless, other multicultural children have been thought differently. This perspective made Korean society to change its preference towards typical races for equality and norm, which is “We are all Korean”. To solve this problem, schools and libraries have been built only for multicultural children, especially for children having nonwhite parents. Also, government has made public advertisements to make citizen not to discriminate against them. It seemed to work at first because those children have started to respect their identity and have self esteem. Also, the harsh discrimination seemed to disappear. However, those solutions did not work actually. Although people do not tend to show their attitudes directly, they still regard those children as not real Koreans, poor, and shunned children. When we see the surface of that problem, it seems to be solved, but under of the surface, the pure Korean supremacy becomes much stronger and discrimination remains invisibly.

The reason why similar phenomenon appears in Korea is that the world has become smaller that different races are easy to move to other nations where other races are dominant. This makes diversity of race more complex in many nations. So, phenomenon of the Latin Americanization would occur in many other nations like U.S. and Korea to keep position of their majority from influx of immigrant.


Tri-Racial System and Hiding the Truth

by Lilia Yamakawa

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich’s contention is that America is developing a complex “tri-racial” system of stratified classification that will be composed of whites at the top, honorary whites in the middle, and collective blacks at the bottom.

If we consider President Barack Obama, we can see that Americans still don’t really have that classification system. “The First Black President” of the U.S. had a white mother and a black father. He was raised entirely by his white mother and his white grandparents. Still, Americans see him as a black man. Why doesn’t he fall into the “honorary white” category which includes other multi-racial people?

Americans are still seeing race in terms of black and white. Other reasons for seeing him as black may be that he seems to self identify as black. Also, his wife is black. Finally, many Americans may tend to fall into one of two groups. They may be very proud of having a black president or they may feel uncomfortable or actually not like having a black president. Either way, we’re classifying him as black and stressing his blackness. Of course, because of his position as President of the U.S, Obama is not typical and is not viewed as typical. Still, it’s interesting to think of him in terms of the author’s thesis. We can see that the biracial system is still going strong in people’s minds.

Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich also explain that the way we currently talk about race includes the idea that “We are all Americans – no matter what color we are.”  This will create a tendency to ignore the fact that racism is a problem. Ignoring the problem, white supremacy will continue, and blacks and other minorities will continue to suffer inequality. They won’t have a clear starting point to argue against discrimination.

This is something like the Burakumin issue in Japan where people don’t want to give it a name or say there is a discrimination problem. If it doesn’t have a name, maybe it will go away. But is the problem being really solved this way? Do the Burakumin still face discrimination, just more of a “smiling discrimination” in the society?

Actually I think there is less discrimination against the Burakumin in my generation than in the one before. There is no pigmentocracy in the Burakumin discrimination issue. There is no racial difference. If the older generation continues hiding who the Burakumin are, or where the Burakumin area is, it will be very difficult to distinguish them. Eventually, the problem may disappear. But we have to find out whether or not discrimination still exists.


Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and David R. Dietrich (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

The Burakumin: Japan’s invisible race . (n.d.). Retrieved from



What factors lower blacks’ status? Historical reasons, or something else?

by Mai Kusakabe

Now, there is actually prejudice against black people in the world. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues that the United States is developing a triracial system with whites at the top, honorary whites follow and collective black at the bottom. Thus, people decide others’ status by skin color, and tend to consider that whites are superior to blacks. Then, why does such stratification happen? Most people think that the reason is historical facts. For instance, in the 16th century, European countries started a slave trade from Africa. This historical fact may be one factor and it leads current situation of blacks. However is it really just historical reasons? I came up with one question, color images also influence on estimation of blacks and whites, don’t they?

In my opinion, most people have images with colors. For example, when we look at red, we feel like hot and passion. On contrary, when we look at blue, we feel like cold, sad, and like that. Then when we look at white color, what kind of feeling is coming up in our mind? Most of us consider it as good, clean, pure and something like these. On the other hand, we tend to consider black color as evil, fear, worry and so on. In fact, the word “white” has meaning that is like guiltiness, blameless and harmless, and one of meanings of “black” is nasty, ominous, surly and so forth. Like this, people basically do not have good impression with black color a long time ago. For instance, in Japanese anime, “名探偵コナン, Detective Conan”, a criminal is always painted by only black color.

In Japan, women try to make their skin whiter, because most people think white skin is beauty. Some people say this is admiration for whites. However is it just for white people? I think there is also admiration for white color, not only whites. For example, a long time ago 8-12 century, in Japan “Heian Jidai”, noblewomen did not even have a chance to meet foreigners, whichever whites or blacks, they put on makeup called “Oshiroi” which is white powder to make their skin white like as you can see from “Maiko” in these days. Thus, the reason why do Japanese people prefer to white skin is not only to admire whites, but also basically to admire white color.

As I stated, images of colors also have a great power to influence on our way of thinking. I think that’s one of the reason why blacks are categorized at the bottom of the stratification in the U.S. and other various countries.


Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and David R. Dietrich (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: A New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Jinkawiki, Keshou (makeup), 17 October 2013. Retrieved from