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How Can Filipinxs Join the Fight Against Anti-Blackness?

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Activist and professor Kevin Nadal tells us how to talk to our communities about racism using compassion. (svetolk/iStock)

Truth Be Told is a space where Black and Indigenous people and other people of color can talk to each other about identity and find wisdom within our own communities. We get questions from our listeners all the time, but we can't answer them all in our podcast. So we are trying something new by introducing our new column, “Conversations with Wise Ones.”

Our first conversation is about Filipinx History Month and doing our part to support Black Lives Matter. We talked with author, psychologist and professor Kevin Nadal. He is an activist whose research focuses on how discrimination impacts the mental health of people of color and LGBTQ+ people. While taking care of his toddler, Nadal joined Truth Be Told engagement producer, Isabeth Mendoza, for a conversation on why Filipinxs and Filipino Americans are in a unique position to be co-conspirators in the fight for racial justice. We talked about colonialism, call-out culture and what’s on the other side of decolonization.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The terms Filipino, Filinpinx and Filipino American are used in this interview to refer to the diverse community with ties to the Philippines living in the United States. Scroll to the bottom of the story for a glossary of helpful terms.

Listener Question: How can the Filipinx community support Black Lives Matter?

Isabeth Mendoza: In these past few months, many Filipinxs have reflected on the times we didn’t speak up when we experienced or witnessed racism. How do you find resolution from the explicit and implicit acts rooted in anti-Blackness?

Kevin Nadal: Personally I try not to live in regrets, but to live in lessons and reflection in order to move forward. The times you regret, ask yourself, “What is the lesson involved?” How can you move forward if there are times that you didn't speak up in the past? Are there ways that you can correct that? There may be opportunities to go back to certain people if they’re in your life to re-approach them. For example, ‘You remember that time in 2012 when I said this or I didn't say anything?’


In situations where you don't know those people or where the situation would be difficult to correct, it may be impossible. So this is where you have to reflect and make it right in other ways. How can you use that guilt, shame or anxiety to make things better? How can you then make sure that the next time a similar situation happens, you can hold yourself accountable? The past can illuminate some needed healing so in that case ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is it really for them or you?”

What makes a good co-conspirator in the fight against racism?

Self-awareness and self-care. I think if you are somebody who is not aware of your strengths, limitations, areas for improvement, traumas or triggers, then it's going to be really hard for you to be the best accomplice, co-conspirator or revolutionary that you can be.

When you’re trying to spread the news of social justice and you can be triggered in an argument and lash out, you’re not being as effective as if you have been able to manage some of your own emotions and work through some of your traumas.

Similarly, caring for your health is important because sometimes we get so caught up in whatever is happening that our emotions are heightened. Our bodies get tired. For example, if you are continuing to go to actions and you’re tired or severely depressed, going to those actions might be less healing and more triggering. I think passion and drive is really important, but when it starts to take over your body, you need to rest. You don’t need to go to every single action. We need to work as a team where some people go to some actions, some people are resting and when they’re resting they’re sitting by their phones in case people get into trouble. That’s activism. There are so many ways that we can be activists. There isn’t just one way, and one type of activism isn’t necessarily better than the other.

How do you think dealing with colonialism affects being a co-conspirator?

I think one of the reasons why Filipinos might have difficulty being activists and revolutionaries is because of colonial mentality, which stems from more than 400 years of colonialism by Spain and the United States. Because of colonialism, Filipinos have learned to denigrate parts of themselves as being negative and to value more the beliefs and the standards of the colonizer. So if white people and their systems of power teach Filipinos that there are certain things that they need to abide by, then oftentimes Filipinos just abide by it. No questions. And so when we're talking about things like systemic racism and particularly the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of Filipinos are complacent because they just believe that this is just how systems are. And for some Filipinos, it’s even worse where they’ve internalized these notions of anti-Blackness and are upholding systemic racism. So believing that Black people are bad or deserving of whatever oppression they experience is failing to recognize the ways that their own Filipino American communities are negatively impacted by systemic oppression.

What’s the first thing you’d recommend to Filipinxs who are dealing with colonialism in their family and want to help them acknowledge it?

For a lot of people, coming to terms for the first time really is disrupting their world, because if they have thought these things for however long they’ve been alive, then activist revolutionaries are really asking them to to change their mindsets about their entire existence, which is very hard.

One of the things that I encourage people to do is to read, to educate themselves, take ethnic studies classes if possible, read books on biographies of people of color who have paved the way for different revolutions and different movements throughout the years, and watch documentaries. We have so much access to learning, it’s something that we didn't have even five years ago. Know that you're not the only one, this is a process that most people go through at some point in their lives—the very process of coming to terms with your identity, with your own racism or internalized oppression.

There are older generation Filipino, Filipino Americans who have internalized a lot of colonial mentality and might be set in their belief systems so they have a more difficult time receiving new information. I try to meet them where they’re at. It’s trying to make things relatable to them.

If you attack them in any sort of way, they won’t be able to listen because you’ve broken this cardinal rule of respecting your elders. I'm not going to let elders say outlandish, hurtful, oppressive things. But I also know that there are certain ways I might have to approach them in order for them to hear anything that I have to say. For example, elders may say something that’s anti-Black or homophobic so I might just gently say, “Tito or Tita, I don't agree with that. And I don’t think you should be saying that, especially around me. That hurts my feelings because I either identify like that or many people who are close to me do.” I have to remember to engage in that approach because that’s the only way they might even be able to hear a little bit.

How do we keep each other accountable and learning, but also keeping the love we have for each other?

I think what’s really important is for people to work on themselves first before they start challenging others. And part of that is how people deal with anger or their trauma when they can't manage their own issues and project onto others. I encourage people to engage in any type of self care that provides some of that healing. For many people, that might be traditional Western therapy. For others, there might be more cultural practices like meditations, becoming one with nature, practicing different types of spiritualities and so forth.

Going through those emotions is very normal. It’s something everybody goes through as they come to terms with their social justice identities. It’s OK to get angry. But understand that anger is usually part of something bigger. It’s usually part of some trauma that people may be carrying around with them. That’s also part of this whole notion of historical trauma, where trauma runs through our veins and gets passed down through generations. For example, the wars that we’ve gone through as a people, the centuries of brutality during colonialism, the murders, and the rapes. Filipino people, who weren’t even called Filipino people back then, have been carrying so much of this with us.

There is a lot of tone policing, emotional exhaustion and emotional labor. What is your approach in welcoming new Filipinxs and Fil-Americans into the movement against anti-Blackness?

For me, it’s just reminding ourselves that we’re in community and recognizing that there's nothing effective about calling out people in antagonistic ways. In fact, when we are antagonistic towards each other, that’s really just what that the colonizer and systems of oppression want. They want us to fight. They want us to not get along.

For me, there's this notion, if you can't approach a person with kindness, why are you even approaching them? Because that may show that you don't even have a relationship with that person or you’re forgetting the idea of why you’re even in this work, which is because you want to advance all of our communities.

It’s such a complex issue because some people they say, “We have to call out people.” I say, yeah we do have to call out some people, but for me, it’s calling out people in power, that’s what’s most important. When it comes to people in our own communities who are fighting for the greater good, then that’s where I feel like we have to at least consider being gentler. I say that because I know there are people in our community that aren’t advocating for our communities.

What happens after decolonization and unlearning?

Decolonization is a lifelong process that you don’t ever come to the end of. I like the word decolonizing because it's an active process—it’s not something that is a yes or no. What I think is on the other side of decolonization and unlearning is joy and peace, love and self-love. People don’t learn about colonizing and social justice until they’re in high school or after. That’s two decades of learning to hate yourself.

Kevin Nadal is an author, psychologist, activist and professor at John Jay College for Criminal Justice , City of New York (CUNY). We’d love to hear your feedback and your questions for future conversations with Wise Ones. Email us at truthbetold@kqed.org.


Co-conspirator: “Co-conspiracy is about what we do in action, not just in language. It is about moving through guilt and shame and recognizing that we did not create none of this stuff. And so what we are taking responsibility for is the power that we hold to transform our conditions.”—Alicia Garza, Black Lives Matter co-founder and Special Projects Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance

Colonization: “In the context of Indigenous Peoples, colonization has come to mean any kind of external control, and it is used as an expression for the subordination of Indian peoples and their rights since early contact with Europeans. In North America, colonization took the task of subordinating Indigenous Peoples to the political power of Christian European kings. In Spanish colonies, with the appearance of the colonists, the land was immediately considered under the control of the colonizing nations.”—Duane Champagne, via Indian Country Today

Decolonization: “Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools.”—Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is not a metaphor

“The process of colonization begins with the physical occupation of land and domination of the Indigenous people. Following the primarily physical aspects of colonization (i.e. military conflict, relocation, etc.), non-physical methods are applied. These include what could be called mental aspects. Religious indoctrination, cultural, social and economic assimilation are common examples. Therefore it could be said that colonization comprises two primary aspects—physical and mental. In order to be liberated from this oppressive state, the process of colonization must be reversed. That is, it must begin with the mental aspects and move towards the physical.”—Zigzag & Keyway, “Long Hot Summer ’99

Internalized oppression: “When we accept or ‘buy into’ the negative and inferiorizing messages that are propagated about who we are, then we have begun to internalize the oppression that we experienced. We have come to learn that—having certain traits, being a member of a particular group, and being who we are—are not good enough or are not desirable. Sometimes, we even learn to hate our traits, our groups, ourselves.”—E. J. R. David, via Psychology Today


Systemic oppression: "A system of invisible barriers limiting people based on their membership in unfavored social identity groups. The barriers are only invisible to those ‘seemingly’ unaffected by it. The practice of institutionalized oppression is based on the belief in inherent superiority or inferiority.”—from “Institutionalized Oppression” Tools for Diversity, created by Carol Cheney, Jeannie LaFrance and Terrie Quinteros

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