Alec Baldwin's apology over his Filipina-mail-order-bride comment hit the web this past Wednesday. While there was over 400 comments posted to his blog, a strikingly relevant voice was missing from this discussion. Sadly, the discussion was missing (what seems to me, a Filipina-American woman) an essential voice in this public dialogue -- that of a Filipina woman.
So I'm throwing my two cents in because it pains me to see this voice under-represented in this discussion. It feels like you are that troubled kid in the room everyone is talking about but no one is talking to.
Nowhere is the invisibility of the Filipina woman in this dialogue more evident than in the endless comments to Mr. Baldwin's post that unbelievably condone his behavior from both sides of the Pacific:
"Regarding Alec Baldwin's comments on 'mail-order brides' -- it was a joke!" -- weber1633
"As someone from the Philippines, the apology was a nice gesture, but there was no need." -- Biboy Hernandez
"Frankly, I think it's ridiculous that you even had to apologize; I don't personally know anyone, including any Filipinos, who found that offensive." -- lz1982
Well, I do know where there are Filipinos that find referring to Pinays as mail-order-brides offensive. Just hop a plane to Chicago -- a city both myself and President Obama are proud to call home.
Back in 2007 there was a protest that took place in front of the H&M store on Michigan Avenue over another Filipina-mail-order-bride incident:
The Filipino American nurse is filing a complaint against the corporate clothing behemoth for an alleged racial slur one of its employees made to her in mid-September at an H&M in downtown Chicago. According to Richards, she had just entered the store and was browsing the racks when an employee near her raised his hand and exclaimed loudly, 'Mail order bride in the house!' before running over to a fellow employee and bursting into laughter.
News about this incident rapidly spread through my community. The woman filing the lawsuit was far from a mail-order bride. She is, in fact, an educated woman, a professional in the medical field and a veteran. Bloggers from Angry Asian Man to Filipino Moms urged supporters to attend the protest. Media coverage of the protest was minimal as I
recall. Maybe two local news outlets gave it any play.
Two years and an actor's careless comment later and the world really doesn't look all that different to me. From where I'm sitting we're not quite post racial yet.
When the sexual currency of Filipina women is appropriated by everyone from American actors to Filipino nationals to H&M workers, something is not right. When does anyone stop to ask -- 'Why?' Why is it so easy to 'go there'? Why is it such an effortless act to choose such a disempowering representation of a race and gender to turn into a joke?
Mr. Baldwin's comment was just a reminder of a more pervasive social undercurrent that curtails our ability to connect and care for each other. People who care for one another, people with compassion -- help to strengthen each others weaknesses, not exploit them. We don't ask the question "Why are people so sensitive", we ask "Why are people so insensitive?"
This isn't some can't-we-all-just-get-along sentiment I'm talking about either.
The necessity of connecting to one another is one that social neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo affirms in his book Loneliness which traces "...the need for connection to its evolutionary roots. In order to survive, humans needed to bond to rear their children. In order to flourish, they needed to extend their altruistic and cooperative impulses beyond narrow self-interest and immediate kin."
Now there's an ambitious idea -- flourishing, not just surviving. Daring to look at the root cause of a problem rather than dismissing its critics.
Let's move beyond mail-order brides.
Yes we can.