What do you mean we?


Street Talk


The horrible mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which claimed the lives of 50 (so far) and wounded another 50, was the handiwork of someone believed to be a white supremacist.

When President Donald Trump was asked by media if he considered the problem of “white supremacy” serious, he dismissed the New Zealand incident as a minor case that, apparently, did not merit being condemned by him.

What Trump has chosen to ignore is that all it takes is one person to claim many lives – such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October 2017, perpetrated by one person, Stephen Paddock, and the bombing in Oklahoma in April 1995, also by one person, Timothy McVeigh.

But is it a fact that behind these individual killers is a growing tendency among people in predominantly white countries, such as New Zealand, Australia, most countries in Europe and the United States to feel that they should assert their racial supremacy?

The last two times this has manifested itself like a monster were in Hitler’s Nazi Germany and in South Africa during the long period of apartheid. However, in the U.S., there appears to be a growing chasm between white supremacists and those they define as “people of color,” meaning anyone who is not “white.”

In a broadcast on National Public Radio in December 2018, radio host Noel King observed:

“In the United States, hate crimes have been on the rise. The FBI reported larger numbers in 2015, and then again in 2016 and a 17 percent jump in 2017. And while the numbers for this year aren’t out yet, in many ways, it felt like a very violent year. Take the last week in October alone. A man in Kentucky killed two black people at a grocery store after he allegedly tried to charge a black church. He reportedly told one witness, whites don’t kill whites.

And in Pittsburgh, a shooter killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue. He was reportedly driven by anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant ideology.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks extremist hate groups and acts of violence. The Center’s Intelligence Project director Heidi Beirich told me it isn’t just hate crimes broadly that are rising. In particular, acts of domestic terrorism fueled by white supremacy are growing. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted about one of those every month for the past year. And Beirich said this is a trend the SPLC has been tracking for a while.”

Note that “people of color” refers to Pinoys, as well.

This brought to mind a piece I wrote in November 2002 entitled, “What you mean we?” I think much of what I wrote has become even more relevant these days. Allow me to pick out excerpts from that column.

One of the funniest cartoon strips I ever read in Mad showed The Lone Ranger and his faithful sidekick, Tonto, being surrounded by not-so-friendly Indians.

Said the masked hero, gravely: “Tonto, looks like we’re surrounded.”

At this, Tonto gave his comrade-for-life a baleful look: “What you mean we?”

I thought that was really funny – until today, after reading the morning papers, surfing the Web and taking in the TV news. I have come to realize that Filipino-Americans may be in a Lone Ranger-Tonto situation.

FilAms may be in a situation where people whose values they also believe in and with whom they share allegiance to the United States may be asking in their minds: “What you mean we?”

One news item in the San Francisco Chronicle that struck me was about “die-hard Afrikaners” building an all-white enclave in a desolate spot in South Africa.

Orania is the brainchild of a certain Professor Carel Boshoff, son-in-law of the grand architect of apartheid, the late South African Prime Minister Hendrick Verwoerd. It is considered the last refuge of the descendants of the Dutch, French and German settlers who carved a white country out of black Africa, based on the principle that not all men are created equal.

South Africa is no longer a country ruled by a white minority. Blacks and whites have been working to fulfill the dream of Nelson Mandela of a nation where the color of one’s skin does not decree social status. But there are still those who instinctively see a racial divide that can never be crossed. 600 of them have settled in Orania.

One can presume that if Mandela were to tell Boshoff, “We South Africans must learn to live together in harmony,” the latter would cast the same baleful glance that Tonto gave The Lone Ranger and ask: “What you mean we?”

One may declare with conviction that the USA is a nation of immigrants. One may insist that everyone, except for native Americans, traces his or her roots to another country. And one may believe, rightly, that everyone who was born on US soil or has taken the Oath of Allegiance to Old Glory is as American as those who forged this country from the flames of the revolution against England.

But when push comes to shove, some people may find some others casting a baleful look and snapping: “What you mean we?”

The ones who are likely to hear that statement exploding in their ears will be those whose language, history, culture, religion and race do not match that of the stereotypical “American,” typified by the WASP or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

The irony is that among Filipinos who are already Americans, there is a tendency to reinforce that stereotype.

Ask someone from the community to describe a group of two Pinoys and two Anglos sitting together in a room. He will likely say, “There were two Filipinos and two Americans.” It won’t matter that the Pinoys may have been born in the US and the Anglos may have just arrived from Europe.

Ask most Pinoys who are US citizens to describe themselves and they will likely say, “We are Filipino-Americans.” Not simply Americans….

Some months ago, two FilAm columnists, Rodel Rodis and Emil Guillermo, had a mild debate over which term was appropriate for Pinoys. “American-Filipino” or “Filipino-American.” I’m afraid that circumstances have made that discussion irrelevant. They may not be regarded as Americans at all.

I wrote the above excerpts over 17 years ago. If they ring true to this day, it is because of incidents such as that one in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 where neo-Nazis who terrorized fellow Americans and claimed one innocent life were described by the President of the United States as “very fine people.” At least “some of them.”

These days, it may not be prudent to ask Trump’s voter base what they think of people of color, like us Pinoys, who are US citizens. They might give us a baleful look and snap: “What you mean we?”