Cashing in on a mixed kid’s fair skin

This post was originally published at Racialicious on June 16, 2006.

by Carmen Van Kerckhove
emil (Thanks to Kaushal for this tip!) Really interesting essay in the latest issue of Newsweek, written by a Filipina woman now living in the U.S. who has a mixed (Filipino/white) son. On a trip back to the Philippines, she notices how much people ogle her son, and wonders if she should take advantage of his fair skin and European looks by signing him up with a modeling agency, so he can be cast in commercials. Doing so could pay for his college education. Is it just being savvy? Or is it being a sell-out?

My son is mestizo, of mixed race. My husband is Caucasian with ancestors from Sweden and Slovakia. I am a brown-skinned woman from the Philippines, where many people I know have a fascination with the lighter skinned—probably because our islands were invaded so many times by whites who tried to convince us that they were better and more beautiful than us. We were under Spain’s rule for nearly 400 years, the United States’ for almost 50. As a result, skin-whitening products fly off the pharmacy shelves…

By the time I got the number of an agent, I had started to second-guess my idea. I realized that I was going to be part of the system that can sometimes make us dark-skinned people believe that we are inferior. I do not want Filipino children who look like me to feel bad about themselves. When I was a kid, my grandmother would get upset whenever I told her that I’d be spending the afternoon swimming in my cousin’s pool, because it meant that my skin would get darker than it already was. My mom, whose nose I acquired, has one of the widest among her brothers and sisters. She taught me to pinch the bridge daily so that the arch would be higher, like my cousins. Most of her girlfriends got blond highlights and nose jobs as soon as they received their first paychecks, almost as a rite of passage…

Once again, I’m tempted to call that agent. After all, I am sure other fair-skinned children are being chosen to appear in Philippine commercials even as I write this. I know my boycott is just an anecdote in the world’s bigger drama. The real stage is in my decolonized mind. If my son ever lands a part on TV because of his color, do I want to be the one who has cast him?

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