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  • Writer's pictureProfiles In P-Pop

Messages of Hope Abound in Ben&Ben's Kayumanggi Music Video

Updated: Jul 10, 2023


Though we come from opposite ends of the world, the two authors here at the FAMdom UPdates blog share more in common than anyone could imagine. While watching Ben&Ben’s new video, Kayumanggi, we realized the experience of colorism is foreign to both of us. We have never felt the pain of judgment based on the color of our skin, which is why we try to speak as allies.


This article is written by both writers: Ramona Reyes & Sam Jensen

 

I am not a person of color, and I cannot pretend to understand the struggles or the internal hardships of persons of color. I hear stories of the impossible choices and the secret heartache that comes from a duality of nature I cannot understand.


To be honest, colorism is something I have never experienced or had leveled at me. I am Filipina, but I am mixed. I have the stigma of being called “other” and not belonging in either puti, kayumanggi, or itim.


As a fangirl of a Filipino boy group, I feel the weight of the crimes my ancestors committed against the very culture that I stan. They were crimes done with the excuse of “science” and “further knowledge” behind them.


I say I am Filipina, and I get a look of disbelief. It’s not a complaint but an observation. I feel, and I know, that I don’t “belong.”

Love and shame is the duality that I do understand, and I often wonder if this is how it feels.


During my first viewing of Kayumanggi, I am mesmerized by the beauty of its cinematography and the rich colors of the islands and the people it portrays. I am not entirely naive to the trials of the persons of color I see, but I am drawn in by the gentleness of the video and the hypnotic beauty of Ben&Ben’s song. There is something in the voices of Miguel and Paolo that humanizes National Geographic in a way I am not used to. I watch the intimate images of the everyday life of a people and, for a moment, I forget that this is the same culture that I have been fascinated with for seven long months.

I feel the weight behind Ben&Ben’s message. Puti. Maputla. Kayumanggi. Moreno. Itim. These are words I hear used to describe Filipinos and not always in a positive way. Depending on the situation, and the person using them, these words can be a compliment or derogatory. At its worst, itim was thrown around easily, especially when you get several shades darker in summer or to describe someone not considered “textbook pretty.” “Maganda naman ang mukha, kayalang ang itim niya!” (A pretty face, but she’s so dark!)

The shelves of whitening soaps, creams, lotions, the highest SPF sunblocks, and bottles of glutathione that are a standard sight in Filipino groceries underscore that observation. Dark isn’t pretty; it’s something to be whitewashed or be ashamed of. The whiter you are, the better. It’s a concept gone very, very wrong.


The word duality comes to mind yet again. I am reminded that no one is immune to implicit bias, the idea that we have preconceptions about races and ethnicities outside our own. Most of my exposure to the culture of the Philippines has been to the glamour of five handsome, young artists living in Manila. I have heard their stories of a life before, but I fail to connect them to those Filipinos living in the provinces -- especially the far-flung ones.


The preference for pale skin is not something strictly colonial. Pre-Hispanic Filipino society had a class of wealthy noblewomen called “Bukot.” These women were kept inside their huts and not allowed to leave so their skin wouldn’t get dark. This wasn’t that much of a problem for men. Golden skin was preferred because it showed health and strength – essential parts of being a warrior and protector. This double standard is common throughout Asia - the more bukot in your family, the wealthier the family was. It wasn’t just because lighter skin meant the woman belonged to a higher class, but that the family could afford the servants and slaves needed so the women wouldn’t need to work in the sun.


I am whiter but not white, and I feel the responsibility behind the colorism in my country – not because I perpetuate it, but because I represent what others consider an ideal. It is hard to write because I see it all around me, and I feel guilt knowing that my own color is a standard of comparison.

As the video comes to an end, I realize that I have entirely neglected the subtitles at the bottom of the screen -- essential for a non-native Filipino speaker like me. A rewatch is in order. I am no less moved by the lyrics. The English lyrics move seamlessly from a subtle comparison of the beauty of the people and the islands to the stirring reminder to “embrace your color, your home.” Again, my shame rears up as I realize I have no reference in my own life to the stigma against people of color, especially those of a darker color.


Today, light is might for both men and women. Whiter means more attractive, more educated, more wealthy, a misconception most of the time. Good looking doesn’t have anything to do with features. Filipinos love to point out the long line of international beauty queens that have been crowned over the past few decades. Most are not “white” or even pale. They are described as “gold.”


I am reminded of the words of a friend who once thanked me for being an ally. I don’t know if I am worthy of the title, but I know I will keep fighting to be worthy of it – to make my personal sphere, my country, and the world more inclusive.

Kayumanggi reminds me of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Through their encouraging message of self-love and comforting tone, Ben&Ben are empowering others to have pride and see themselves as worthy of love and admiration.


Yakapin ang kulay? Yes, please. Pinoy is all colors; the different shades of kayumanggi make us one, and we are all beautiful.


What a lovely way to shake the world.


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