Racial hierarchies around the world consistently rank “whiteness” as more valuable and other races as less valuable. Being able to “pass” for white, which is a fluid commodity rather than a set racial identity, oftentimes opens up spaces of privilege while being perceived as “not white” in conjunction with being an immigrant, can be very limiting and harmful. For immigrant women particularly, racial hierarchies, in which whiteness is often valued and being “other” is restrictive, greatly influence their social experiences in the countries to which they immigrate. This racial phenomenon looks very different in different regions. In the United States for instance, Asian males, who in some parts of the world, are seen as white, are not viewed as “white enough”. As a consequence of being viewed as lower ranking in the hierarchy of male bodies, according to Kong, their bodies are desexualized, making it difficult for them to thrive and express their sexuality in this culture.
According to Hayeon Lee, a similar racial hierarchy in Lebanon helps and hinders Filipina women who migrate to Lebanon in search of work as live-in maids. In her article, “The public and hidden sexualities of Filipina women in Lebanon,” she argues that these Filipina women are seen as “white” which helps them get jobs, but are also viewed as either a binit (girl) or a sharmuta (whore). Both of these titles come with stigmas and the assumption of sexual objectivity. “Girl” implies that these women do not have a sexual identity of their own and thus need to be protected while “whore” implies that they are sexually promiscuous, dangerous, and irresponsible.
Surprisingly, Filipina women are more likely to be hired as live-in maids in Lebanon because of their race. Unsurprisingly, this racial ranking coincides with perceived “whiteness” with the Lebanese natives being paler than the Filipina, who are very pale compared to most Sri Lankans and Ethiopians who typically have the darkest skin color. It is very telling that Lebanese women ask for “good looking” “white girls” to be their maids because “the children aren’t afraid of them.” While the Filipina women benefit from this racial hierarchy by being employed more readily and being paid a higher salary than women of other races, they sacrifice their autonomy and sexual subjectivity.
Unfortunately, Lebanese men are discouraged from marrying the immigrant Filipina women, in the same way that white women in the US are discouraged from marrying Asian men, because this is viewed as “marrying down” in rank. Men who love and marry Filipina women are called “’losers’” because they did not capture the love of a Lebanese woman. In this way, the Filipina women are restricted by their race because, while they are lighter than the other non-natives, they are still not as valued as the Lebanese which directly impacts their sexuality. These women are stigmatized and not valued by the community as potential partners. At the same time, they are hypersexualized and sometimes viewed as exotic commodities, much in the same way that African American males are hypersexualized in the United States.
Unfortunately, these racist hierarchies are not limited to other countries. In the United States, some still hold these views of Filipina women. This blog post teaches readers the “7 things you need to know about Filipina girls” including that they are slim and attractive, interested in marrying older men, sexually conservative, and proficient in English. First and foremost, it is inappropriate to lump all of these women into a category and to presume that these “facts” apply to each of them. Next, who writes something like that, in this historical moment when we are supposed to be disbanding the institutions of oppression? However, the worst thing about this post is the comments. Men complaining about how hard it is to find a “good white woman” and how pretty soon the US government is going to take away their rights to “fuck” “impregnate” and sometimes “buy and marry” a Filipina woman because she is the “most feminine” . It is clear from these comments that people are still buying into the idea that these women are hypersexualized as some still believe of African American males.
Racial hierarchies have a very real impact on the lives of immigrant women and men and, more generally, all women and men. As our world becomes increasingly globalized and people leave their home countries in search of jobs, relationships, and new lives, we must continue to evaluate the social structures and racial hierarchies into which individuals are moving. If we are to create opportunities for true equality in this world, we must realize that racial hierarchies, which are ingrained in our culture, are oppressive and double-edged. While for some the hierarchies appear to be beneficial, it is apparent that when one race benefits, another must suffer to retain the balance. If we are to eliminate power based violence against marginalized and vulnerable communities, we must recognize the institutions which provide the framework for such marginalization including racial hierarchies which subtly permeate all aspects of social interaction from employment to sexuality.
How can we destroy the racial hierarchies? I don’t have a good answer because this is a global problem. Are there any ways by which we can initiate a local change which creates a global conversation for facilitating racial and class equality? Can grassroots efforts like these even reach a global scale and possibly change things?