It doesn’t really matter, guess I’ll keep it to myself
No, it doesn’t really matter, so you can hear it now from somebody else.

– Guns N’ Roses, “Chinese Democracy”
Chinese Democracy, Geffen Records (2008) 

You know what they say about being in the picture?  You can’t see the frame.

Chip Tsao (you know, when you repeat that name ten times over it’s an interesting tongue twister) writes something so inanely stupid or profoundly intelligent, and the soldier standing guard opens up the portcullis.  Hundreds, probably thousands, of offended Filipinos start crashing the gates of HK Magazine and flame away.  It’s like virtual 1896, Braveheart for the 21st century, online EDSA against a guy.  With a post.  On the Internet.

Indignation, rage, the seething of millions of Filipinos switching windows between Friendster and HK Online to probably express their indignation against Chip Tsao.  The blogosphere becomes rife with impassioned commentary about how racist the article is, with commentators and their calls-to-arms.  The Senate steps in, demanding a public apology from the Chinese to the Filipino people.  The site is bombarded with comments about how much the Chinese suck, how racist they can be, and how much they reek of Whiteflower liniment and melamine-tainted milk…

I’m not going to judge Chip Tsao’s article and determine whether it is satirical or not, yet the anger over a five-paragraph comment hits hard on so many Filipinos who have expressed their indignation.  Satirical or not, the article hits a raw nerve.  We all have stories to share about friends or family members who end up in foreign lands as domestics.  We are embroiled in a squabble over China for the Spratlys, and for the lack of military resources, we’re simply deadlocked.  Whether it’s at home or in the international arena, we Filipinos are in the interesting, unenviable, pathetic position of being helpless.

When someone like Chip Tsao starts to make satirical or light-hearted comments for purposes of his brand of journalism, we tend to take it seriously.  It’s not because we don’t get it, but because at the surface, it’s not funny.  We’re so sensitive – yes, pikon – to many issues that almost always hit at the insecurities we have as a people.  The Little Brown Brother, the domestic, the maid, the construction worker, the commercial sex worker.  These are the realities we want to hide or ignore or conceal, and look upon the Charice Pempengcos and the Manny Pacquiaos of our nation, drawing from the poetic wisdom of the Alexander Lacsons of this country, and export the Papaya Dance as a hallmark of our ingenuity.

Yeah, he hit a raw nerve there.  We are a nation of servants because This Government finds it profitable to turn intelligent Filipinas into “Super Maids” in the name of OFW remittances, in the promise that washing someone else’s toilets and taking care of children who are not theirs are the only way out of poverty.  Here we are, unable to defend ourselves from Chinese aggression simply because we’re finding our way through a dark history of bad policy and bad judgment that makes the Spratlys so contentious an issue.  Here we are, with very real stories of Filipina domestic helpers being abused and denied proper treatment outside of these shores.  Chip Tsao hit a raw nerve there, all right… which means that it’s fight or flee.

Do you fight back?  Of course you do, but any Kindergarten student will know when to walk away from the schoolyard bully.  Not necessarily fleeing, but walking away, knowing that no one, not the least of which a guy named Chip Tsao, can ever make you feel inferior without your consent.

Let me offer a paraphrase of a Pico Iyer essay:  it’s not because you’re too weak to fight the enemy or that you don’t stand a chance of winning, but because you rise above the circumstances of why you’re in that fight to begin with.  It’s not about fighting hard, but fighting smart; that the best way to fight the bully is to just walk away and not to stoop down to his or her level.  Scabbed knees and black-eyes are not the battle-scars of a good fighter or a winner.  The loser of the fight is often that person who sits sprawled on the playground, whining and moaning and complaining, showing scars to anyone who would care to hear the story of how he or she got beat up by that mean bully.

Ricky Carandang puts it succinctly: we latch on to the issue, as if guided by a blinding flash of patriotic fervor from out of nowhere, our impassioned defenses acting up because we’re caught up with the emotions we are privy to, that our fellow Filipinos hear every day.  Heck, some of us even make disparaging remarks about our nationality every now and then.  Yet what makes this issue hit such a raw nerve is that it comes from an outsider.  No matter how satirical it was, or how he treated it, much about it is just so darned true that we can’t help but be angry, show our wounds to the world, and stoop down to the level of an average Grade I student’s response to a bully’s chest-thumping. 

Whether or not Chip Tsao was being satirical proves something else, though; that we’re sometimes too caught up with the passing remark that we forget how cruel or racist we could be to a Sikh or to a Chinese or an African-American, or anyone who does not have the same skin color as we do.  We forget that, as we bemoan and rant about how much we are victims of “racism,” we forget how “racist” we could be by calling that Sikh an “Osama,” use the word “Intsik” in a disparaging manner, and make jokes about “Impen Negro.”  That some of us get too caught up with our own emotions, stooping down to the very level of racism that we almost always complain about.  Under the guise of anonymity and Internet access, some of us succumb to the irresponsible logic of fighting fire with fire, and end up being more “racist” than the subject of our very valid, and very true, indignations.

Many of us don’t want to admit it, but much of our cultural identity is defined these days along the lines of those who have made pakikipagsapalaran, and ended up being abused as domestic helpers or contract workers.  We bemoan the racism of the Claire Daneses, the “Desperate Housewives” producers, and the Chip Tsaos of this world and say we are “above” whatever racist slant or slur that there is, but yet throw no qualms about going to the Internet to denounce them in terms no harsher than their own.

Was I offended by the Chip Tsao article?  Well, yeah.  The problem is that I was more offended with the idea that grade school children know how to deal better with schoolyard bullies than we do.  That we’re wasting our anger on some Chinese dude named Chip, instead of the very system that made that nerve raw.

POSTSCRIPT: As of this posting, that controversial article was deleted.  So fleeting, so momentary.