Friday, November 4, 2011

Am I overreacting to perceive this as subtly racist? [UPDATED]

UPDATE: After all the deliberation, I did finally decide to say something, which resulted in the subtitles being changed for the better. I gotta say, that Anders is a good sport! :-)

Original post below:

Anders Paulsson just got a little less hot for remarking that the Filipino musicians he's been working with are just as talented as Swedes.

Last night Anders e-mailed me a YouTube link to a video of a television interview he did on Sweden's largest news program before the Coral Guardians inaugural gala in Stockholm last month. "Feel free to include it in your introduction of us," he wrote.

The video features Anders along with Johann Rockström, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Center. Anders wears a shockingly non-traditional take on the barong tagalog. Whereas traditionally it's a sheer white shirt worn over a white undershirt, Anders' barong is black with gold front panels edged in red.

Starting at 2:40 or so, Anders tells this cute story of how he got into this whole thing about using music to spread awareness of coral reef preservation. Originally he volunteered at the Coral Cay Conservation in the Philippines as a break from music, but one Christmas he filled a bunch of empty soda bottles with seawater and played "Silent Night," to everyone's delight. From then on, a bunch of music projects started, and he says, according to the English subtitles around 3:30:

"I've started playing with Filipino studio musicians who are just as talented as Swedes."

Say WHAT, Anders Paulsson?!

Wow. Yeah, I guess Anders must find it pretty amazing that some vestiges of Western music remain in the Philippines after 400 years under Catholic Spain, followed by some decades under the US. As if the cultural impact of being a longtime Spanish colony weren't already apparent in the religion, food, language, dance, clothing, etc., not to mention the names and faces of people, too. Sheesh.

I have a rule for cases like this. Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by ignorance.

However, even if this comes from a place of ignorance, that nonetheless implies a pre-conceived notion of low expectations of musical talent in people half a world away.

While the rest of the interview provides a lot of great information about the history of the Coral Guardians project on both the scientific and artistic sides, that one little remark irks me to the point of not feeling comfortable sending the link out. Especially to Important People at my alma mater. Especially coming from me, a talented Filipina-American musician-scientist!

So what can I do? Should I say something to Anders about it? If I say nothing, he'd probably freely share the video and possibly come off looking slightly racist. If I do say something, what can I say to minimize the ensuing awkwardness?

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