Filipino Americans: Please do not be fooled. Visibility does not equate representation

So, it appears that Donald J. Trump has selected Noel Francisco as the new solicitor general, and apparently, Mr. Francisco is Filipino American. If he is confirmed, he would become the highest-ranking Filipino American in the U.S. government.

Some Filipino Americans might view this is as a win, but here is the thing. A Filipino American in the White House who does not advocate for our needs is worse than having no one there at all.

Hear me out.

Perhaps the visibility of Filipino Americans might seem like a good idea. They would just naturally advocate for our needs, right? They would have to have our same ideals, our same morals, and our same passions, right?

The truth is that visibility is not enough, especially if they do not advocate for our communities.

Ben Carson is the highest ranking Black American within the DJT administration. Does his visibility do anything for the Black American community? In many ways, his very presence in this leadership position is extremely harmful to communities of color. His anti-Black rhetoric can be construed as being acceptable or accurate because a Black person said it. People may view his very narrow experience of being Black in the U.S. as being the norm, or may view his biased thoughts as being justifiable. Just this past week, Mr. Carson equated slavery with immigration. Let me repeat that. He equated SLAVERY with IMMIGRATION.

Further, empirical studies find that tokenism is ineffective and merely masks inequality within organizations. For instance, some studies find that women in management positions recognize when they are tokenized and view their workplace climates as inequitable. Research has found that Black Americans often feel like racial tokens with the pressure to be “diversity” experts; such additional workplace stress may also impede in their success. Scholars may class experiences with tokenism as racial microaggressions, in that an individual is being presumed to represent their entire group — an experience that is hardly expected of majority group members. Perhaps Professor Stephen Wright said it best when he wrote: Tokenism reduces the chance of real change in the power differential between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. When group boundaries are completely closed, disadvantaged people tend to respond with collective non-normative action, the form of action most likely to disrupt the existing structure. So perhaps tokenism is not something that we should support, and rather something we should fight against.

Research also supports that colonial mentality and internalized oppression may influence a person to think negatively about the groups in which they are members. People of color, women, LGBTQ people, and others may possess self-hatred, which is often a result of the decades of negative messages they’ve learned about their own group. As a result of this way of thinking, they may not care about their own groups and may perpetuate the same stereotypes that majority group members have of them. When people with high levels of colonial mentality or internalized oppression are in positions of power, they may often victim-blame or shame members of historically marginalized groups for any of their misfortunes, instead of recognizing the systemic barriers that may contribute to these disparities.

But of course, some optimistic people might say things like “Let’s give him a chance” or “I’d still rather have someone there than no one at all.”

Such was the same attitude that Rumana Ahmed had just a few weeks ago. As someone who worked for, and was promoted within, the Obama administration and National Security Council for years, she thought she should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America’s Muslim citizens. Ms. Ahmed lasted eight days.

Either way, perhaps we should learn more about Mr. Francisco to see if we think he will be an advocate for Filipino-American rights and for social justice in general? Here are a few facts that we know about him:

1) He was part of Jones Day – the law firm that has served as DJT’s legal counsel, yet continues to work on many controversial cases that are still awaiting trial.

2) He was a litigator in the Zubik versus Burwell SCOTUS case in which he argued that corporations should not have to pay for women’s contraceptives and should be treated like religious institutions.

Arguing for the religious groups, Noel Francisco claimed that his clients should get the same accommodation that actual churches received: to be completely exempted from the contraceptive mandate. He then took things a step further, implying that religious non-profits should generally get the same special legal treatment as houses of worship. Kennedy interjected, asking whether this meant religious colleges must be treated, under the law, like real churches. Francisco said yes, and Kennedy seemed deeply concerned that religious schools could deprive their students of contraception through their own health insurance.

3) He supported the recent executive order that banned people from Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., arguing that the judicial branch should not intervene.

The injunction contravenes the constitutional separation of powers; harms the public by thwarting enforcement of an executive order issued by the nation’s elected representative responsible for immigration matters and foreign affairs; and -second-guesses the President’s national security judgment about the quantum of risk posed by the admission of certain classes of aliens and the best means of minimizing that risk,” acting solicitor general Noel Francisco wrote in a brief.

4) He has used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to support that private companies who were opposed to same-sex marriage should still be allowed to receive federal tax exemptions.

5) His firm argued in trials related to HB2 in North Carolina, representing the University of North Carolina. He did not argue that the law was unconstitutional, but rather moved for the university to be removed from the lawsuit.

I’m sure many more examples will emerge that Mr. Francisco does not stand for social justice, supporting that he does not advocate for the best interests of the Filipino-American community.  In fact, what I’m sure we will find are the many ways that his litigation work has benefitted corporations and wealthy citizens, more than we would find that he advocates for historically marginalized communities.

As a gay/ queer/ Filipino American/ person of color, I cannot support a man who will not advocate for my rights, just because he is Filipino. I cannot support a man who will threaten the rights of people who I care about — including women, transgender people, immigrants, Muslims, and any other group whose very worth are being questioned.

My husband Kaleo Nadal said it best when he wrote:

“I’m not interested in celebrating Filipino Americans who are nominees to perpetuate White supremacy, colonial mentality, misogyny, LGBTQ-phobia – just because one of their grandparents was born and raised in Batangas. Let’s not be so desperate for recognition that we celebrate mediocrity among our people.”

You can disagree with me all you want, but maybe that’s because you are not terrified that your basic human rights will be taken away.

And if you think I am being angry or hostile or closed-minded, I can only remind you that the histories of the United States and the Philippines were both built on riots and revolution. From Lapu Lapu to Gabriela Silang to Andres Bonifacio (and from the Boston Tea Party to Civil Rights to Women’s Suffrage to Stonewall), your life literally would not be what it is today if someone back then did not stand up for their rights.

Dr. Kevin Nadal

Kevin Nadal is a professor of psychology at the City University of New York. He is the president of the Asian American Psychological Association, the executive director of the Center for LGBTQ Studies, the founder of the LGBTQ Scholars of Color Network, and a national trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society. He has published five books and over 100 works on multicultural and social justice. He also received the 2017 American Psychological Psychological Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions of Psychology in the Public Interest.

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