Recently, Jamie Foxx posted this picture on his Facebook page with an ambiguous comment “BooM!”:
It is a photograph of a restaurant in the Philippines called Flavors of Negros. The actor’s American fans cried foul calling the restaurant racist and insensitive. What they don’t know is that it’s only racist because they’ve interpreted the restaurant’s name using their own cultural context, instead of trying to find out what it means for Filipinos. Hate to break it to Americans, but Negros is an island in the Philippines. So it’s like saying “Flavors of New York” or “Flavors of Los Angeles.”
It’s not even pronounced the same way. The “e” is not pronounced like “ee” or “i,” instead, it’s pronounced like the “e” in “neck,” and the “o” is not pronounced like “ow” or “ou,” but like a short tart “o” sound similar to the “o” in “ostrich” but pronounced in a more abrupt manner.
I remembered a similar incident where a Filipino who just moved to America was beaten up when he wore a basketball jersey that said “Negros Slashers,” which of course is the name of the basketball team of the island of Negros. The Americans thought that it meant he was celebrating violence against African Americans, but really it’s more like “We are the slashers from Negros, and we will beat you in basketball.” Poor kid. He didn’t even understand that the name of his beloved island is considered racist by Americans.
Although this doesn’t mean that there is no racism in the Philippines. Like other countries there is still a battle to educate people about the irrationality of skin-based prejudice, but that issue is totally different from this. “Negro” does mean black in Filipino, and the island was named by the Philippines’ Spanish colonial masters as “Negros” because it was initially inhabited by darker-skinned people. Nowadays however, “Negros” is simply the name of the island. There’s no malice. The people are actually proud of their hometown, and this restaurant obviously thinks that the flavors of the island’s cuisine are things that should be celebrated.
Words mean different things for different countries. Don’t fall into the trap of ethnocentrism, that is, judging other cutures based on your culture, and that should apply to interpreting words and meaning. If a Chinese restaurant called Fuk Yuu can be read as “fuck you,” it does not mean the restaurant is insulting their customers. Thus “Flavors of Negros” doesn’t mean “Flavors of African Americans.” It means “Flavors of Our Beloved Island Called Negros.”
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