The Miss World 2013 and Devina DeDiva controversy: Racism begetting more racism

By Guest Contributor Ethel Tungohan, cross-posted from Grad Student Drone

Miss World 2013 Megan Young.

The controversy surrounding Devina DeDiva’s racist posts against Megan Young, the Filipina who was recently crowned Miss World 2013, exploded all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds a few days ago. For those of you not privy to what DeDiva stated, see her Facebook feed below:

DeDiva’s words, while hurtful and racist, is so similar to sentiments I’ve heard expressed before that I was saddened but unsurprised. When the Philippines’ labour export policy has, since the late 1970s, been reliant on the export of women to work in households around the world, it is no wonder that ‘Filipinas’ are equated with domestic servitude.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, the Filipina ‘maid’ as a global brand has become so ubiquitous that one of the definitions for “Filipina” in the Oxford Dictionary in the 1990s held that Filipinas were “female domestic helpers” – it was only removed after much protest. Although domestic work is real work and is an important – nay, noble – profession, the fact that countries that periodically import domestic workers treat these women not as workers but as indentured servants bolsters classist, racist, and sexist perceptions. Singapore, where DeDiva lives, is one of the worst perpetrators of abuse against domestic workers. After talking to numerous Filipina and Indonesian migrant care workers in Singapore, I was struck with how the draconian measures Singapore enforces against domestic workers – from mandatory annual HIV and pregnancy tests to strict prohibitions against civil organizing – strips domestic workers of their humanity. When these countries treats foreign domestic workers abhorrently, is it no wonder then that its citizens feel that it is perfectly normal to dehumanize not only Filipinas who work as domestic workers but all Filipinas at large?

This then brings us to DeDiva. Readers, do not think for a second that DeDiva’s viewpoints are in the minority. (Heck, see how many ‘likes’ her original comment received!) I do not doubt that she is only giving voice to sentiments she has heard before. That her viewpoints are subtly sanctioned by the Singaporean government’s aforementioned policies make it likely that others share her beliefs. DeDiva’s only mistake is that she gave voice to her beliefs on social media.

Sadly, despite the scores of people telling her otherwise, DeDiva still doesn’t seem to get why people are so upset. Based on her Twitter posts and her subsequent Facebook messages, DeDiva doesn’t particularly seem to ‘get’ it. She tried to appear contrite but her words seemed directly taken from ‘sorry-if-you-were-offended’, ‘the-tweet-was-taken-out-of-context’ school of fauxpologies. Bizarrely, DeDiva has started linking her plight to God (!):

So clearly, DeDiva has refused to take accountability for her actions and doesn’t seem to realize that continuing to give voice to her thoughts will end up harming her in the long-run. To paraphrase Rooney Mara’s character in “The Social Network,” what’s written on the Internet is in ink, and not in pencil.

DeDiva’s bizarre behaviour aside, what disturbs me is the way people are reacting to DeDiva. I completely understand creating Youtube videos, Facebook parody accounts, and blog posts eviscerating DeDiva. After all, DeDiva expressed her abhorrent viewpoints in public, and the Internet free-for-all that has emerged in response enables in part the beginning of a dialogue on race, identity, and community. Unfortunately, some of those who have reacted to DeDiva have chosen to focus on DeDiva’s race, therefore falling prey to the very racism that DeDiva has shown. DeDiva’s identity as an Indian woman in Singapore has led to numerous posts from angry netizens questioning Indians’ ‘intelligence’ and ‘empathy’. The vitriol that DeDiva’s detractors have shown against DeDiva, and, by extension, people of Indian descent, has even led to blog posts from Indian bloggers disowning Dediva (“she is Indian but she is not from India,” says this blog). Even DeDiva herself has posted on Facebook asking her critics to see her actions as hers alone, and not representative of Indian people:

Reacting to racism by being racist is a terrible idea, for now, everyone involved in this scandal is mired in an unnavigable clusterfuck.

Ultimately, those who are tempted to join this clusterfuck by turning into Internet vigilantism should stop. Bullying DeDiva accomplishes nothing. Here’s a thought: why don’t we reach out to organizations like H.O.M.E in Singapore, which does a lot of great outreach work among foreign domestic workers, to lobby for better policies? Why don’t we ask the Philippine government for pathways beyond labour migration? Why don’t we engage constructively with members of our community to see how we can wipe out racism?

  • Medusa

    Great post. This reminds me a lot of the Alexandra Wallace debacle, where she made a bunch of racist statements and the backlash against her was super misogynistic, which isn’t… better. Who the hell is this Devina DeDiva person, anyway? I’ve never even heard of her.

    But yes, people have a tendency to view those that they think are “other” through a really narrow lens. I guess in DeDiva’s vision, because she only knows Filipina women who are maids, to her, all Filipinas are maids. I’m guessing that even if she’s met other Filipinas in her classes, or working in other professions, she ignores these visions because it doesn’t fit her preconceived and racist notions. I’ve witnessed all kinds of people doing this with all other kinds of people. There’s no excuse for it, it’s bigoted as hell, and in my opinion, you’re not very smart if you see seriously believe that all “_____” are “______.”

    Also why is Hitesh Punjabi (in the pic of the Facebook thread) saying “no offense”? What in God’s name is offensive about pointing out DeDiva’s racism? And what the hell does she mean by “it’s a fact”? How is “Miss Philippines is Miss World? What a joke! I did not know those maids have anything else in them” a fact?