Written By: Rome Lim
One night I was caught in TikTok’s endless waterfall of content. My thumb was flinging video after video across my screen, glazing my eyes over with serotonin covered pixels.
But it wasn’t all bad. I mean, despite being way past my “bedtime” (yes, at my big age of 23, I still have a bedtime - but, it's voluntary. I’m trying to build better sleep habits!) I came across one video in particular that made clicking the “remind me in 15 minutes (to lock TikTok)” notification feel less guilty.
It was this video by Asian Boss that finally gave a name to my experience.
Smart-Shaming: Our Colonizer’s Last Laugh
Okay, I don’t know about you but I didn’t know that smart-shaming existed - or really had a name - until I watched that TikTok. So imagine my surprise when I googled “smart-shaming in the Philippines” and saw that there are tons of academic research on this phenomenon.
Kind of ironic, no?
However, before I disclose my academic findings, I want to share some of the public’s feelings about the steady growth of anti-intellectualism within the collective psyche.
[ I feel like it should be mentioned that the sentiments shared within these subreddits do not reflect my own, KasamahanCo., or even all Filipinos. Reddit is not the greatest place to source opinions, but they’re definitely “honest”... ]
Filipinos have been talking about the country’s “pro-ignorance” culture in the last few years. Especially on Reddit (which, by the way, redditors were describing the culture as such - not me). There were a few threads on r/Philippines that caught my attention, with the first one in this list being the most useful for this post:
@Spacetimedweller’s post is lengthy and jargon-y; they say a lot of things that my brain can’t process at 1AM (the time that I am writing this), but here are my key takeaways from the overall thread in general:
The lack of “IRL nerdy” subcultures gives Filipinos who are interested in topics outside of culture (think: anime, Kpop, Magic the Gathering, etc)., and instead are more drawn to sciences, philosophy, math, is rare. @Spacetimedweller recalls their elementary school days, and states that “the only remotely intellectual activity available to us plebians was MTAP/MTG trainings, and perhaps journalism competitions and leadership camps”. But those were sponsored by the schools and not created by students.
Commentor @UncharteredWorld replied to the post with: “This is also why, Filipinos are viewed as “Hard Workers” rather than “Innovators”.
Cuizon et al.’s 2017 study of anti-intellectual behavior on senior high school students from Fiat Luxe Academe-Cavite, states that “students involved in clubs and organization exhibit higher levels of self-esteem compared to students that are not”. What this would suggest is that the lack of spaces for an individual to explore complex/critical thinking can lead to low self-esteem.
So what? A couple of teens have low self-esteem, that’s nothing new.
Actually, Cuizon and colleagues cite the country’s “hundreds of years” of foreign occupation have led to the manifestation of “crab mentality, machismo, and perhaps, this anti-intellectualism” – all of which are insecurities on their own.
The concept of hiya (shame), also contributes to smart-shaming.
Hazel T. Biana’s essay, “A Call for Feminist Critical Thinking In A Smart-Shaming Culture”, applies the teaching of renowned writer and feminist theorist, bell hooks, to explain the impacts of shame on a culture.
In short, shame is one the “most profound tools of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” In an even shorter-short, hook defines shame as a tool for control.
Colonization, and its persistence within our country and culture, have continued to melt within our society’s structure and the ways in which we interact with one another.
Filipinos use hiya to monitor their own behavior to accommodate the needs of others (which could also be described as just being empathetic). Although hiya in theory is kind, the repercussions of having a culture revolve such a mannerism amidst other forms of control, turns the gesture problematic.
Like how realistic is it for me to never say anything that someone doesn’t know? Or to simply never correct someone when they’re wrong?
You try correcting an older Filipino about their behavior. Tell me how that goes. Or have you ever tried telling one of your friends that they shouldn’t use the N-word? And they get defensive?
They say, “edi wow”, “ikaw ang magaling”, and other sarcastic phrases because when did you get so smart? Do you know who you’re talking to?
This type of behavior impacts all social interactions: from parent-to-child, from employer-to-employee, and even to those from different economic status. Basically, anyone can smart-shame anyone.
To shame someone for even “sounding” smart, is best explained as a way to regain “intellectual power” according to Biana.
Of course, those who are being smart-shamed understand that this is the other person’s insecurity showing its full form.
Why it’s hard to talk to your parents (or anyone, in general)
I think every Asian person knows how hard it is to talk to our parents. They tell us that we can tell them anything, and then they turn their back on us as soon as they open their mouths. It happens so much that, at least for me, I figured that it would be best to just say nothing at all.
Growing up, I remember wanting to say things - so many things - but I didn’t have the courage to say them. I was too scared to participate in class, too scared to speak up for what was “right”. I was too scared to speak up for myself in fear that I would disrespect others if I had thought “differently”.
So, for a long time, I never said anything.
Those who grew up with me found it endearing how much I loved to follow people around; how much I loved to just be there and not say anything at all. Following others was easier because no one paid attention to me. I was just like everyone else, and I liked that.
It wasn’t until my adolescence that I started to become more vocal. I started to express myself, not only vocally, but in the way I presented myself to the world. I started to raise my hands in class, speak my mind (but only when I felt comfortable enough to do so); I allowed myself to relax into my personality.
If smart-shaming is the colonizer's tool for control, then it must be an eraser. For its only purpose is to ‘other’ those who have undergone the same. An eye for an eye.
The thing about being smart-shamed, especially when you’re a kid, is that it forces you to be overly-empathetic over things that others don’t even think twice about. And yeah, empathy is lovely, but not when it makes you second-guess yourself.
Or even worse, it makes you wonder if people care to truly know you.
A friend I met recently described her experience with “emotional” smart-shaming. She told me that she was trying to tell her mom how she felt about her yelling at her, and trying to set boundaries.
Her mom then replied with something along the lines of, “fine, fine. I guess you’re right” but in a tone that made my friend feel like she wasn’t being heard or understood.
Another example is from my other friend who had recently lost a significant amount of weight during the pandemic. When sharing the process with his family members at a party, he could tell that certain people were sending jealous looks and undermining his progress.
“Oh wow, you know lots now ha?” was his sarcastic impression of everyone’s collective reaction to him talking about his journey.
How many of these kinds of responses will our community give until we realize how many conversations we’ve missed? How many opportunities to learn and grow have passed us by?
Remember when @UncharteredWorld said smart-shaming is the reason why Filipinos are considered “hard workers” instead of “innovators”?
Despite it being a cynical observation, the weight it carries is significant. Those in our parents' generation will tell us to under-perform at certain jobs so that we are not expected to do more. The thought of doing more removes the “leisure” that is afforded to those who fly under the radar. That is not to suggest that Filipinos are not excellent workers, but … you know what I mean.
Filipinos live for a good oxymoron. We love gay people in entertainment, but won’t recognize them anywhere outside of that space. We don’t want to be rich, but we need to keep making money to send home. We want people to be smart, but not too smart.
Smart-shaming and anti-intellectual behaviors enforces a “practical memorization” style of learning and rejects critical thinking.
Based on my own experiences alone, I believe that learning in this way is what causes our parents to be so reactive. Simply memorizing ideas that are not our own prevents us from fully engaging in proper praxis. We fail to understand why something is important, and instead, merely accept that it is because hey, that’s what the textbook said and I need to pass the class,
As a result, one is more likely to stay locked in toxic behaviors, recreating negative cycles they have grown up with, because there is no reason to change what “works”.
But don’t quote me, okay? I’m just a writer. Not a psychologist .
So, where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a single clue as to how we can heal the wounds left by the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese.
But what I can say is that, as long as you lead with kindness, continue to speak your mind and share your input with others. Be curious about the world, even if those around you aren’t. And lastly, you are smart and there is nothing wrong with that. Own it. However it looks on you.
Oh, and one more thing. Tell Edi to get a new catchphrase.
Source: Anti- Smart Shaming: "Train your brain, Stop the shame FB Page