Whiteness Study

by Alyssa Manansala

"Gabriela Silang" by  Rhoda Dizon  |  ISSUE ONE

"Gabriela Silang" by Rhoda Dizon ISSUE ONE


There is a difference between
Ivory white and Navajo white

What did it take for our eyes
to distinguish the vast spectrum
of colonial shades?

When we want a fresh start
we paint our bedroom walls
and fill our lungs with fumes
high off the huffing
we imagine ourselves reborn
inhabitants of
somewhere new

Virgin land
for taking


Additive color theory explains:
if light hits an object and it reflects
all the wavelengths in the color spectrum
(as opposed to absorption)
the result is white
(whereas a rose is red because it absorbs
all the wavelengths except that of red light thus
we see reflected red)
we might also think of white as total deflection
or refusal
or defensive
or gaslighting


When your mother advises you to play in the shade during recess
or else you’ll be an eyesore to all the aunties at their parties

When your father asks your mother to buy skin bleaching soap
so he won’t be confused with Uncle Gong’s workers

When a forlorn aeta girl receives a makeover in a Pinoy sitcom
hair straightened and skin lightened and she is made lovable

When a classmate from Manila calls you mestiza
you wear the compliment like a badge of honor

When a friend grasps your hand, admires the skin, and says you’re lucky
to have a built-in tan while she must endure chemical spray

I pull my hand back and point to her tan lines, cross-sections of white
and off-white, and tell her what a hassle


flour paper easter bunny white man in white lab coat rice
white chocolate which is more pale-yellow than white
egg shell polar bear cocaine cotton t-shirt toothpaste ibuprofen
girls in white dresses singing Christian pop wading water
wet cloth clinging to skin dead in the eyes and grinning
computer mouse fine china clouds candle wax white bread


The last white man i loved never entered me
on my part this was a gesture of self-preservation
or preservation of what we had as if to touch
in that way (we found other ways to touch)
would mean giving up my own stubborn
will to power or some aspect of purity
of our love (noble loneliness either way)

I knew I loved him because language with him was
an easy flow of fraught semiotics we warred
constantly over the relation between symbol and object
(me of the camp a hole is a hole and him a hole
is a hole is a hole is a whole is a hole)

I knew i couldn’t love him because it wasn’t enough
to sustain us through the politics (sadomasochism)
i let him go and watched him fuck
Asian woman after Asian woman
(a real connoisseur, international sample platter)
and prayed for a sign (a signifier)
that he searched for at least
part of my face in theirs


each time i imagine        where you rest
your fingertips               in your new life
my vision fades              fades to white


The last white man I fucked fucked me like i was a vacation house
fun and new to him but the voyage to and from is long
& once the furnishings are broken in it’s already time to leave
& all the books he’d said he’d read remain unread

Imagine a life of endless summers
imagine ever-scalding heat and peeling skin
imagine tight embrace of challenge
imagine a fraught political life
imagine pleasure

Not every man is suited to live along the equator
most eventually find home in more temperate climates

    Suburbs, cul-de-sacs, white picket fences


Passing through whiteness
its doorways, its halls, its sacred spaces
the chill of it
i felt my limbs stiffen into aluminum
my skin clump into plaster
my womb rattle into the most basic generator

Pain keeps a body together
& lets the screws and staples in
& lets the blood and flesh insulation out
warmth escapes with the punctures
& the sloughing

I can’t say for sure if the body as house
is a defensive response to
or a blossoming in spite of
but lately i have had so many dreams
of birthing children i’ll never know
strangers passing through me
familiarizing themselves with my rooms and passages
& disappearing when i wake


When I was first learning about postcolonial identity and the subaltern in undergrad, I hid my middle name—Flores. I was ashamed of it. I romanticized myself a revolutionary, untarnished and unclaimed, a shadow of Gabriela Silang, the first pinay to lead a revolt against the Spaniards. That I should have embedded in my name an enduring trace of imperial violence, and that the word should refer to something beautiful, something delicate and sweet-smelling . . . My maternal great-great-grandfather was Spanish. This is a fact my mother relays with pride. When she writes my name, she includes Flores in her looping cursive. I’ve relented my efforts at erasure. Because she is my mother, and because that was her surname before she married my father (Manansala in Kapampangan roughly translates to they are running late, so together they produced a late bloomer), and because she takes pride in beauty and fragility, I raise a white flag. In her name. I let her, my first soft-spoken home, call me whatever she wants.


What is the alternative to home? I put down the empathetic hammer, allow myself to forget you have a body, and search for a different breed of tool. I set selfish sight on only the framework and boundaries of the house of my own making.


Lying side by side like different skinned sisters; Sarah, her golden
aureole emanates, intermingles with my tangled black wreath and this encounter
of tonal opposites personifies us so well. In sweet, meaningful earnest she asks
Why did you let him love you? And playing to type I fabricate a euphemism,
another word for white lie, to ease the mourning she carries out in my honor:
Because I felt like I had to.


bell hooks describes how men keep a kind of trust fund of care, depending on women to take the place of mother as source of unconditional love. Men thus choose to remain as boys, viewing love as the labor of women, and in turn, women, who like men often only view love in terms of dominance and control, can resort to “selfless adoration” as a “covert way to hold power.” “The fact that this sadomasochistic power dynamic can and usually does coexist with affection, care, tenderness, and loyalty makes it easy for power-driven individuals to deny their agendas, even to themselves. Their positive actions give hope that love will prevail.” Where control exists, love cannot, according to hooks. In study 2, I discussed variations on the concept of absorption and how we encounter whiteness. At certain moments, I find myself aggressively expelling what I have absorbed over years. At others, I feel bloated, my skin unwilling to break. Its endless ability to expand stuns me. As it stretches, I notice the pigment dilutes.


The space between us becomes a crossroads
the orbit of our bodies approaching intersection, collision, merging

Long ago I was fed a vast elixir and it took root in me
out of the watery seeds, generations of relation unfurled from my entrails

Because of this I have no need to touch you now
i feel you inside me before feeling you

What I mean: others like you have made a home of me
kindness that condescends, I pushed them out into the world

What I mean: I let others go, or others left me
and it is my small hope that they took with them cuttings from the flora

What I mean: I have seen it all
and we have known each other all our lives, each successive life

What I mean: if I am far gone and overgrown perhaps the most
i could want for you in distance is mutation in propagation, a new garden

The space between us becomes a familiar black hole so hot the flames are blue
i divert from tangled orbital path and walk toward white light


The tight organ unfurls into
something like a flower
pistil & stamen
wasp & orchid
you come before me

Blank, drawn-out revelation,
contagious bodies, we enter
the white-walled house
follow me

Writer's Bio:

Alyssa Manansala is a Bay Area-born writer and editor. She received her BA in literature and sociology from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at the School of Critical Studies at California Institute of the Arts. Her work has appeared in ECS Nepal and Hyphen Magazine, and she served as an editorial assistant for SUBLEVEL Magazine’s inaugural issue, Contagion. She is the founder of inter/subject, a collective of artists, writers, and activists exploring intersectional feminist tactics: instagram.com/inter.subject