Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Objecting to the term "Filipino" being used to refer to nannies or personal care aides

I received the following email and received permission to post it anonymously. In Israel the term Filipino is widely used to refer to someone who is an aide or personal care-worker - because in fact most people employed in this capacity are from the Philippines. 

However I have not heard it used as a pejorative term but simply as a fact that when one needs help with an elderly parent, handicapped or retarded child as well as domestic help - one needs a fillipino.

However it clearly has irritated my correspondent - who does not want to get into an on line discussion. Do careworkers from the Phillipines resent the term "fillipino"? What would be the preferred alternative?

The following is a list of ethnic slurs (ethnophaulisms) that are, or have been, used as insinuations or allegations about members of a given ethnicity or to refer to them in a derogatory (critical or disrespectful), pejorative (disapproving or contemptuous), or insulting manner in the English-speaking world. For the purposes of this list, an ethnic slur is a term designed to insult others on the basis of race, ethnicity, or nationality. Each term is listed followed by its country or region of usage, a definition, and a reference to that term.
However the complexity of the issue of the listing and usage of such terms needs to be noted. For instance, many of the terms listed below (such as "Gringo", "Yank", etc.) are used by large numbers of human beings in many parts of the world as part of their ordinary speech or thinking without any intention of causing offence, and with little or no evidence that such usage does in fact cause much or indeed any offence, while the implicit or explicit labeling of such large numbers of people as racists (or similar terms such as prejudiced, bigoted, ethnophobic, xenophobic, etc.), simply because they use some words on the list below, can itself be deeply unfair and insensitive and can thus cause deep offence.


I read your blog post about your twins this morning and feel for your situation.

That being said, I wanted to flag a section of your post referring to 'the Filipinos'. If your children's nannies are from the Philippines, does this one fact lead you to label them with contempt or indifference? Surely you would not want to be to referred to as 'the Jew' if someone left their child on their care? You may not have meant any offence to this, but of you replace 'the x' with any race, gender or religion, then you may realise you are subtly commenting on a group of people that are not at fault in your predicament.

Kind regards,


  1. I think it is relevant that the term Filipino is used. It is not pejorative. The implication is that the caretakers are indeed workers temporarily in Austria, and would be expected to value their own culture, language and customs; and that they would, unless told otherwise, transmit their approach to life, at least in part, to their charges. This is not to demean the caretakers: they are presumably well meaning in their intentions; as Jews, however, we are a nation that dwells separately, and we don't want our children absorbing, even through passive immersion, the mores of any nation foreign to us. Austrian caretakers would fall in the same category. Under the circumstances, Jewish caretakers who would work in consultation with the mother and father would be ideal.

    There is much to learn from others -- I have a friend who learned from his nurse which common plants found everywhere growing wild in the region he grew up are edible, something his parents may not have had the background to pass on to him. Yet, are the boys' caretakers saying the Modeh Ani with them in the morning, or showing them how how to wash their hands upon awakening, or how to make a Bracha before breakfast?

  2. Some people feel the need to look for offence when none is meant.

  3. Trust me... I have worked extensively with professionals (non-caretakers) in the Philippines. Filipinos are very proud of their reputations around the world as caretakers and are thrilled to have people associate "chesed" with their country. In the Philippines, virtually everyone has a close relative overseas.

    Not only that, Israel is one of the preferred destinations because Jews have a reputation of treating them very nicely.

  4. Identifying someone based on their country of origin is very different than identifying someone based on their religion. I'd think that's obvious.

  5. As someone who has only skimmed the articles on this topic, I have the repeated reference to the ethnic origin of the caregivers to be disappointing and offensive. It is not really of any significance whether the term is pejorative or , as some have alleged, Filipinos take pride in being known as caregivers. The context here is clearly a critical one. If an article similarly, arbitrarily, referenced someone's Jewish ethnicity this forum would not be so quick to dismiss it as benign. All of the spin-doctoring in the world doesn't change the race-baiting implicit in the formulation. I doubt it was meant maliciously, but when people are desperate they will make arguments they might not otherwise.

  6. If my children were being taken care of by a person of a different nationality from myself, I'd almost certainly refer to them as "a Frenchwoman", "a Nigerian babysitter" or "a Brazilian carer", depending on where they originated from. There is nothing racist about that. It would be a pure statement of fact. Beth has wanted to indicate that 2 women whose mother tongues are not the same as her own or the boys' father's are caring for her sons instead of herself. That this might not be desirable if the carers did not speak either, in this case, German or English fluently and without a strong accent, is obvious.

  7. Yirmiahu, If you have only skimmed articles on this topic, I would suggest you do some more research before complaining about injustice:


  8. The details of the case are irrelevant to the propriety of the terminology in question.

  9. I find it absurd how you have chosen which issue to be more offended by. An unsuspecting reader may feel you have an ulterior motive in your bizarre position.


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