"It's not enough to just be a good person" - reflections on how to manage racist experiences as a person of colour

It’s time to admit it: I experience racial prejudice every single day in Sweden. I have never had the same experience growing up in Canada, not even as a Filipino youth in a predominantly white high school. Maybe it’s because my high school was mostly made up of kids from the Jewish community, Italian community, and Serbo-Croatian community that all settled in Winnipeg to start anew. Today I live in a predominantly white community, conservative and in the heart of Sweden where the country’s nationalist anti-immigrant political party resonates with everyday folks. I have to admit that even as an educated, Swedish-speaking, tax-paying member of this community, I am second class because I am not white. I am tolerated, but not equal, and my experience is shared by many others, even if we self-identify as Swedish. As persons of colour in Sweden, we are tolerated, but not equal. TOLERATED. Not equal.

This means that the simplest of activities - like going to a nice restaurant after work, shopping the local design store on the weekend, changing tires at the garage - all involves a conscious effort on our part as people of colour to represent the part of an upper middle class citizen in order to receive the same level of service and respect as an everyday white person. This also means that in general, as a person of colour, I might choose to avoid going to aforementioned nice restaurants and design shops on my own or with other non-white folks, simply because it’s clear that white folks around me take a different tone, different body language, and different demeanour when I try to engage in their inexplicitly reserved public space on my own, vs when I do so in the company of my white Swedish friends.

If there is one thing that is clear to me, Sweden is not about assimilation. Sweden is about the tolerance of outsiders, and there is no interest from its population to make an effort on integrating. We may pay the same taxes and contribute to this community just the same, but I will never be “as equal” as the others.

If that statement triggers you - a white person living in Sweden - I urge you to read further to see what you can do if you do not agree that immigrants to Sweden should merely be tolerated and not integrated. If you do feel that tolerance is as far as it goes, and that “Sweden must remain Swedish”, then we agree to disagree and I will continue to live as best I can as a responsible member of my community and you will do the same, but we may not see eye to eye on some principles.

“You guys don’t have to DM me - especially white people - to tell me that you’re a good person. The reason I’m doing the work that I do is because I do believe that goodness lies within us all but I also understand that being a good person does not automatcially mean that you are not interacting with racist structures. You have to understand that as a white person even if you are the best white person that you can be - and I think you are - you will still interact with racist structures because these structures do not need your permission. They do not even need you to be aware of them; that’s how they operate. So these structures that harm people that look like me, people that are different: people that are gay, people that are muslim, jews, trans people - all of that - they don’t  need your OK to operate. The structures have been in place for 300, 400, 500 years so you - your generation - may not be responsible for putting these structures in place, but you’re still benefiting from them. And being a good person does not mean that you will stop benefiting from them; educating yourself, making a change, using your voice and your privilege is what makes a change. It’s not enough to just be a good person.” - Lovette Jallow, 13 February 2019, Stockholm

an unsung hero

 ”They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.”

Remembrance Day is an annual commemoration observed in Commonwealth nations each 11th November.

Today, I remember my great-grandfather, Brigadier General Simeon de Jesus - one of the twelve Philippine generals active during World War 2. My great-grandfather developed the United States Armed Forces in the Far East MIS (Military Intelligence Service) aka G-2 conducting covert operations in and around Manila during the Japanese occupation.

Operating in secret from outside Manila in Bataan, Brig. Gen. de Jesus remained active in intel and counter-intel with around sixty agents in the city, reporting directly to General Douglas MacArthur via a secret radio transmitter in the back of a movie theatre.


My great-grandfather was arrested in Bataan and incarcerated by the Japanese in 1944. He was executed before the liberation of the Philippines.

Over the years as military documents become declassified, journals and diaries discovered and digitised, and as memoirs get written about wartime experiences, I continue to find snippets - brief mentions - of my Lolo Simeon by people who knew and served under him firsthand. As a child growing up with only legends and tales of his last known actions, the new information I have found over the past eight years has painted the outlines of a picture that, until recently, did not exist for my family. There is a vast ocean’s difference between growing up with the story told by my great-grandmother that her husband went away and disappeared at the beginning of the war, versus finding out that he all along lived and fought a short distance away from her during the three or four years before his death.

  My great-grandfather after the official surrender to the Imperial Japanese forces, shortly before he went under and developed the USAFFE MIS and led as Chief of G-2.

 My great-grandfather after the official surrender to the Imperial Japanese forces, shortly before he went under and developed the USAFFE MIS and led as Chief of G-2.

That my great-grandmother never knew that he was in such close proximity during the occupation, and that he sacrificed so much of his self - and ultimately his own life - is heartbreaking. But that she likely never lived to learn of his brutal torture and eventual beheading at the hands of the Japanese, is perhaps a mercy.

I do not hate the Japanese, neither do I take lightly the service and sacrifice by all who have fought for their countries and their families - including the wars that rage on today. War is hell.

Wherever you are, and whosever side of any conflict you may be on - at this point please take a moment of silence for those who have fallen in service to their countries.

Never Forget.

Time flies when you're having fun

It's been almost two solid years since I started working and learning how to do the grown-up thing. Contrary to most of my peers coming out of school I went straight for the corporate position and jumped into a work environment that was completely foreign to me. It was foreign not only because I live in Sweden now, but also for other reasons inherent in being new to the job market. New social practices, new corporate culture, an unexpectedly different take on what I thought my first job after design school would be, and - in many ways - a huge step backwards into normalcy largely thanks to the prior four years in design and fine arts. Let me tell you, it's just as weird being in collectively enforced conformity as it is in collectively enforced nonconformity. Either way, you have to conform.

I don't really have anything specific to say but felt the need to write after coming to the realization that somewhere along the way I lost my voice as a designer. These past few days have produced something akin to a philosophical, existential discussion inside my head. I immediately felt the need to write - to speak - to tell a story. But I don't have a story yet.

All I have for now is a flow of words, a stream of consciousness borne out of a need to express, verbalize, communicate, deconstruct, debate, connect.

For a brief moment tonight I became sad, and I became scared, that almost two years had gone by and I had not grown as a designer. I thought that I had not pursued the edges of my comfort boundaries and excitedly stepped outside of my base of knowledge in order to create and solve design (ie. physical object) problems. 

But I'm not overly worried. Time flies when you're having fun, and I certainly am having tons of it everyday. Thinking back on the last 22 months I've done exactly what I should have been doing: pursue the edges of my comfort boundaries, dive out of bounds of what I know, and find creative ways to solve complex and sometimes quite abstract problems.

Three questions come to mind that help to structure tonight's gut check:

Am I working as a designer? - No. 

Do I work and think like one? - Most certainly, I do. My skillsets have been augmented and improved, with the only exception perhaps to my sketching and finesse with shop tools and big machines. Otherwise I approach everyday armed with a designer's skillset toolbox.

Do I miss being more involved in design? ... - Yes and no.

Yes I miss being more involved in design, because I am now involved in so many aspects of the entire product lifecycle that I don't get into the nitty gritty creative practice of design as a craft.

At the same time I do not miss it, because I'm learning so much and taking more responsibility on today that keeps my life challenging, My job motivates me to jump in head first into the complexity of management and continuously adapt and translate my skills to the broader context of product development.

Gut: checked. Carry on.


Sometimes, you need to follow your gut - your intuition - and tread the path that splits rational decision making with bold risk taking. Five weeks ago, I submitted my final design prototype to my graduation advisors for marking, and began designing a maquette for what I wanted to do with my exhibition space. The graduation show at Emily Carr is a big deal in Vancouver; many industry professionals, tourists, family and friends, and other members of the general public will stroll through the institution's halls, exploring, searching, and discovering new and emerging work in art and design.

It was in these last few weeks that, looking at my final prototype, something just did not sit right with me. I wasn't happy with my work, and I knew that something was missing. But what was it? I had submitted a prototype that fell within the criteria that I myself had set up - a storage solution that was clean, inconspicuous, quiet, and appropriate for the home environment. What was missing? It was everything that I had set out to do on paper, yet I wasn't convinced that I had done what I wanted. I looked through my studio notes. I pored over my sketches. Every pivotal decision throughout the last eight months, I scrutinized and doubled back on.

And then it hit me.

Looking through a notepad, I found some scribbles from earlier in the schoolyear that I wrote down during a talk delivered by James Hilton, co-founder of AKQA. In it, there was a paraphrase from one of James's slides: "USEFUL, USEABLE, DELIGHTFUL". My product concept was, indeed, useful. The bulk of my research always came back to the indication that no more than 15% of Vancouver residents actually kept a preparedness kit or grab-and-go bag ready in their homes, despite the fact that well over 70% of residents I interviewed were aware of the need to do so. There was, without a doubt, a need for what I was making.

Was my product useable? It had an appropriate capacity for basic warmth, shelter, and first aid, large enough to fit sleeping bags, a tent, first aid kits, and basic camping accessories. All of these items that I accommodated for also happened to be the items most commonly owned by downtown Vancouver residents, eliminating the need to create a storage solution that could hold items that realistically did not actually exist in most homes.

Was it delightful?

I certainly didn't think so, and neither did the faculty. I received a mark of C on my prototype deliverable, with a high mark of A on design potential. Something was certainly amiss, yet I followed every instruction in my self-imposed criteria. Again, what was missing?

It was back to the drawing board for me, with barely three weeks in the semester leftover, a graduation exhibition to plan, committees to volunteer on, and responsibilities needing to be attended to at my part-time position as a research assistant on campus. So I set to work. I taped and hacked, glued, and created mockups - to scale, at smaller scale, rough modeling, for two and a half weeks, following my intuition and trusting my emotions to visually convey a captivating object that could be, all at once, both quiet and eye-catching. What you see on my webpage today is the result of my 20 day endeavour to redesign my thesis project. I felt my way through the process to make it useful, useable, and delightful. I finished with a few days left before industry night, and stepped away to let it sink in. In the meantime, I threw myself into helping my peers finish their exhibition spaces and reconnect with my desire to assist.

Twenty minutes before industry professionals were officially allowed to begin browsing through the exhibition, we - as a department - came together and distributed awards; some were serious, and others were done more for humourous achievement. I managed to nab two awards that night: the Duct Tape Award, for my throw-together and almost-too-late delivery of a completely novel final piece, as well as the Dedication Award in soft goods for my determination and stubbornness to keep at it.

In retrospect, these last few weeks have made me learn a thing or two about myself. It has shown me that my intuition, as lousy as I thought it may have been, proved to be more valuable and delightful to have engaged with. I am a maker, and my hands - not just my words - bring to life the creativity that feeds my imagination.

The first weeknight after the exhibition opening, I came home with a desire to cook - searching through random food items in my fridge, I let my mind go and for the next forty minutes, prepped and whipped up the most amazing home cooked meal I have made in the last couple of months. I sit here now, in reflection, realizing that this is my zone. This is my therapy. I cook, and I create, and I have never once followed a recipe, because with cooking I have always trusted my gut (pardon the pun).

I also realize now that I could very well do the same with my design process, and if I can design half as good as I can cook, I'm brimming with excitement at the things I will be designing - and more importantly, making - in the coming months as I embark on this new journey as a certified, bonafide, Designer.

jaraneta 2015

Coming into mid-March 2015

As we approach the ides of March, I realize now that all this hard work - re-establishing myself in Vancouver in the midst of a trans-continental move (from Sweden to Canada), moving my life to an apartment in the middle of Vancouver while starting grad project research, combating a herniated disc that left me on the floor of my new apartment for three weeks, fighting to catch up with midterms and end-of-semester presentations in order to stay in the game, and putting one foot in front of the other on this road to recovery and degree completion - will all culminate in a magnificent and exciting graduation exhibition show in May.

I'm so glad that I decided to forego the masters degree program in Sweden to complete my Bachelor of Design at Emily Carr, because without all the awesome challenges of these past eight months I would not be nearly as well prepared and ready to take on the next part of my design practice.

The studio at Emily Carr allows me to be surrounded by some of the most creative, driven, supportive, and talented designers and artists I have ever met, from all around the world. We are truly a diverse community of highly professional and motivated visionaries, both students and instructors alike.

Steady onward, dudes and dames. We've got a kickass show to celebrate with in May, and I can't wait to see what everyone has got to bring at the end of the semester.