A friend who knows I’m an admirer of celestial bodies called around sunset last night with the question: have you seen the moon? I hadn’t, so I went out and took a look, and there it was, soft yellow in a lavender sky, hovering above a bed of gray and pink clouds, and so absolutely exquisite all I could do was linger.
Much later, Koko and I went out and walked beneath a moon six hours from full and so brilliant white that all the stars disappeared into the dark blue sky and only mighty Jupiter could hold its own.
Even though white people do not comprise a majority of Hawaii’s population, they’ve always managed to not only hold their own, but thrive here in the Islands.
Yes, we’ve all heard about — and perhaps even experienced — “kill haole day” in the public schools, although to the best of my knowledge, nobody ever has been killed and from my conversations with Kauai kids, it’s very much a thing of the past.
Yes, white folks living in or visiting Hawaii do sometimes get their feelings hurt when they’re called “haole tourists” or “f***** haole” or even just plain haole.
Yes, sometimes they do get stink eye or vibed when they venture into a bar or restaurant or neighborhood frequented by locals. And yes, sometimes white surfers and soldiers get dirty lickings from locals, although it’s typically triggered by a transgression that transcends the mere color of their skin.
But i think it's pretty safe to say that no haole in Hawaii has ever had a cross burned on his lawn or been dragged behind a truck or hanged by the neck from a tree, as has happened repeatedly to blacks in America.
They’ve never had their places of worship firebombed, like American Muslims after 9-11. They’ve never been placed on reservations, like the indigenous people of the North American continent. They’ve never been rounded up in massive immigration raids and then required to prove their citizenship, as regularly happens to Hispanics in the US of A.
And they’ve never been subjected to persistent, systemic cultural suppression and degradation.
White people have, however, rounded up American citizens of Japanese descent in Hawaii and placed them into internment camps. They have brought in “their own kind” for management positions and imported immigrants of color to do the hardest, dirtiest work. And perhaps most significantly, they have overthrown an entire sovereign nation of Hawaiians and placed them, and their lands, under the jurisdiction of a foreign state.
So in the context of white history here and on the mainland, and in light of the wealth, power and privilege that whites have enjoyed since they landed in the Islands, it seems a little strange that an organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which typically takes on the KKK and white militias, is calling Hawaii out for racism against Caucasians.
In an article entitled “Prejudice in Paradise, Hawaii Has a Racism Problem” — first noted by blogger Ian Lind — the SPLC noted:
Hawaii has collected hate crimes data since 2002 (most states began doing so a decade earlier). In the first six years, the state reported only 12 hate crimes, and half of those were in 2006. (All other things being equal, the state would be expected to have more than 800 such crimes annually, given the size of its population, according to a federal government study of hate crimes.) There was anti-white bias in eight of those incidents. But that doesn't begin to reflect the extent of racial rancor directed at non-Native Hawaiians in the Aloha State, especially in schools. For example:
• The last day of school has long been unofficially designated "Beat Haole Day," with white students singled out for harassment and violence. (Haole — pronounced how-lee — is slang for a foreigner, usually white, and sometimes is used as a racial slur.)
• A non-Native Hawaiian student who challenged the Hawaiian-preference admission policy at a wealthy private school received a $7 million settlement this year.
• A 12-year-old white girl new to Hawaii from New York City needed 10 surgical staples to close a gash in her head incurred when she was beaten in 2007 by a Native Hawaiian girl who called her a "fucking haole."
• A vocal segment of Native Hawaiians is pushing for independence to end the "prolonged occupation" by the United States and governance by natives.
• Demonstrators shouting racial epithets at whites disrupted a statehood celebration in 2006.
What I find especially troubling about this article, aside from its numerous anecdotal examples, most from unnamed sources, is the way that it characterizes the independence movement and programs like Kam Schools as “racist.”
To me, that means that the Hawaiian haters like Ken Conklin and Sam Slom and the Hawaii Reporter are starting to make some headway in their ugly campaign to redefine social justice programs and political issues focused around Native Hawaiians as “racist.”
The article quotes Conklin uttering some of his typical hyperbole:
"Here in Hawaii, there is no compulsion to speak out on racist attacks. There are all these hate crimes and violent things happening to white people and you don't hear sovereignty activists speaking out against it," says Conklin, who manages a massive website on Hawaiian issues. "The violence has been going on for years and it's always been hush-hush."
Even when it presents a different point of view, the article attempts to minimize it:
The resentment some Native Hawaiians feels toward whites today can be chalked up in part to "ancestral memory," says Jon Matsuoka, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Hawaii. "That trauma is qualitatively different than other ethnic groups in America. It's more akin to American Indians" because Hawaiians had their homeland invaded, were exposed to diseases for which they had no immunity, and had an alien culture forced upon them, he says. Stories about the theft of their lands and culture have been passed down from one generation to the next, Matsuoka adds. (One difference now, of course, is that Native Hawaiians in Hawaii are far more numerous than American Indians are in their own ancestral regions, where the Indians remain politically weak and largely marginalized by the far larger white population.)
The article fails to note that whites forcibly moved American Indians out of their ancestral lands and on to reservations. In Hawaii, the ongoing relocation is more subtle and insidious, as many Hawaiians are pushed out of their ancestral lands for economic reasons directly stemming from colonialism.
As Katy Rose noted in her blog post on the subject:
Even though my white family has never had any problem getting along socially with local people in Hawai'i, I'm not going to dispute the accounts of haoles who have experienced prejudice and even violence. But to elevate these experiences to the level of systemic oppression of white people is just patently absurd.
It is absurd, but that’s exactly what the Conklin crowd is trying to do with its lawsuits and well-organized, well-funded and aggressive “poor us white folk” campaign. It's the same whining you hear from people who oppose affirmative action and tell all the various people of color to "just get over it" when they complain about the prejudice and adversity they've experienced trying to survive in the dominant white culture.
After decades of being beaten down, Native Hawaiians have finally regained their voices and a sense of their inherent power. They’re demanding more control over their ancestral lands, their resources, their governance. In short, they want to assume their rightful place at the heavily-laden table where whites have been feasting for the past two centuries in the Islands.
This emergence is something we all should be thinking and talking about. But whether you support Hawaiian independence or not, it’s important for people of all races to resist attempts by the Conklin crowd to assume control of the debate. Otherwise, they're going to execute a second overthrow as they twist a complex movement for social justice into plain old racism.