Friday, September 4, 2009

Musings: "Racial Rancor"

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.


Kolea said...

Thank you, Joan, for an extremely well-written and thought-through discussion of "racism" in Hawaii. I am a local haole who went through the public school system, and experienced fear as a young boy heading home on "Kill Haole Day."

I agree completely with your balanced assessment and with Jon Matsoka's insights as well. White Americans are generally oblivious of the advantages they experience as "white people" in what remains, on the continent, a white-privileged society. That white privilege is challenged in Hawaii, sometimes in crude and mean-spirited ways, and it can freak out haoles unused to the kind of privilege they use as their baseline for "equality."

Like you, I am a bit stunned by the SPLC's ignorance, and presumption, in issuing such a shallow assessment.

I will argue with sovereignty advocates IF they can only see the merits of the indigenous claims while dismissing the valid claims of non-Hawaiians who have also contributed to Hawaii, but unless Hawaii society is seen as the product of colonialism, distorted claims like Conklin's (and, now, the SPLC) shall have sway.

(My gosh. Between the assumptions "American Exceptionalism" and an unacknowledged "white skin privilege", it's hard for haoles to know WTF is going on around them.)

BTW, the common alternative view for haoles, a kind of Rousseauian romanticization of pre-contact Hawaiians as "Garden of Eden-style"
"Noble Savages" may be more benign in its impact, but I think it helps confuse folks as well.

Stay tuned for THE CORRECT understanding of our complex interactions and responsibilities in a future comment. ;)

Anonymous said...

wow...that SPLC "intelligence report" good for HI. pretty much like mandela saying ~ "HI, you got issues"

i suspect this report will be used by those who easily get their panties in a bunch

RE "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.)"

-- assuming statistically sound methods are used, it would be interesting to see where else this is under reported


Anonymous said...

How long da haoles gotta "pay for crimes of their ancestors"?
Shoots, should I blame every Japanese guy on the street because Mr. Japanese guy who ran the DOT in the 1960s and did a shitty job with all the roads??

The problem is stereotyping, which all societies on earth cannot get away from as it's human nature to do so. Understanding, peace, and all that are utopian. Can't we all just get along? It's against human nature. However, there are melting pot examples were co-existance can work. See USA (for the most part) as a modern example.

The Conklinites and others do all of us a disservice, for sure.

I agree with Kolea, still alot fo WTF are we supposed to do going on...

Anonymous said...

Racism is really only a major problem when practiced by the oppressor because racism on the part of the oppressed is of small consequence as it will be harshly dealt with by the oppressor (i.e. government officials with guns). SPLC are basically liberal ambulance chasers. Hate crime legislation is Orwellian "thought crimes". Should hate crime murderers receive harsher sentences than non-racial random spree murderers? I don't think so. Murder is a crime. Crimes are prohibitions and punishment of actions.

Once we start doling out punishment for what people think what's next fining and jailing people for passing gas on public transit systems based upon the olfactory sensibilities and discretion of police officers?

Anonymous said...

Good comments.
Yes, stereotyping is a large part of the problem here on Kauai. Stereotyping and hate. And while I support the general tenor of Joan's post (that haole claims of discrimination are relatively exaggerated), I do have the sense that racism is more pervasive on Kauai and the B.I. than on Maui and Oahu.

Personally, I think a part of the solution is to bring a solid 4-year COLLEGE to Kauai, with dorms, where locals and others can study hawaiian issues, and maybe permaculture and ocean sciences, and develop deeper understandings of each others' perspectives - and the evil and folly of racism along the way.

Anonymous said...


My friends, each of you is a single cell in the great body of the State. And today, that great body has purged itself of parasites. We have triumphed over the unprincipled dissemination of facts. The thugs and wreckers have been cast out. And the poisonous weeds of disinformation have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Let each and every cell rejoice! For today we celebrate the first, glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directive! We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths. Our Unification of Thought is a more powerful weapon than any fleet or army on Earth! We are one people. With one will. One resolve. One cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death. And we will bury them with their own confusion! We shall prevail!"

Katy said...

I really appreciate Kolea's comments.

Whites were a minority in the school I attended growing up, and I wasn't really a popular kid. Sometimes I got verbally abused and threatened. So I know what that's all about. When you're a kid, there's not a lot of social theory laying around to help you understand the larger context for the tensions at school. And I also believe that even if I had gone to an all-white school I would have encountered some kind of crap on the playground. As far as I know,
social tensions and obnoxious behavior are one of the mainstays of school, period.

But we do grow up and gain some capacity to understand the historical context that we live in. For example, it became clear to me pretty early on - and my classmates knew this long before I did - that my troubles at school kind of paled in comparison to the fact that my neighborhood was way better attended by public and private services than the neighborhood most of my classmates lived in, and that crucial life-and-death decisions about their community were being made by the people in mine.

Insults, threats and violence are awful, no matter what. But unless they reinforce an already existent system of oppression which affects your community's health, wealth, and self-determination, they can't be equated with racism.

And white people still have a long way to go to address the racism that has impacted people of color. Let's agree to quit whining about our hurt feelings until the prison population is not only reduced, but is demographically representative - just for starters.

Anonymous said...

What's the answer? Inter ethnic breeding. Make more hapa kids.

Anonymous said...

Conklin's webpage reviewing the SPLC article

Anti-Caucasian Racial Hate Crimes in Hawaii -- Southern Poverty Law Center brings the issue to national awareness in a flawed but valuable Intelligence Report article.

Although the article is a breakthrough in recognizing that Caucasians can be a victim group for racial hate crimes, the article also seems to enable ethnic Hawaiian racists by giving them an excuse for violence on account of historical grievances.

nowondertheyhateus said...

That really was some fine writing again, Joan.

In a weird and subverted form of reverse racism, I think that hate crime bill (penned by the half wit Bennet) was designed to protect whites. A bill designed by fearful shaky white people and what have they to be so fearful of? The fact that they have raped, pillaged and plundered other races and hold their collective breaths that the righteous donʻt come collecting?

Hate crime legislation is Orwellian "thought crimes"...Excellent observation.

Anonymous said...

mahalo nui joan for picking up where ian left off. thought provoking stuff; eliminate hate and half the battle is won. as those lennonists say,"all we need is love, love is all we need"
all for peace and peace for all

Anonymous said...

Wow. Arguing that haoles, simply because of the color of their skin, should grin and bear racist abuse.

Epic fail.

Anonymous said...

please bear in mind that 'hate crimes' do not necessarily mean racist in nature but also should include the gay bashing that occurs all too often and goes under reported or followed up by law enforcement.

the whining from haoles is par for the course but the lack of mention about crimes against gay and homeless folks is problematic and reflective of the issues surrounding bias, hate and violence. auwe

Anonymous said...

"the lack of mention about crimes against gay and homeless folks is problematic and reflective of the issues surrounding bias, hate and violence. auwe"

What about the disabled, little people, the elderly, cops, and lawyers?

Why must we construct list of categories of people that have crimes committed against them?

irk said...

Please do not contract Kamehameha Schools.
Scholarly pakes' may be offended.


Anonymous said...

Maybe Gay people weren't mentioned because its no big deal here. It was considered a gift to have a mahu son. The most interesting thing about Hawaii is that white people get to feel what discrimination feels like, something they usually just get to do, so in that respect it is helpful,and just maybe can lead to change of their own behavior.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Arguing that haoles, simply because of the color of their skin, should grin and bear racist abuse.

Epic fail.


Agreed. Usually agree with the lefties, but not on this one. Racism has to stop. Period. "Oh but we should be understanding of why they are racist, and our ancestors were racist toward them...blah blah blah...."

Anonymous said...

inteesting article on the lib/conservative dichotomy at

if liberals ran the whole world it would fall apart. But if conservatives ran the world, it would be so restrictive and uncreative that it would be rather unpleasant too.

Anonymous said...

"inteesting article on the lib/conservative dichotomy at"

Which one? It appears you must register to look at whatever info they offer. Lib/con is a false dichotomy which in turn allows endless debate due to poorly articulated premises' which leads to even worse "studies". Its like talking about the differences in personality types based upon blue/brown eye color and about as useful. Everyone wants to survive and more importantly on their own terms. This fact leads some to try and dominate (oppress) others and some others that refuse to submit and resist such oppression. Always fight with the oppressed for the oppressors need no help.

Hey! Is that your foot I feel on my neck? Mind if I pop a cap in your knee?

- Max Anger