Thursday, May 22, 2008

Musings: The Privilege Thing

The world was suffused with moisture when Koko and I ventured out this morning. It clung to the leaves, dampened the pavement, hung low in the pastures as mist. Scents traveled far in the heavy air: angel’s trumpets, burned rice, spider lilies, newly cut Norfolk pine.

The moon was still bright in a sky that was quickly growing brighter, and when the sun rose — a warm, salmon-pink shimmering orb — it was in direct opposition, literally and figuratively, to the cold whiteness of the moon.

I saw a convoy of about 10 African snails, of widely varying size, creep along a concrete block wall, headed off, no doubt, to consume tender young green things, and watched one feeding on a snow bush. It clung to the branch in a sort of hugging embrace that looked innocuous enough until I realized it had completely devoured the leaf beneath its body.

It seemed an apt metaphor for the script that’s underlying the popular paradigm for relationships — you know, the “can’t live, if living is without you” suffocation variety — and it reminded me of a talk I had with a friend yesterday afternoon. She recounted how she’d realized that she and her partner had purposes in this life that went beyond their connection to each other, and when they could allow one another the freedom to pursue that, even though it meant living apart at times, they could each bask in the pride and joy that came from seeing the other fulfilling their greatness, rather than wallow in the self-pity of deprivation.

That, it seemed to me, is real love.

After the snail revelation, ran into both farmer Jerry and my neighbor Andy, and the talk turned to yesterday’s blog, which generated a number of comments, including one from a person who asked:

So, moving forward.... How do we bring more Filipinos in? Japanese? Does anyone have any real cultural insight to offer?

No one offered any, so I asked around and got some answers as to why more locals aren’t currently involved in the environmental/slow growth/anti-urbanization movement.

I’ll start with my neighbor Andy, who said a lot of it’s historical. He referred to George Cooper’s “Land and Power in Hawaii,” which notes that one reason activists were successful on Kauai early on is because “the movement involved a probably greater proportion of locally-born people than had been the case on any other island…” Kauai’s movement originated in the local community, largely through the Niumalu-Nawiliwili Tenants Association, which formed in the early-to-mid 1970s to protest the planned eviction of about 20 families in that area for development, and also through the Ohana O Maha`ulepu.

As more haoles got involved in the movement, Andy said, their aggressive, loud, confrontational tactics served to turn off some locals, who tend to be fairly conservative socially.

I saw this at the Senate hearing on the Superferry last year, which a number of those early activists attended. But they did not join the mostly haole throng inside, and instead sat together outside, with some commenting, who are those guys in there?

Some locals don’t want to associate with the people who are in the movement now, especially since they don’t know a lot of them, while others, Andy said, are like him: just tired. They’ve been in the trenches for 30+ years.

Farmer Jerry offered this suggestion: They've got to go out to the Filipino and other communities and work with the leaders there, which means they've got to be willing to share power and be open to doing things in a different way.

Other takes:

“They don’t understand how deep the distrust is. The locals have been screwed over so badly by the haoles.”

“It’s been a melting pot, but these guys don’t melt. Because they’ve isolated themselves. They’ve got the money and that’s the life they’ve chosen.”

“Sure, they want you to come to join them, but it’s all on their terms. They want to be the ones in charge. You have to do it their way.”

“The ones coming in now, they all get money. They don’t see how the locals struggle just for survive. We no more time for be one activist, even though we feel it in our hearts.”

“They don’t have a clue what’s gone on before them. They think they invented this.”

“They set themselves apart, how they act, where they live. They just talk to each other and think that’s how it is.”

“Just because we don’t come to their meetings, they think we no care. We got our own ways of doing things.”

Perhaps this will help to shed a little light on the subject. The antipathy, it seems, runs deep. I’ve been reading Isabella Bird’s “Six Months in the Sandwich Islands,” which was written in the 1870s, and I was struck by the great cultural divide that existed between haoles and Hawaiians back then.

It’s not just the missionary thing, or the colonial thing, but the money/privilege thing that has long created distance between haoles and all the other ethnic groups in Hawaii. And from what I can see, that’s still a huge factor in the gulf that exists today.


Anonymous said...

on the money.


Anonymous said...

I want to extend a thank you to your friends, Joan. What they said echoed what I've heard from others who have a history of family ties and social struggle in Hawai'i.

I agree that we recent settlers have a tendency to treat Hawai'i like a "blank slate" whether we come here to expolit the land or consider ourselves saviors of it.

I hope we can all eat some humble pie and consider your friends' words with care.

Anonymous said...

Another really good blog and some great comments on yesterdays. This has some connection to the civil rights movement of the 60s when the blacks debated the role of whites in the movement exept that this issue impacts all of us and so we all need to speak up.

Anonymous said...

This is a very important and thoughtful post. It is amazing to me that people move here and do not even consider cultural differences. For myself when I arrived I wanted to talk about these differences and came to realize by asking for(imposing) the discussion I was violating the cultural norm.

Anonymous said...

speaking of the moisture-suffused air... at the eco-roundtable, a hydrology professor from the university in boulder, colorado said that this humidity is the natural consequence of all the vog we've been having, reacting with our marine location.

When Pele and Polil'au, the snow goddess, are in conflict, Lilinoe, the goddess of mist, shows up.

but a dispatch from oahu says that the vog over there today is unbearable. I'm holding my breath that it won't get so bad over the next few days in Kauai nei.


Larry said...

One aspect of this, I'm not saying it's the most important, but let me put it out.

Since much activism takes place at the Legislature, that automatically creates an effective barrier. Who can get in to testify or pay visits on lawmakers and who can't?

Who can afford to give up a whole day to wait for a few minutes chance to talk, and who can't? Who loses pay and maybe has to buy a plane ticket to Oahu and who doesn't?

And guess what... they don't necessarily read the written testimony. I visited a senator's office three sessions ago and asked whether he had read the testimony submitted on the particular bill, because we had worked hard to get people to send stuff in. Right in front of me, he took the whole batch in his two hands, all bound together about 2 inches thick with a green paper cover, and dropped it noisily into the trash box next to him, replying "Nope!" He wasn't being nasty at all, just answering my question.

So anyone who can't be there in person can't even play the game, and that cuts through the people several different ways.

Anonymous said...

Farmer Jerry with the home run-Go out and canvass for support from those whom you do not ordinarily walk or work with. This type of outreach is hard but effective. The pocketbook issues show the division of class as well. The awareness/sensitivity issue is critical to address. The ways of people are diverse and how we can develop relationships utilizing this diversity as an asset will always play a significant role in finding success in coalition/community building.
It's hard working with people. Even harder if you have different values. Add egos,personalities and hidden agendas and the recipe for unsucessful outcomes becomes apparent. Nobody said it would be easy; but we don't have to make it harder than it has to be. Mahalo Joan for stimulating the discussion. Aloha aina,....jimmy t

Andy Parx said...

I had to go to Waimea yesterday and though about Joan’s post all the way out there. I see that there have always been three basic types of white settlers. At the turn of the 20th Century and you had a group like Kunka (Knudsen). He came and, although a huge landowner and luna, was apparently (from what we read and hear in historical documents) fully engaged in local culture in his day to day existence.

Then there was the biggest group- people like the Wilcox's, Rice's Wichman's and the like. They brought their euro-east-coast Christian culture with them and had a “white man’s burden” attitude which, though it's a throwback attitude in the description still goes on today with many newcomers looking at “those dumb locals” who have let things get this bad. They see themselves as compassionate and charitable and even think they are part of the local culture while setting themselves apart in their actions. They didn’t mingle with people in the camps and were the upper-class “rich” and treated their employees well. But n a telling way, if you look through Charlie Fern’s old TGI accounts, they didn’t even consider non-whites to be real individuals, referring to them as Ms “Wichman’s Filipino maid” or “Mr. Wilcox’s Japanese gardener”.

Then there was the Zephaniah Spaulding type who saw themselves superior to even the Wilcox’s Rice's et. al. They built mansions and stayed there, even going to Europe to find suitably “titled” husbands for his daughters. He rarely socialized with anyone and he liked it that way.

The middle group being most prevalent, the only change now is that back then everyone knew “the new haoles” in town because they came rarely and stuck out, most of the time intentionally. Even until the 1970’s that was true to some extent.

But now there are so many malahini no one can keep track of who lives in our community any more. And those new people are almost always not working class like most local people but either professionals or, more usually, relatively rich, buying up our open spaces, driving up ag and residential land prices to where we can’t afford to live a working class life anymore... and then telling us how to solve our problems in ways that we know don’t work – we’ve seen them fail over and over- or are based on an insufficient understanding of how things got to be the way they are so instead of dismantling the bricks of the problem they want to sweep them away with the latest magic wand.