Friday, September 4, 2009

All is not well in paradise

The Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a report on racism in Hawaii:
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.
Many of the problems, the report notes, is against Whites, who are perceived as invading outsiders. The following bullet points are taken directly from the report:
  • 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.
The last two, my readers may remember, were mentioned here last month. And that made me wonder if Southern Poverty Law Center folks from "up South" (that's my new Hawaii-centric term for those from lands once part of the former Confederate States of America) were just bashing on the Native Hawaiians minus any context. Indeed, context is provided:
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.)

Racial violence directed at whites in Hawaii, while deplorable, is minor compared to the larger issues underlying it, Matsuoka says. The Hawaiian spirit of aloha "is pervasive, but you have to earn aloha. You don't necessarily trust outsiders, because outsiders [historically] come and have taken what you have. It's an incredibly giving and warm and generous place, but you have to earn it," he says.

Further fueling the resentment that some Native Hawaiians feel for outsiders are attempts by the latter to usurp entitlement programs given the former to redress previous wrongs. In recent years, non-native residents have used the courts to try and rescind these entitlements on grounds that they are racially discriminatory and violate the U.S. Constitution.

Retired professor and "anti-sovereign" white activist Kenneth Conklin and others prevailed in a lawsuit in 2000 that challenged a requirement that trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs — OHA — be of Native Hawaiian descent. OHA oversees huge tracts of lands that the United States took from Hawaii when it annexed the islands as a territory, and collects revenues from them for programs that benefit Native Hawaiians.
Of course, past historical wrongs and their lingering socioeconomic effects do not justify acts of violence (ditto for any Korean who might do violence to a Japanese person, for example, of which I know of some cases). But it does remain that Hawaii is something of a powder keg when it comes to interracial or inter-ethnic tension, something outsiders don't always realize.

It can be a complicated mess. Hawaiians feeling deep resentment — dare I say han? — for unresolved past wrongs, Whites who cry racism anytime someone looks at them funny (ooh... there's a Korea connection again!), and people of all sorts of ethnic groups (Filipinos, various Pacific island nations, Whites again, Blacks, etc.) complaining that everyone else is treating them like outsiders. In fact, about the only groups seemingly firmly "okay" are those of northeast Asian descent: Koreans, Chinese, and especially Japanese.

Welcome to paradise the jungle. I guess this is enough context for someone who is not from Hawaii to understand why the following "Saturday Night Live" skit was panned by those in the Hawaiian government, but not for being unfunny:

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4 comments:

  1. Damn, it seems that they are even biased against the sweaty there. $500 fines if you are deemed smelly in public.

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  2. "The Honolulu City Council is considering a bill that would impose up to a $500 fine and/or up to six months in jail for public transit passengers convicted of being too smelly."

    This was big news on Houston's ABC affiliate today (last night)--it gets confusing as I watch TV from the states here in Daejeon in differing time zones. I thought you'd have heard, or smelled, it by now.


    I'd like to know how do they plan on judging a person to be too smelly, as opposed to squeaking just by under the body odor limit.

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  3. Ah, no. I had missed that. But you prompted me to go find it.

    To be honest, I get most of my local Hawaii news from picking up papers around campus or around town (people leave them around Coffee Bean all the time — I'm like a homeless person that way) or, most frequently, from actually watching television.

    But my TV is still in storage since I got back two weeks ago and haven't gotten it out, so I'm not back into my morning news round-up mode as I get ready for the day.

    Thanks for that. Quite interesting.

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