Monday, February 4, 2013

Stereotypes and Race: The Tsunami Called Racism

Racial legacies run deep.  There is no doubt that resentment by different ethnic groups toward whites, lingers on today.  It's a complex feeling, but James Kamoku reminds us that trauma, even  though 100 years has passed, is unforgettable and difficult to ignore.  Hawaiians had their homeland invaded, were exposed to diseases, and had an alien culture forced upon them.   These are not just stories passed down from one generation to the next, but as you'll read here, they're stories that James is still living today.  I love his honesty and how he confronts his own attitude about stereotypes and race.  Read on and reflect . . . 

Even Hawaii, in its isolation, does not shield its inhabitants from the effects of racism.  Having been born and raised in Hawaii most of my life I have lived in a racist society.  Although the majority of the people I associated with were similar to me -- low-income, large family, welfare types -- there was still this lingering misconception that most Hawaiians are dumb, poor savages.  Most people would judge us as a whole group and not by our individual strengths.   We were easily written off as a short-tempered, mean, hateful race by other groups living in Hawaii.  For example, I would overhear kids in high school state, "Don't stare at them [Hawaiians], they'll think you are challenging them."  I was totally taken aback as I had never even met them, and they already had this idea that I was going to hurt them. I understand that some Hawaiians are like that, but not most.  Many Hawaiians are loving, caring, and empathetic people.

There are many reasons why some Hawaiians dislike other races, and vice-versa, many of which are still prevalent today in the United States.  For example, in Hawaiian classes, we were taught about Hawaiian history that included Hawaiian laws, monarchy, and language.  We were also taught how Hawaii became a part of the United States.  It is in this class that I found that there were many disgruntled Hawaiians over the "overthrow of the peaceful nation of the Hawaiian kingdom."  Many of my classmates, at that point, started developing a dislike for all white Americans because of something that happened 100 or so years previous.  I am not going to lie;  I, too, had a lot of anger towards the individuals who took part in the overthrow, especially when we learned of the effects that it was having on me and my family today.  For this reason, some Hawaiians come to hate America and Americans.  I asked those Hawaiians why they hated any group that had nothing to do with the overthrow 100 years ago.  They simply replied, "Because they [other groups] are not doing anything to reverse its effects and we [Hawaiians] are still dying from it."

It is very difficult for me to not hold any specific race accountable for not helping to reverse the effects of an event as it is still hurting me and my family today.  For example, my family is still fighting over the rights to our familial lands, which have been in our family for generations.   Even though we have the land deeds, the state created a law that if we did not develop the land and someone else lived on even a portion of the land and paid taxes on it, then they could "adversely possess" the land -- which would mean that this individual would now own that piece of land.  It just so happens that the individuals that are doing this are wealthy white Americans, or wealthy Asian Americans.  This reality does not help the effects of racism and, in fact, cause those effects to become amplified.

Take my uncle, for example, he went to the house of an Asian man that was trying to live on our family lands.  When he asked the man to leave, the man said he did not need to leave because he adversely possessed it and if my uncle came back, he would shoot him.  So my uncle found the man's name and phone number and called him but the Asian man did not answer.  The Asian man called my uncle back and told him, "If you, Stupid Hawaiian, try to do anything about the land we live on then I am going to shoot and kill you and your stupid Hawaiian family".  That was a recording left on my uncle's answering machine that he played for  my family.  Talk about race warfare.  This is just one of many examples of how racism plays out in Hawaii and how my family and I are affected by it every day.

So, as you can see, racism can come in many different forms whether it's a judgement about something you don't understand, a misconception of people you don't know, or even through learning of something that hurt a specific group in the past.  All of these things along with its continual effects on those groups lead to racial stereotyping of all sorts, even on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  It even affects a Hawaiian living thousands of miles away from home.

James is a middle school teacher at Sherman Middle School in Madison, WI.  We teach in opposite ends of the building so I don't see him much.  In fact, the only real interaction I've had with him (before forcing him to write for my blog) was when I pretty much put him in a headlock during a training that taught teachers how to respond to student physical aggression.  I'm still waiting for James to submit his bio, but in a frenetic moment, I at least snapped a pretty good pic of him!  


  1. I loved reading your post James. What I always consider about people "looking in" at others is if they have a romanticized view of anyone brown or black, African, Asian, or Caribbean and than once people actually confront individuals on a personal level they are surprised that all their preconceived notions of "those people" are not like they expected. I think often this surprise turns in to further stereotyping and generalizing. Your piece reminds us that it's important to remember there is a historical framework to people's interactions.

    1. Thanks Kate it was the first time I have ever written a blog and was a little intimidated by it. Especially when my wife told me to keep it short and simple my reply "nothing about my life was short and simple". Thanks for the comment.

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  2. The history of how Hawaii became part of the US is shameful and always makes me feel really bad. Today's news events are no better. I am astounded at what evils people do to each other for power. I hope that having a frank discussion like this will open eyes and change minds. I do like reading this thread, Vera. Thanks to all who are contributing.