Earning The Right To Protest

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 24, 2007
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Have you ever wondered how long someone should be a resident of the state of Hawaii before they can become actively involved in civil affairs?

We used to have all kinds of words for those who move to Hawaii to set them apart from those born and raised here.

At one time, people born and raised in Hawaii were grouped together under the classification “locals.” That didn’t last too long, because after a Constitutional Convention, the political leaders of the state believed that a governmental agency was needed to administer any retribution received from the federal government for the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Suddenly, those who had ancestors in Hawaii prior to 1776 were declared “Native Hawaiians.” An instant concern was how much Hawaiian blood you need to be declared eligible for benefits, if and when they arrive.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has done a commendable job of setting guidelines for who is and who is not a Native Hawaiian, which in the process made “locals” residents of lesser distinction in some people’s eyes.

Hawaii has always had a distinguished class of residents referred to as “kamaaina.” These are people who are not born here, but have lived here since they arrived, whether as missionaries or members of “kamaaina families.” Most of these residents consider themselves “local,” although the distinction is getting more blurred each day.

You will notice that in police matters, suspects are referred to as Caucasian or local. They never say part-Hawaiian or Chinese-Hawaiian, Filipino or Japanese. Once in a while they will use Asian. It’s not unlikely that just about everyone in Hawaii is part something.

Tourists who come to Hawaii are usually called “haoles.” Over the years calling someone a haole has been considered to have a derogatory connotation and is frowned upon. In some cases, adding an inappropriate adjective to the the salutation can be considered a crime. It’s become very serious.

This is a debatable topic that cannot be explained in such a short effort; however, because of the crisis over the Superferry, the blurred definition of who is what has raised charges of “reverse discrimination.” The U.S. has often passed laws that discriminate purely on the basis of race or gender, but clearly the laws are often used as a justification to act morally outraged and nothing more than a dastardly attempt to protect one’s self-interest through slick rhetoric. Simply put, it is not a morally consistent argument.

There are many residents of Kauai and Maui who are outraged that their concerns over the arrival of the Superferry are an example of “reverse discrimination,” and argue that even though they were not born and raised in the Islands, they still have a legitimate right to restrict the Superferry based on environmental concerns for their island. Certainly they do, and there is no reason that they should feel discriminated against by honest critics of their opinion.

Hawaii has always been a place where race and gender have not been a paramount issue. It is correct to point out that the Massey case was proof that locals faced an uphill battle in receiving justice in an American court of law. The plantations and the military also have left their imprint on the islands. Ironically, it’s a good bet research on the matter will show that in a xenophobic culture like Hawaii, racism is a learned behavior. Being cautious when dealing with outsiders is a very good defensive mechanism.

One thing we shouldn’t fall for is someone who is a newcomer to the Islands claiming they have been discriminated against because someone didn’t buy their strange actions. Every culture in the world has a set of mores and norms for acceptable behavior by guests and newcomers. You just have to be willing to learn them and play the game.

And how long should you be a resident before you start protesting? Well, anytime really; however, there is an old Indian saying worth considering, “Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.”

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