Academic journal article Borderlands

Mestiza, Hapa Haole, and Oceanic Borderspaces: Genealogical Rearticulations of Whiteness in Hawai'i

Academic journal article Borderlands

Mestiza, Hapa Haole, and Oceanic Borderspaces: Genealogical Rearticulations of Whiteness in Hawai'i

Article excerpt

We in the United States are living in a time of heightened racial awareness, tension, and conflict. Barack Obama's election is heralded as the beginning of a 'post-racial' society at the same time the organizing of white supremacist hate-groups is on the rise, along with popular discourses of white victimhood. Fears about immigration, rhetorics of 'terrorism,' impacts of the economic crisis, criminalization of communities of color, and the 'browning' of the population are all contributing factors. Understanding this current climate is critical and requires work on many different levels. One area of research focuses on developing a more sophisticated understanding of whiteness, white identities, white privilege, and white supremacy in the United States. [1] Particularly useful in this quest are those specific locations where whiteness has been embattled and/or non-normative for some time, either because of colonial histories, immigration, and/or racial segregation. Hawai'i is one such place.

This essay is part of a larger project in which I analyze haole (whiteness and white people in Hawai'i) as a neocolonial American form of situated whiteness. To show how haole is produced requires attention to a complex assemblage of subjectivity, ideology, culture, historical hegemony, and performance. Haole was forged and reforged in over two centuries of American colonization, and needs to be understood through that history.

Precontact Hawai'i was governed through an elaborate system of power distributed between chiefs, commoners, and gods that recognized complex interdependence within strict hierarchies. By 1840, under pressure from the West, Hawai'i had become an independent nation ruled by a native Hawaiian constitutional monarchy. In 1893 a group of haole businessmen overthrew the government in a premeditated coup with the assistance of the U.S. military. Hawaiian nationals protested vehemently, taking their case all the way to Washington D.C., but were ultimately out-lobbied by business and military interests (Silva, 2004). Hawai'i was illegally annexed by the United States in 1898 and became the fiftieth state in 1959.

The colonization of the islands, however, started with a vengeance in 1820 with the influx of missionaries who, as the saying goes, 'came to do good and made good.' The missionaries stepped into a power-void created by the decimation of the native population by foreign diseases brought to the islands beginning with Captain Cook's landing in 1778 (Osorio, 2002; Stannard, 1989). They quickly gained political and economic power, forming the backbone of a haole oligarchy that kept a stranglehold on power for nearly a century (Kent, 1983). Haoles, many of them former missionaries, ran the sugar and pineapple industries that dominated the economy by mid-century, requiring huge numbers of laborers brought from Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Colonization and racialization go hand in hand, thus today there are three dominant racial categories in Hawai'i: Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiians); locals; and haoles. Kanaka Maoli are indigenous to the islands, Hawai'i's 'first peoples.' 'Locals' are not simply residents because the term has a different meaning in the islands. Local identity and culture emerged primarily from the experience of laborers on plantations and is an amalgamation of Asian-Pacific immigrant cultures and native Hawaiian culture. The language of the local is Hawaiian Creole English (HCE), popularly known as 'pidgin.' 'Haole' is originally a Hawaiian word that meant 'foreign' and has come to mean both white people and performative whiteness in the islands, a certain conglomeration of attitude and behavior that is distinctly out-of-synch with Kanaka Maoli and local values and social norms. Similar to 'gringo' or 'yankee,' 'haole' can be thought of as a type of counternarrative that calls out and challenges whiteness. While haoles maintain considerable political and economic power, it is local culture that is normative in the islands (although this is changing as I discuss later). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.