Afterthoughts: Minority Report
When talking about Hawai‘i, it’s crucial for locals to drive the conversation.
I’m sure you read the article. It was everywhere for weeks: “Want to Be Less Racist? Move to Hawai‘i.”
A quick recap: Researchers found that people in Hawai‘i don’t see race the same way as folks in other parts of the U.S. because it’s more nuanced here, with a quarter of the population identifying as more than one ethnicity. That makes it harder to put someone in a box, which racists tend to do. According to one UH Mānoa researcher, when white students came to Hawai‘i for college, over time, they began to see race as something flexible, not rigid.
The opinion piece, written by Moises Velasquez-Manoff for The New York Times’ Sunday Review, said a lot of important things, acknowledging our problematic plantation past, current inequities and the flaws in some of the research. It also left out significant parts of our history, such as the illegal colonization of Hawai‘i and internment camps. But I was most intrigued by the conversations that took place around it on social media.
Many Hawai‘i expats saw the piece as a source of pride. Those who are new to the Islands did the same, in a way justifying why the choice to move was the right one. But some locals, especially Native Hawaiians, responded with an abundance of criticism and backlash.
One Twitter user gave his own tips for being less racist, including, “Don’t write an article encouraging people to decrease racism by increasing colonization.” The timing of it added salt to the wound: The article made its rounds in the week leading up to the Fourth of July, a date that also marks the establishment of the Republic of Hawai‘i by a bunch of white men in 1894. Protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope by those who see the construction as an attack on Hawaiian culture came a few weeks later.
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illustration: GETTY IMAGES
The underlying issue seems to be that an outsider—albeit one of multiple ethnicities himself—was telling Hawai‘i’s story and focusing on the wrong thing. The headline didn’t help. Telling racists to move here was meant to be provocative. I get that—great clickbait, terrible for relationships with locals. Velasquez-Manoff did the right thing by speaking to local researchers, but he should’ve learned from his interviews that the real story is in the nuances that make Hawai‘i what it is. Many of the experts he spoke to study just that.
It’s not like we’re against all outsiders. Jo Koy, a comedian born in Washington state, has found huge success in the Islands telling ethnic jokes. One of the last sections of the article mentions how this comedy cornerstone in Hawai‘i “may do some good.” Koy’s latest stand-up special, Comin’ in Hot, was filmed in Hawai‘i last November and premiered on Netflix just a few weeks before the article came out. The first few minutes of the show are all about Hawai‘i, and that’s where Koy gets the biggest laughs.
Even though he’s an outsider, we laugh with him, because we’ve all heard stories about what it’s like growing up with Filipino moms. Those are our aunties. Understanding someone’s history, their upbringing, their struggle, is the reason Koy succeeds and Velasquez-Manoff failed: The former gets it and joins the conversation; the latter misses the point. He barely scratches the surface of what race relations are really like before telling the world how Hawai‘i can fix problematic attitudes.
Even if it wasn’t especially well-received, the article has prompted a lot of intelligent, focused, meaningful conversations. It’s important to talk about. But driven by local people.