Afterthoughts: Striking A Chord

When does a rant turn into something more?

illustration: matthew ortiz

There was a video going around a few weeks ago, maybe you saw it. It was a couple minutes of cellphone footage that starts right in the middle of a confrontation between a local guy and a group of haole picnickers at a Maui beach park.

Apparently, one of the group had spoken up when he saw someone nearby throw an object at a dog. A local guy, overhearing this, got angry. Really angry. Circling the group’s table, he tells them to mind their business, and eat their food. “Abuse dogs, hit women, that’s all we do,” he says. The picnickers are obviously scared, and try to appease the guy, but his anger seems to feed itself, and by the end of the video, he’s yelling, “Power to the people! … They like take our f***ing land! F*** white people! F*** haoles!”

It’s a nasty little incident. Watching it for the first time, it reminded me enough of a couple of my own Maui childhood experiences to make my stomach clench in sympathy. That’s maybe what made the clip go viral—it hit national website Reddit and popped up over and over on my Facebook feed, each time sparking long, intense comment threads.

At first I shook my head—don’t people have better things to think about? Most of the reactions were the kind of knee-jerk crap you read in the comment sections of YouTube and Star-Advertiser news stories. Ugh, people, quit baiting each other with unpleasantness.

But then I also started seeing more serious discussion of the video by people I respect, many of them Hawaiian. There was debate about whether this man’s actions aligned at all with Hawaiian values, about whether he was justified in invoking the theft of Hawaiian lands in a threatening rant about hitting dogs, or whether he was just a jerk. And their thoughts on the incident were a lot more conflicted, and nuanced, than I would have expected.

Hawaii Independent writers Noelani Arista and Judy Kertesz even wrote an essay entitled “Aloha Denied” that goes so far as to posit that the angry local guy was actually exercising some much-needed autonomy against the cultural oppression of outsiders.

They wrote: “In expressing anger rooted in knowledge of history, and the economic and political consequences of that history, the young man did no harm. … Instead, ridiculing John Doe’s politically correct finger-wagging, the young man, homeless in his homeland, literally stood his ground. … He did so with words, demanding that John and Jane Doe be aware of their own dislocating presence, and the part that they play in a much larger historical intrusion into Hawaii.”

“Enough is enough,” they conclude. “It is time that Hawaiians put out a sign that says, ‘No more love; aloha denied.’”

Now, I don’t buy into Arista’s and Kertesz’s argument 100 percent. The man has been charged with terroristic threatening and harassment, after all. There’s a limit to how much deeper significance you can ascribe to an F-bomb-laden tirade, right? But then again …

Have you ever gotten into a huge argument with your significant other over something truly manini? Maybe you left the cap off the toothpaste one too many times, and suddenly she goes ballistic. Let me tell you from experience: It’s a mistake to say, Hey, calm down, honey, it’s just a toothpaste cap. Because it’s really, really not about the toothpaste. The two of you have something larger to talk about.

Similarly, when we see a string of news stories about incidents involving “angry Hawaiians”—this guy at the beach, the couple who vandalized ‘Iolani Palace, the unapologetic provocations of Rep. Faye Hanohano—it’s easy, and technically accurate, to say, Wow, these people are out of line, shame on them. But maybe our community should be instead wondering about what’s driving the anger, and why these incidents are striking a chord among an increasing number of people, the kind of people who don’t toss out racist threats or break windows. There’s a lot of tension and frustration out there, some of it tied to historical injustices, some of it tied to current economic and political realities. There must be a way for us all to talk more about these things, and address them, before things end up in false cracks.