If you are not haole, you probably come from a line of women who raised children to feel loved in a country that does not love them. These women negotiated survival in different ways.

Some groomed their children to conform as much as possible to the people offended by their native tongues. Others chose cultural connection to prevent their children’s self-esteem from being gnawed upon by racist stereotypes about themselves.

The concept of settler colonialism is an important framework to understand the damaging outcome of internalized racism, when people of color identify and collude with the system draining their nation’s resources to the benefit of mostly white men. Settler colonialism explains the ways we, as people of color from colonized nations, become tools of white supremacy and its civilizing, “West is Best” project. We need a theory that shows us the consequences of our migration.

Internalized racism is possible because our people don’t have much access to our own history or the histories of other people of color, particularly Native Hawaiians. This makes it difficult to sort out our confusing experiences of loyalty to a massively powerful system that subordinates all people of color, especially women. Some people of color get confused to the point of appropriating Native Hawaiian culture against the interests of most Native Hawaiians.

Oahu’s Dole Plantation: The author argues that Filipinos brought to work the fields in Hawaii were exploited by American sugar planters. Flickr: Matthew Dillon

Looking at our Filipino community here in Hawaii, we strive to be American and believe the American dream. It is not part of our collective knowledge that the first decade of Filipino migration to Hawaii was a near slave-trade situation. We even wore slave tags with numbers, stripped of our names.

For Filipino women, a slave-like state was endured for much longer. Filipino women survived war, dictatorship, and armed revolutions. Then, they were forcibly dislocated from their home country to create the next generation of workers for the plantations to exploit, while Native Hawaiians were culturally killed off, to the point of seeing their language almost disappear, simply because they have a claim to the land.

Land Grab

Many Filipinos in Hawaii honor the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association, apparently unaware that American sugar planters, not the Filipino people, were a chief beneficiary of U.S. colonial land reform in the Philippines. The return of the Spanish friar lands to the Filipino people was a promise of the American takeover, but land reform ended up a “land grab” by Hawaii sugar planters and American colonial officials. At least 10,000 acres of the friar lands first auctioned off under American rule were purchased by Hawaii-based interests.

For example, Walter Dillingham — son of Benjamin Dillingham, Oahu industrialist and former member of the annexationist militia, the Honolulu Rifles —purchased 20,000 acres of the 33,000-acre Calamba friar estate in Laguna in the Philippines. The Calamba estate had been the center of a bitter land battle that was “the crux, if not the casus belli” of the Philippine revolution against Spain.

Filipino youth headed by law students organized mass protests against the native dispossession of land by American businessmen from Hawaii, and unsuccessfully lobbied U.S. Congress to oppose the sale of Calamba. Dillingham then developed the land for sugar cane cultivation modeled after the Hawaii plantations.

The friar land sales, especially the wholesale of the Calamba estate to Dillingham, were fiercely opposed by the Filipino masses because land alienation, especially foreign control of agricultural land, was considered a deathblow to true Philippine independence. Our continued celebration of the Hawaii plantation system shows that we need to check our own people. We cannot continue to teach our children that white supremacy was for our own good.

White Male Dominance

All that being said, we see serious limitations with the theory of settler colonialism. Some say it’s just semantics, but to call us settlers, or even colonizers, hides the history of our dislocation. Settler colonialism creates a binary between settler and Native. The dichotomy generalizes the experience of all non-natives as if we are all alike.

The idea of “Asian settler hegemony” as the root of contemporary problems in Hawaii lumps all Asians together as equal and glosses over the intense hierarchy among Asians and Pacific Islanders. It also suggests that there is an old colonialism (white supremacists) and new colonialism (settlers of color), hiding the fact that the operative system globally and in Hawaii remains the system of white male dominance known as white supremacy.

Ultimately, the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist global order remains unchallenged.

Our communities are pitted against each other. This happens when the system privileges some of us while oppressing others in certain instances, and vice versa in other instances. We then forget that we are being used as tools in the oppression of ourselves and others.

Who benefits from our continued disunity in Hawaii? A handful of mostly white men who are able to hide behind people of color who they have colonized and created to perpetuate this whole system.

Ultimately, the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist global order remains unchallenged. How can white male dominance in Hawaii be denied when the very top of the most powerful institutions — anything from the most powerful developers, law firms and lobbying firms, most of the largest private landowners, media outlets, University of Hawaii, the Supreme Court, federal agencies, and on and on — continue to be occupied by white men?

Money decides, and our elected officials and their influencers still answer to white men. What is the point of having the most diverse Legislature if the power structure is still, quite literally, controlled by white men?

This extends beyond Hawaii. Three white men collectively control more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the American population, or 160 million people. And how can global white dominance be denied when six of the eight men who own as much wealth as half of the world’s population, are white? These are facts, not “reverse racism attack-yak.”

Myths And Money

The label “settler” also hides the fact that many of us who immigrated were forcibly de-indigenized through European colonization, which broke our relationship to our ancestral land and way of life. This is not to say “we are all indigenous” but to complicate the one-dimensional story of settler colonialism.  To liken us to colonizers is to forget who the actual colonizers are, what they did and what they continue to do. It reduces us to the myth that our families came to Hawaii to make money when in reality we were forced out of our own homeland.

We too are victims of the white supremacist imperialist system. We share this victimhood, and resistance to this system, with hundreds of thousands of Native Hawaiians on the U.S. continent squeezed out of Hawaii because it is no longer economically livable. None of us had the privilege to stay. None of us find it easy to leave home and go to a place that does not want you.  

Just because we are victims does not give us a pass. We reject the term “settler” and instead use “transnational” to remind ourselves and others that we are creations of global imperialism, and have a duty to stop that system.

We see what Native Hawaiians are going through because it happened to us. Filipinos literally lost our valuable agricultural land to the Big Five network and were initially human trafficked by the Big Five to the Hawaii. While no one can self-define as an “ally” we are each other’s most natural allies. You can count on us to teach that to our people. You can count on us to put the heat on white supremacy and patriarchy.

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