Honolulu City Council member Augie Tulba is facing criticism for a recent social media post parodying a gay Black judge from America’s Next Model.

In a nearly 3-minute-long video titled “Hawaii’s Next Top Mahu,” posted Monday on Tulba’s Instagram page, he impersonated multiple characters, including appearing in blackface as Alexander Jenkins or Miss J. 

The caption of the post read, “We laughed so hard filming this segment #FunTimes.”

Though some commenters under the post praised it while calling it a “throwback,” others called it racist and transphobic. Some questioned why the video resurfaced in the week of Juneteenth and during Pride Month. 

Local celebrity and City Council candidate for district 9, Augie Tulba, volunteers during a food distribution event at Aloha Stadium, Friday, October 23, 2020.
Local celebrity Augie Tulba was elected to the Honolulu City Council in 2020. Tulba appeared in blackface in a comedy sketch 15 years ago that was recently posted on social media. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

“This comedy skit was written, performed in, and endorsed by a transsexual cast member of color nearly 15 years ago in a much different social climate,” Tulba’s management team said in a statement. “As many in Hawaii know, Augie is not only a proud father of two openly gay men, but also deeply supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. He has worked hard for three decades to make people of all backgrounds laugh, just as he works hard to keep his community safe, positive and healthy.”

His team said there are three people who post old content to promote him. They don’t know who specifically posted that video on his Instagram.

Ken Lawson, a University of Hawaii law school instructor, said he was disappointed to see Tulba in blackface. 

“I know Augie, and I was really surprised that he would repost a video with him in blackface,” he said. “When you would think by now that he would know how offensive it is to Black people. To repost it, to me, was extremely disappointing. It shows that he’s still not aware of it, or he’s aware and doesn’t think there’s enough Black folks out here to care about it.” 

Lawson pointed out this isn’t the first blackface incident in Hawaii. 

In 2019, Hawaii resident Mark Char was convicted of three attempts of murder after he stabbed a driver and passenger because of road rage. In turn, he showed up to court covered in blackface pleading he’s being treated like a Black man. 

A year before that, a drag king was yanked from the stage for performing in blackface at the Kauai Beach Resort.

Questions About Local Humor

Since Tulba’s video resurfaced, people have been reexamining local humor. 

Ethan Caldwell, University of Hawaii ethnic studies assistant professor, said humor is used to “perpetuate the myth that Hawaii is a racial paradise.”

Caldwell emphasized that humor is also used to deflect issues of racism, sexism, homophobia and more.

Blackface dates back to the 19th century when white performers would exaggerate Black features: painting their faces black, enlarging their lips and portraying themselves as fools.

“Blackface has historically been used to demean and dehumanize folks in Black communities at the hands of those in power or seeking power,” Caldwell said.

Engaging in discriminatory jokes is not limited to white people, according to Caldwell, it’s also something people of color do.

“They’re doing the work of white supremacy without having white supremacists being present,” he said.

Kahala Johnson, UH political science graduate student researching queerness and Blackness, grew up watching Tulba’s comedy.

Johnson said he was shocked by the video and doesn’t find discriminatory jokes amusing. 

“I don’t like local humor,” Johnson said. “I never found it appealing for various reasons. It has to do with poking fun at all of the marginalized folks, including people like Hawaiians, Micronesians and the houseless.” 

Tulba isn’t the only public figure in Hawaii to come under fire recently for demeaning remarks. 

Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck was suspended for five days in April for mocking people of Asian descent in conversation with his officers.

Last year, two Island 98.5 DJs were fired for spouting jokes after award-winning artist Paula Fuga shared her story of experiencing homelessness. 

“There’s a part of me that’s numb to this,” Johnson said.

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