Jonathan Okamura: Anti-Haole Violence Has Persisted Since The Killing Of Captain Cook - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Jonathan Y. Okamura

Jonathan Okamura is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he worked for most of his 35-year academic career, 20 years of which were with the Department of Ethnic Studies. He continues to research, write and lecture on problems and issues concerning race and racism. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach him by email at jokamura@civilbeat.org.

Locals should express their resistance to external threats peacefully, affirming local cultural values of acceptance and tolerance.

Yet another incident of haoles being beaten in a seemingly racially motivated attack occurred on July 30 in Kona near where British Capt. James Cook was killed in 1779 as possibly the first victim of anti-haole violence in Hawaii.

According to Hawaii News Now, two male members of the Alford family from Georgia were assaulted, to the extent they had to be taken to a hospital, while they were staying at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort. 

Sean Alford, who suffered a lengthy gash on the top of his head, said his 19-year-old son returned in the early morning from an evening in Kona and was confronted by a group of men outside the hotel. They shortly robbed him of his wallet, phone, shoes and hotel key card. 

After his son told him what had happened, Alford related that he, his wife, son and a friend went outside to speak with the men, but they turned “hostile.” 

He said, “Anywhere between eight to 10 guys just literally beat the crap out of me. The whole time I was down, they kept telling me, ‘Get up, white boy.’ I thought I was going to die.” The men also shouted at his son, “What are you going to do, white boy?”

Not surprisingly, the Alfords maintain that the assault was racially motivated. 

Interviewed by Hawaii News Now, Jessica Lani Rich, president and CEO of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, remarked that over the years her organization has assisted “dozens” of tourists, who have been victims of assault, harassment or vandalism in race-based incidents.

From the “data for those who are assaulted, in many cases, it’s because they are fair-skinned, and they are visitors. And there’s a word they use for that, and it’s racist,” she said.

In another beating case of a haole, earlier this year two Native Hawaiian men were individually sentenced to more than six years and more than four years in federal prison following their conviction of a racially motivated hate crime for assaulting a white male in 2014. 

He was kicked and struck on his head with a shovel while moving into a house he had recently bought in the predominantly Native Hawaiian community of Kahakuloa on Maui and was told by one of the convicted men, “No white man is ever going to live here.”

Beautiful sunset with people enjoying the beach and waterfront area along Waikiki Beach and the Kapahulu Groin or ‘Walls’ after Mayor Caldwell reopened beaches and parks on friday. September 13, 2020
The persisting power and privilege of haoles are primary sources of anti-haole resentment and racism into the present. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020)

In 2007, after a highly publicized case in a Waikele Center parking lot in which a haole military couple were beaten into unconsciousness by a local father and his teenage son while repeatedly being called “fucking haoles,” the late UH Manoa Hawaiian studies professor Kanalu Young was interviewed by Honolulu Weekly about why haoles were frequently the victims of such assaults. 

Young first emphasized that the term “haole” is not a racial slur. “Not if you just use the term in an everyday sentence, and you’re speaking Hawaiian or English. It has no innate or intrinsic derogatory meaning,” he told the paper.

As to why haoles are often the targets of racially motivated attacks, Young continued, “Over the years there have been examples of white people, haoles, behaving very badly here. That’s not to say others don’t. But if we are just talking about that particular group and their bad behavior, then I think what we need to understand is that of all those many adjectives that can come before haole or how haole is referenced in a sentence, it comes as a reflection of some experience someone has had in connection with such an individual.” 

However, this “bad behavior” extends well beyond the personal experiences of individuals and might include for Native Hawaiians the overthrow of the monarchy and annexation by the U.S. as actions that abolished the Hawaiian nation and established settler colonialism over them. 

For non-kanaka, haole settler colonialism prevailed over them until the 1950s and the Democratic Party gaining control of the Territorial Legislature. But the persisting power and privilege of haoles (which are hardly exclusive to them), are primary sources of anti-haole resentment and racism into the present. 

Beyond Hawaii, ongoing incidents provide possible other explanations of targeted racial attacks, such as racial blame-pinning. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Asian Americans have been killed, severely assaulted and harassed because they are blamed for the introduction and spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. In this case, racial blame-pinning can be understood as an assertion of blaming the victim.

Racial scapegoating of Asians has a long history in America beginning in the late 19th century with Chinese immigrants. One of the most well-known victims of anti-Asian violence is Vincent Chin, who in 1982 was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two white Detroit auto workers, one of whom was unemployed. 

In an earlier fight between them at a strip club, one of the men had shouted angrily at Chin, who was Chinese American, “It’s because of you motherf***ers that we’re out of work.” 

In this case, Asian Americans, who were mistaken for Japanese nationals, were being blamed for the severe downturn in the U.S. auto industry, which was the result of Americans preferring to buy cars manufactured by Japanese corporations. No one would claim that racists can reason logically, even in identifying their intended victims.

Prince Kuhio Federal Building United States District Court District Hawaii silhouette walker stairs graphic
A significant difference between haoles and Japanese and Chinese in Hawaii is that the latter two groups are local. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Racial blame-pinning provides a partial explanation for the persistence of anti-haole violence. It does not account for why haoles are targeted for assaults seemingly to a greater extent than the two other politically and economically dominant groups in Hawaii — Japanese and Chinese. I also don’t think Japanese tourists have been subject to anti-Japanese violence to the same degree as have white tourists. 

A significant difference between haoles and Japanese and Chinese in Hawaii is that the latter two groups are local. A heightened emphasis on being local, what might be termed “local chauvinism,” underlies the violence against haoles and also other nonlocal groups, such as Micronesians.

As is evident from my writings about local identity and culture, my understanding of these concepts goes well beyond eating plate lunches, wearing rubber slippers and speaking pidgin English. Instead, I have argued that being local means having an appreciation for and attachment to the land, peoples and cultures of Hawaii and thus a desire to maintain control over its future. 

Since the 1990s, asserting local identity has become an expression of resistance, especially to the ongoing cultural and economic globalization of the islands. As a readily visual example, this process driven by transnational capital is quite apparent in the dramatic transformation of Ala Moana Center since then. Remember Wong’s Okazuya?

Unfortunately, some of those with an overly zealous notion of being local, which for them includes xenophobia and racism, believe that opposition can be affirmed through violence against haoles and others, who are viewed as threatening the quality of life of local people. 

In a previous column, I emphasized the difference in meaning and significance between being haole in Hawaii and white in the continental U.S. where whites dominate politically, economically and culturally to the extent that many of them equate being an American with whiteness.

However, in Hawaii local people view themselves and their culture and identity as constituting the cultural and social normative standard. As such, haoles — considered as nonlocal together with immigrants, tourists and the military—are perceived and often treated as racial and cultural others in the islands. 

Thus, as an assertion of resistance, extreme local chauvinism undergirds the violence against haoles, as well as Micronesians, both groups being viewed as unwelcome cultural and social outsiders and newcomers to Hawaii. 

In the 1970s, as Filipino immigrants began arriving in significant numbers, they also were subject to physical and verbal abuse in the public schools from local students. I had just returned to Hawaii to begin my dissertation research on Filipinos when a Filipino immigrant was stabbed to death at McKinley High School in September 1974 in a violent confrontation between local and immigrant Filipino students.

Local resistance to perceived external threats to Hawaii and its people certainly can be expressed nonviolently in many ways, including affirming local cultural values of acceptance and tolerance of those who are different from ourselves. 


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About the Author

Jonathan Y. Okamura

Jonathan Okamura is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he worked for most of his 35-year academic career, 20 years of which were with the Department of Ethnic Studies. He continues to research, write and lecture on problems and issues concerning race and racism. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views. You can reach him by email at jokamura@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

There are two sides to this. First, anti-haole sentiment is not as big as some like to portray. Second, anti-haole sentiment exists and is often denied by the much of the population. I definitely still see it in a surfing lineup. I'm 70 with gray hair and bodyboard now in stead of surf, and the anti-haole stuff, directed at me, is now non-existent. In fact, I seem to have acquired more respect the older I get. I have to think however, that maybe as I get older, my behavior has changed along with the lineup's perception of me. Gotta love all things Hawaii.

mtf1953 · 3 weeks ago

My sense is that teaching kids to call white people haole in a negative way is widespread in local houses. I wish I could stop them from damaging their kids with this mindset. But there really is nothing I can do.

Sqwauk8O8 · 3 weeks ago

I remember "Kill The Haole Day", the last day of class at Washington Intermediate.There was also "Kill The J*p Day" as well. I even went to school with the likes of Vernon Reiger who terrorized everyone. Yes, with the cultural mix, it can be a wonderful place to grow up in. Beamer Brothers, Mr Sun Cho Lee is a great example.Times have progressively changed. Hawaii is a part of the US cultural mass and must begin to change. A slow generational process. No longer, "things are different here in HI; you cannot bring mainland ideas, here"It's not woke. It's not political correctness. It's not being Liberal, Moderate or Conservative. It's not Red, Blue, Green or IND. It's respect without having to put labels on people. Labels create stereotype which leads to racism and bigotry.Example. When I moved to the mainland for good in 1986 and settled in the Bay Area in 1988, I learned that the "K Word" used to describe mainland AJA is equal to the "N" word. And because I have lost my pidgen accent, locals in HI have addressed me as that K-Word.If you're a crime victim, yes, you need a racial description. Anything else? Not needed.

808Refugee · 3 weeks ago

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