Monday, April 28, 2014

Xenophobia, Racism and Discrimination

No hate in the 808. This is a bumper sticker you might see driving in Hawaii.
Photo by Drazz on Flickr via Photopin. Creative Commons

The 808 refers to the area code for the state of Hawaii. No hate in Hawaii. That’s how we’d like to live, with aloha. But sometimes there is hatred or racism, though it may show up differently than one might expect.

Hawaii is a place of many different cultures and ethnicities. People were brought to Hawaii from different countries to work in the pineapple and sugar cane plantations. They had to work together and get along with each other. Many people intermarried and had children of mixed races and multiple ethnicities. 

In Hawaii, one is proud of one’s heritage. It’s not uncommon for someone to hold up fingers naming each country or land her ancestors came from: Germany, Portugal, Italy, Japan, China, the Philippines, Samoa, Puerto Rico... So mostly, people are accepted for their differences.

But, there is a bit of reverse racism that exists here. It’s mostly under the surface and is mostly directed to people of Caucasian origin, aka haoles.  Caucasians are a minority in Hawaii, like all the other ethnic groups.

How might reverse discrimination occur? Say you're applying for a job and you're new to Hawaii. Your last name is Smith or Jones. You're Caucasian. You're applying against people with last names like Sakamoto and Perreira and Wong. Chances are, you may not even be called for a job interview, because you have a haole last name. Also, the hiring staff is afraid that if you're new to Hawaii, you may not stay very long - and there is truth in that. 

Why is there sometimes racism towards white people?  Because some people who grew up here have prejudices against the white people who helped overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy and believe that white people brought a lot of bad things to Hawaii. Some people are angry that the price of land is going up and it’s more expensive to live here. Some people are resentful that they are working two or three jobs to support themselves while rich people move here and buy up houses.

Another bumper sticker expressing some frustration with people who moved to Hawaii
(and still haven't blended in with the local culture).

Often people grow out of their prejudices as they get older. Schoolchildren can be the meanest.

A few tales of racism:
I’ve heard stories about local children on the Big Island who pick on the new haole kid who also happens to have blonde hair and blue eyes. Is this xenophobia? Yes. The new kid may have picked a fight but it could also be racism.

I’ve heard stories of a friend’s haole daughter who got beaten up badly by a bunch of local girls. It was never reported in the paper or on the news because it was an incident involving minors. These kinds of incidents are rarely reported. 

Maybe the Caucasian kid played a part too and provoked the other children by making fun of them or doing something that hit a nerve. Still yet, racism and prejudice are often at work here.

Even certain neighborhoods, especially on Oahu, are not really safe for the wandering tourist or haole. All you need is a bunch of young local thugs who had a lot to drink and are angry at the world and are just looking for trouble. That’s why certain campgrounds and state parks can be dangerous for tourists to camp in. 99% of the population tries to “practice aloha” but the other 1% has anger management issues.  

A tourist to Hawaii would probably never encounter any racism or prejudice, except under very RARE circumstances.  Mostly Hawaii is very safe too, with little crime. Most people in Hawaii are kind and gentle, and go out of their way to help strangers. They even drive super nice (sometimes annoyingly so).

Another Maui bumper sticker, "Practice Aloha."

The bottom line?
But don’t be stupid. Don’t provoke fights. Don’t get drunk and talk stupid. Don’t call people names. Don’t be anywhere near where angry young men are gathering. Use the same common sense you would anywhere else in the world, even if you’re on vacation. Again, most people in Hawaii are super nice, but you should still use common sense.

P.S. If you are blog hopping from the A to Z challenge, please include your link if you comment! I try to reciprocate comments as quickly as I can, though I did lag behind last year, especially towards the end.

P.P.S. I am running two mini-contests during the A-Z Challenge (and into part of May). Here's how to enter


  1. At least it is noted and promoted. Imagine our horror when two Dodger fans destroyed the life of a fan from the other team. I would rather take my chances in Hawaii as a Haole than go to a Dodger's game. How sad is that?

  2. I had no idea. This was really eye-opening for me. I don't like it (racism) wherever I see it. I don't care who it's directed at, it's wrong.

    I'm going to have to take the time to read back through all of your posts. You live in such a beautiful place.

    Congrats on making it through the challenge! I see you're this close. I have no doubt you'll make it to Z! :-)

  3. It's always shocking to encounter it.

  4. Interesting to hear that. In Hawaii, there was some institutional racism - I heard that in the past, to apply for a state position, one had to already be a resident here... and that was the policy for decades, and it was actually illegal due to other laws, so the policy changed. This is how I remember hearing it, but I'd have to research it more fully.


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