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ImageJEAN TOYAMA'S BLOG

Racism

Posted by JEAN TOYAMA
Friday, September 30, 2011 5:05 AM


Reading Coby Black’s Hawaii Scandal and David Stannard’s Honor Killing, I soon came to understand some of my past experiences, in particular what I remember of the events of statehood. I don’t think Stannard mentions it, but Black does. Hawaii had been lobbying for statehood for a long time. The Massie Affair was a setback in the campaign for statehood. I myself did not know of the Massie case in the 50s, but I do remember all that talk about “Taxation without representation” and the 49th state fair. When Alaska became a state, we students were appalled. I don’t remember racism being a major explanation for this snub. These books have made things clear. To the people on the mainland we nonwhite people were all colored, black. From the point of view of the United States, Hawaii had a “colored” problem.

In my link, racism against Hawai‘i has not yet erupted in the newspapers, only in the military; the trial has not yet taken place and the newspapers have not yet fueled the outcry against the five. However, the Admiral mentioned here, Admiral Stirling, has made his feelings known. In particular he made his feelings about the “orange race,” the Japanese known. (I had never heard that expression before, so I decided to use it in the poem.) It was ironic for the military men stationed in Hawaii during the 30s that most of the people looked like the ones the United States was arming against. Rumors of war against Japan was rampant, and here were people like me and my relatives living as Americans. The First Strange Place: Racism and sex in WW II Hawaii describes the decade after the Massie affair but must also reflect some of the same conditions during the 30s. The authors point out how shocking it was for the mainlanders to feel like a minority and to become objects of what they believed was racism.

This reminded me of some students in my French-African literature class. They were from the mainland and had similar experiences. At first they were angry, but most admitted that they were able to see things with a whole new set of eyes, when they became the objects of racism. (Some may not agree that this was racism because of the power differential.) For some of my students it was life-changing.

The first time I understood I was colored was in France. My roommate, who was listing all the Jewish people in our group—for what reason I did not understand—told me there were two colored people in the group: me and a boy from New York. She told me it was natural that we date. And we did.

When considering the Massie affair, the subject of racism cannot be ignored. It will no doubt come up again.

But after 70 years are things any different? Of course, they are, but why do some people question President Obama’s citizenship? Is it only because his father was Kenyan or is it because he was born in Hawaii?

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