Language is important. The words we use matter, and the ways we use them are fundamental to our communication. With this in mind, Will Falk of Deep Green Resistance wrote a primer for members of settler culture to better understand the struggles around Hawaiian sovereignty, and the occupation on Mauna Kea to stop construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The terms I define in this essay — haole, racism, white supremacy and genocide — are experienced in a very real way by oppressed peoples around the world. It is not my place to explain these terms to people experiencing genocide in the most vivid ways, so I write to those privileged enough to be free from these realities. The first step to acting in true solidarity is accepting the truth and to accept the truth we must communicate with the most honest words.
One thing I’ve noticed in my attempts to work in solidarity with people of color is that many white people hate being reminded of their whiteness. When I was a public defender bemoaning statistical realities like the fact that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850 to a roomful of white judges, prosecutors and cops, I was shouted down and told we live today in a colorblind society. When I was at the Unist’ot’en Camp pipeline blockade in so-called British Columbia and our Unist’ot’en hosts explained the need for separate indigenous and settler camps due to the reality that many indigenous peoples felt more safe expressing their opinions away from settlers, there was always a white person who tried to set up in the indigenous camp with the logic that we’re all one human family.
So, the question becomes: Why do white people hate being reminded of their whiteness?
Although uncomfortable, it is crucial that those of us in positions of privilege examine the oppressions from which we benefit. Falk’s essay is an excellent start for understanding the colonial situation in Hawai’i, or the basics of white supremacy anywhere in the world. Please read Protecting Mauna Kea: Vocabulary for Haoles.
For the second article in his “Protecting Mauna Kea” series, Will Falk of Deep Green Resistance briefly sketches the history of the Hawaiian islands, describing how this autonomous nation was illegally occupied by the United States. With no attempt ever made by the US to redress this faulty foundation, its presence in Hawai’i and its control over vast areas of Hawaiian land are ongoing violations of international law.
This history is not trumpeted by the government of occupation and the commercial tourism interests which depend on an image of aloha and acceptance of all comers. So for many haoles, especially non residents of Hawai’i, it comes as a shock to realize that the “50th state” is not legally part of, or under the jurisdiction of, the United States. But the truth about this occupation is not obscure, either; it is readily available to anyone who digs into the history at all. And as Falk writes:
How can the American government and the American people after learning this history, after admitting the wrongs done to Hawai’i still allow something like the TMT project to happen? I think the answer is that learning the history is only the first small step. Knowing the history, we must act.
One of the intentions behind my writing is to try to understand how so many people can recognize problems in the world and then fail to act to solve those problems. I am a haole, so I can only speak as a haole, and I believe too many haoles settle for pointing out their privilege while the more important work involves undermining the forces that grants them that privilege over others in the first place. The history is clear. Hawaiians are being wronged. Now, we need to act.
Read Will Falk’s entire article: Protecting Mauna Kea: History for Haoles. See all of his “Protecting Mauna Kea” essays, plus other resources, at our page Protect Mauna Kea from the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Owen Lloyd of the Deep Green Resistance News Service recently interviewed Hawaiian activist and filmmaker Anne Keala Kelly on traditional practices such as the lū‘au, hula, and giving of lei. They explore how the dominant colonizer culture has appropriated and corrupted those traditions, in part to sell a tourism industry, and as part of the larger assimilation and undermining of Hawaiians.
Lloyd ends by asking the crucial question:
What advice do you have for non-Hawaiians wishing to stand with Kānaka ʻŌiwi against cultural appropriation and colonialism more generally?
Kelly: Great question! And I want to say upfront that we are dealing with a settler-colonial situation in Hawaiʻi, but it’s a prolonged, belligerent occupation under international law because we are a nation state whose citizens never consented to becoming American. Hawaiians, in fact, were very clear in their opposition to being annexed to the U.S. That’s why there was never a treaty of annexation and that’s why what the U.S. has done instead is conduct what may actually be the longest running occupation of a nation state in history. For Americans that’s a tough statement because they’re comfortable lumping us in with what was done to the natives on the continent– they’re okay with the narrative of us as tragic and past. They can talk about the occupation of Palestine, but Hawaiʻi? That implies present tense possibility.
An important interview for anyone wanting to understand the relationship between the occupying settler culture and Hawaiian culture, or how cultural appropriation works in general. Read the entire interview at Consuming Hawaiʻi: Anne Keala Kelly on the Appropriation of Hawaiian Culture.