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  • Ronald Fujiyoshi

Placing Anti-Asian Racism in a Larger Framework

I was sent an email asking if I would write an article on racism and violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities for The Friend. I was reluctant to write this article because about a year ago I attempted to engage the editorial committee of The Friend in dealing with the racist articles published in the past. For example, in the February 1893 issue of The Friend, edited by Serano E. Bishop, the front-page lead article is titled “A Wonderful Week.” Please read this article for yourself. It describes Queen Liliuokalani as “the half-maddened Queen.” The Friend, subtitled “The Oldest Newspaper West Of The Rocky Mountains,” served as a major English newspaper that celebrated the illegal so-called “overthrow” of the Hawaiian Kingdom on January 17, 1893. For whatever reason, the editorial committee of The Friend did not engage with me nor address the past history of racism in their past articles.

Even being reluctant to have my name on an article in The Friend, before it dealt with its racist articles in the past, I did see the need to have anti-Asian and anti-Pacific Islander racism discussed and acted upon at this time. So, being aware that a short article within this short time-frame may not contribute much, I have penned the following.

When I worked as a missionary among Koreans in Japan, I met a Korean hibakusha (atomic bomb victim, and pipokja in Korean). He told me that when the first Japanese hibakusha group went to the United Nations to appeal their case, Korean hibakusha asked to go with them. The Koreans were refused. Why? I realized that if the Japanese hibakusha took the Korean hibakusha with them, the reason the Koreans were at the epi-center of the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima would be revealed. The Koreans were there because the Japanese military forcibly brought Korean workers from Korea to work in the Japanese factories. The Japanese hibakusha wanted the world to view themselves as “victims” only. They did not want the world to see the Japanese as also citizens of a hegemonic nation that planned on making the rest of Asia and the Pacific their colonies.

There is the danger of talking about anti-Asian racism and including anti-Pacific Islander racism within the confines of viewing Asians and Pacific Islanders as victims only. Racism against Asians is a reality and has been a reality ever since the myth of White Superiority was developed. And especially with the government of the USA, including its recently-elected president, viewing China as its major enemy, we should not be surprised that anti-Asian racism is on the rise, as it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Japan’s economy was booming, and Japanese capital was expanding into Hawaii and North America. However, talking about anti-Asian racism without placing it within the larger framework of racism tends to focus on “we the victims” only, which is not the whole reality.

This is especially true in Hawaii where just looking at those within the political arena can reveal the reality (i.e., Who is the governor, who is the speaker of the house, that 7 out of the 12 members of the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs with Japanese names and none with Hawaiian names make political decisions on bills and resolutions related to Hawaiians.)

For us in Hawaii, a challenging read is Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai‘i by Candace Fujikane and Jonathan Y. Okamura, University of Hawaii Press, 2008. This book attempts to frankly discuss racism in Hawai‘i as faced by Hawaiians and Asians. I suspect that some of the content in this book would also apply to those living in North America.

Recently, good material on anti-Asian racism has been made available. I mention just two:

The national United Church of Christ has also provided excellent material through webinars that frame the wider framework of racism. I will name just a few of these webinars which can be found online:

The State of Black Bodies in the US (Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, April 6, 2021)

The State of the Church (Bishop W. Darin Moore and Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, February 4, 2021)

SANKOFA: Reaching Back and Stepping Up (Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, Rev. Dr. Curtiss DeYoung, Rev. Traci Blackmon, August 11, 2020)

Church-Based Reparations (YouTube by United Church of Christ, February 23, 2021)

To understand the economic realities faced by Asians and Pacific Islanders here in Hawaii, a study done by the State of Hawaii is helpful. The chart in this study that may give us a glimpse of the differences between Asians and Pacific Islanders is Study: Demographic, Social, Economic, and Housing Characteristics for Selected Race Groups in Hawaii, March 2018. Research and Economic Analysis Division, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). In Figure 5: Median Household Income by Race Group--Micronesian is $32,650; Native Hawaiian is $65,398; Total Population is $69,515. In Figure 6: Per Capita Income by Race Group--Micronesian is $5,963; Native Hawaiian is $20,664; Total Population is $29,822.

Understanding the demographics, it is not difficult to imagine which ethnic groups are most affected, for example, when a Covid pandemic arrives.

Finally, it may help for all of us to read the late Dr. Kanalu Young’s important paper, “Kuleana: Toward a Historiography of Hawaiian National Consciousness, 1780-2001.” Vol. 2, Hawaiian Journal of Law & Politics, Summer 2006. In his own words, this article was “an initial blueprint for a more inclusive, intra-national and international, event-based Hawaiian historiography.” He begins with the ‘Oiwi Wale era, the “era of exclusively indigenous influence on this island chain from first arrivals to the eve of the Cook expedition.” I think Dr. Young is challenging the readers to view history from the standpoint of Hawaiian history and not from the standpoint of Western history. To take this challenge from Dr. Young seriously, we should be asking ourselves, “From what standpoint are we viewing racism and violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders?”

The wisdom of the late Dr. Young was made clear to me recently. As my reading for Black History month, I ordered a copy of Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. In this book eighty Black writers and ten Black poets write articles covering the four hundred years from 1619 to 2019. In 1619 the first record of twenty “Negroes” brought from what is now known as Angola were brought to Virginia on the ship White Lion to be sold as slaves. I knew about the Mayflower bringing the Puritans to North America in 1620 but did not know about the White Lion that brought slaves to Virginia in 1619. I had been taught about history through the eyes of White people but not through the eyes of Blacks.

Thus, we should ask ourselves, “Are we viewing racism from a White perspective?” Are we viewing racism from an Asian perspective? Are we viewing racism from a Pacific Islander perspective? Are we viewing racism from the perspective of the Hawaiian people?

Lately I have been studying about The Mahele of 1848 and become more exposed to the laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A young King Kamehameha III with excellent advisors published a Declaration of Rights in June 7, 1839 that became the opening lines of The First Constitution of Hawaii in October 8, 1840. The opening paragraph reads:

“God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth,” in unity and blessedness. God has also bestowed certain rights alike on all men and all chiefs, and all people of all lands.

Understanding how enlightened this constitution was, which did not discriminate between people of different ethnicities and gave rights to the common people as well as to the chiefs CAN help us to have a fresh look at racism here in Hawai‘i.

(Excerpts of this article by Ron Fujiyoshi (Ola‘a First Hawaiian Church) were originally published in the May 2021 issue of The Friend.)


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