I read The Angry Indian’s blog and listen to his amazing podcast. In one podcast he mentioned Haunani-Kay Trask, and he listed her as part of his required reading on his site. I found a good used copy of From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii, and have read it in pieces, as it consists of articles, over the past year or so. I finished it this morning.
Interestingly, I stumbled across her on some link from some blog I now can’t find just found. A critique of the list itself, “10 More Terrible Bigots in Modern History” probably is as good a way to get to Trask’s book as any. What this JustinJ who made the list fails to understand is that there is a concrete difference between white impulses for separatism and non-white impulses for separatism. White separatism is the vehicle for historical and historically-conditioned violence, while non-white separatism is a response to that violence. The Klan murders people, the Nation of Islam (let’s take the Nation in its most separatist exemplars) doesn’t. This is fact, and any understanding of Trask depends on it. In any event, it’s to be sure only white people who need this explained to them in any event.
Trask herself makes the point. One article relates a conflagration following a response to a letter to the University of Hawaii‘s student newspaper by one Joey Carter, white student, decrying the term, “haole” and insisting on his own oppression as a white person in Hawaii. Trask notes:
I informed Carter that he is a direct beneficiary, as are all white people, of a system of power in which one racially-identified group dominates and exploits another racially identified group for the benefit of the exploiting group. In the United States, people of color do not have the power to practice racism against white people. The same is true in Hawai’i, particularly in regard to Native Hawaiians…
I don’t see how this is debatable if one wants to deal in fact. I’ll leave it at that and get to the book.
I knew very little about Hawaii before reading Trask, though I will say I understood the colonial nature of the situation if only abstractly because I understand the colonial nature of the United States. The subjects of the book range widely from history to commentary on coalitions in organizing. Trask is among other things totally sensible, especially if one begins from her beginning, namely, that Hawaii is a colony forcefully taken by the United States against the wishes of Hawaiian people. That’s the important point, I suppose.
Her work illustrates the importance of first principles in intellectual work. One has to begin somewhere in an argument. If one begins with the idea that Native Hawaiians lived savagely before being integrated into American democracy, then Trask is an awful racist. If one begins from Trask’s point, she’s no racist at all but rather is responding to a historical crime. Despite the approach of mainstream media in the United States, it’s not all just a matter of opinion to be noted without critique. One may be right or both may be wrong. The basic question is whether or not Trask’s starting point is correct, and it is, without a doubt. If you have any interest in Hawaii, it behooves you to begin from that point and weigh everything else against it. The conclusion you will come to, if you keep to logic, will support Trask.
Of particular interest to me were her comments on coalitions, because they rang very true to my own limited experiences protesting the various wars the United States is still, as of this writing, prosecuting around the world. Her discussion of the way white people as a group behave in political groups was spot on and totally reflective of, in particular, one group I was involved in (and left) in Riverside, CA. Generally, she favors, quoting Malcolm X, organizational separatism. Hawaiians should form Hawaiian groups. White people have a lot of work to do, but their work’s place is fundamentally among white people. What do white people need to do? Speak out against racism in their own communities when it pops up. If every decent white person did that all the time, things would be a lot different.
She notes the exceptional white people who, over years, demonstrate themselves as real collaborators. The key, Trask notes, is action as opposed to words. Get to work, don’t demand to have the last word or control things, and you, white person, can be a part of the solution. It certainly was clear to me in my brief activist tenure that there are plenty of white people who think that their part in the struggle is to say something in a meeting. More importantly, if one, as a white person, understands that the single greatest thing one can do to dismantle racism is to shut up and work–obviously, in the right context–then damn it if one shouldn’t do it. It’s liberating.