A Feeling of Recognition

Interesting things are happening in Hawaii politics when it comes to support for the Akaka Bill.

Actively opposing it still takes a measure of political courage.  (Which, believe it or not, is not necessarily an oxymoron.)  But slowly, enough concerns have been raised about its effect on the Islands that some of those aspirants to office that aren’t completely beholden to the Akaka supporters are searching for some other language to express their reservations.  Consider it the political equivalent of backing quietly away from a terrible potluck dinner, saying, “No, I’m pretty full.  I think maybe I’ll just have this roll.”  (This might not be the best analogy, in that I’ve never been to a bad potluck dinner in Hawaii.  You all are luckier than you know.  Maybe everyone should have to do a year-long mission to the Mainland so that they can learn about the horrors of the mysterious gooey casserole and wet, salty, mushy rice.)

The result is a move towards ambiguity.  Look for statements that support, “some form of recognition for Native Hawaiians,” and yet stop short of endorsing Akaka.  Putting aside for the moment, all of the debate about how comparable the situation of Native Hawaiians is to that of Native Americans, there is (at heart) a genuine and admirable impulse here:  No one wants to underrate the contribution of Native Hawaiians or the importance of Hawaiian culture.  And when combined with the difficult socio-economic situation of many Native Hawaiians, there is a clear desire to assist that community–heck, this entire website calculates the millions and millions of dollars spent on all of these motivations.  But warm feelings do not make necessarily make good law.  In fact, all of this vague charity comes perilously close to that “soft bigotry of low expectations” thing.  I’m starting to wonder whether all of these well-intentioned feelings aren’t more destructive to the future of Native Hawaiians than anything else.  Stopping short of creating a separate governmental system, but still wanting to give “something” to Native Hawaiians . . . isn’t that pretty close to where we are now, only without making it official with Presidential signatures and much patting-ourselves-on-the-back?  (Then again, if I was Hawaiian, I’d be happy to just get a check for my share of the millions in federal, state, OHA, and Bishop Estate money spent to help me.  Because I’m starting think that I could do a lot more to help myself than any of those groups.)

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