Color Blind and Tasteless
October 18, 2007
I was at the mall today and it was packed with Filipinos. It was "Farmer's Market"? day, and those who weren't selling produce were buying it. I was entertained watching them heckle with each other in Tagalog over prices.
Amid all the Filipinos was a Tongan (maybe Samoan) lady selling coconuts. I saw a couple sunburned haoles browsing the goods""tourists for sure""examining cascaron and that sticky sweet Filipino rice thing that's wrapped up and then steamed in banana leaves, like they were some sort of exotic delicacy.
There weren't that many podagees at the mall, but upstairs Game Stop was filled with techy looking Asian kids in trench coats and big boots.
Offensive? Depends on whom you ask. To be honest, I talk like that all the time""often using a person's race while describing them. Not necessarily in a derogatory way, just to paint a clearer picture.
For example, if I'm talking story with someone and they ask a question like "What kind of guy is he?"? my inclination is to answer by race: "Oh, Filipino-something"? or "hapa-haole."? If I'm not sure on the person's ethic background, but know that he's not white, I'll usually use the word "local-ish."? Then I'll follow up with his profession and demeanor. But race, here on Maui, can say a lot more about someone than "Oh, he's a lawyer"? or "Oh, he's nice."? Is he a haole lawyer or a Samoan lawyer? Is he a nice Japanese or a nice Hawaiian? It changes things.
People from the mainland may find this concept offensive""that a person's race can effect how they are viewed. In fact, a colleague of mine told me that it's still shocking to him to hear people use a person's ethnicity as a describing factor for people.
"I wouldn't say 'I met this really nice Japanese girl' just like I wouldn't say, 'I met this really nice gay guy,'"? he said. "What does being gay or a certain race have to do with anything?"?
He's not alone. I asked a few other friends from the mainland what they thought about using race as a description for a person and the majority said that it's just not done.
According to them, many children are taught about racial diversity in the classroom""classes meant to "erase race."?
I was telling a girlfriend about this to which she laughed and said, "The only time we were taught about race was when Frank DeLima came to the cafeteria to put on a show for the school."?
Ah, Frank DeLima. Like most Hawai'i comedians, such as Andy Bumatai, Augie T, Da Bruddahs and the late-great Rap Reiplinger, race was often something made fun of. To me, it's hilarious as hell, but to others, not so much.
In a Feb. 3 2005 Honolulu Advertiser article, Hawai'i Civil Rights Commission Executive Director Bill Hoshijo said, "We tend to avoid the confrontation. We use ethnic humor as a way to diffuse ethnic tensions; we're uncomfortable with talking about it seriously, which is a worse problem."?
A worse problem than what? Than having serious arguments about what's appropriate when dealing with racial diversity? Isn't racial and cultural diversity something that we celebrate here even if we poke fun at different cultures idiosyncrasies?
And here in Hawai'i, is it really about race? I think that it's more about culture, which aren't one and the same. Take the musician O-Shen. I thought he was a total poser until I read up on him and discovered he was actually raised in Fiji. And here I was thinking that he was just a white boy who wanted to be brown. But no, he's the real thing.
But what if a full-blooded Hawaiian born and raised in the Manila moved to Hawai'i as an adult? Where would he fit?
Maybe that's the problem. People in Hawai'i fit into different categories and whether we want to admit it or not, we sort people by race and culture. Does that make us ignorant or less conscious than other places in America? Or does that make us "Hawai'i?"?
Put another way, what would a race-free Hawai'i be like? I can't imagine it would be that interesting.
Starr Begley really hopes that everyone sees the secret double meaning in her spiffy column title this week. MTW
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