Saturday, June 12, 1999

Many reasons
found for isle

Participants in a church-sponsored
forum attribute bias to disparities in
income and education and cliquishness

By Susan Kreifels


An education system and labor market of haves and have-nots, intolerance of criticism, outsider vs. insider connections that don't cross ethnic lines, and unfamiliarity with other ethnic groups.

Those were some of the problems listed last night by speakers discussing tolerance or the lack of it in Hawaii. The forum, which attracted about 100 people, was sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu.

While not as serious as on the mainland, panelists said racism and ethnic stereotyping still were problems in Hawaii.

Hayden Burgess, an attorney and native Hawaiian activist, said a system of domination and exclusion by groups in power coexists with the Hawaiian spirit of aloha.

"We jump back and forth," Burgess said.

Joshua Reppun, a forum organizer, said the church believes it's time to talk about racism and ethnic prejudices, what he called "tightly wound issues." Reppun said some people had feared the forum would turn into a "slug fest."

"There's an image of everything being hunky-dory, all aloha," Reppun said. "It's time to wake up."

Panelist Bob Rees, a writer for the Honolulu Weekly, said he believed the most serious problem was a polarized education system in which about 18 percent of Hawaii's students go to private schools and the rest attend public schools that do not provide a good education.

Labor market 'very dangerous'

Noel Kent, with the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Hawaii, said Hawaii's youth, particularly Hawaiians, other Pacific islanders and Filipinos, "understand they're being warehoused and not getting an education."

Kent called the labor market "very dangerous," with Asians and Caucasians at the top and other racial and ethnic groups at the bottom. From Kahala to Kalihi, "it becomes increasingly darker complected. (Hawaii) is building an underclass with no stake in this system. We need structural changes, a democratization of the economy."

Kent said Filipino males in his class talked about their ethnicity "in a disparaging way, almost loathing. ... The whole society is stacked against them. Young people internalize stereotypes."

State Rep. Iris Ikeda Catalani, whose son attends public school, blamed legislators for not supporting public education and sending their children to private institutions.

"Legislators are isolated from the real world," she said.

The Rev. Mike Young of The First Unitarian Church said even among churches there was not much cooperation, adding there was no Council of Churches here.

"They don't want to make waves," he said. "Real connections of people across barriers is rare."

Who's on your Christmas list?

Carolyn Golojuch, president of Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, said she grew up feeling racism as a Hispanic in California. When she moved here, she believed Hawaii would be a place where "finally my olive skin would be accepted. I got off the plane and I was no longer olive, I was white."

She was warned about "haoles" not being accepted in Waianae, but she still bought a house there and said people have welcomed her. At the same time her gay son moved to California because he felt safer there after the highly publicized and emotional vote last year against allowing homosexual couples to marry. That told her son he was "not an equal citizen."

Rees said Hawaii "leads the nation in terms of intolerance for criticism. All criticism is seen as bad, violating aloha."

Maile Meyer, a native Hawaiian and founder of Native Hawaiian Books and Beautiful Things, said she didn't feel that familiar with other ethnic groups. She encouraged people at the forum to seek out friendships with others.

"How many of you have Hawaiians on your Christmas card list?" she asked the crowd.

The church plans to hold another forum in the fall on teaching tolerance in schools, Reppun said.

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