I’m writing this piece as a follow up to the recent blog post I wrote about the need for Hawai`i to shut down to visitors. I was so incredibly angry that our governor continued to allow unchecked tourism to continue to flow freely to a place where I live, Kaua`i, that has 7-12 ICU beds (count disputed but doesn’t matter not nearly enough). It angered me to see tourists coming in by the plane loads from places where the virus was spreading, especially after a cruise ship had visited here before it was discovered that people had tested positive for the disease. (Thankfully they have stopped the cruise ships and as of Thursday visitors and residents will have to quarantine for 14 days, but more on that later…)
Many responsible people cancelled their trips, but not enough did, and these were the irresponsible ones who were not obeying the posted guidelines about social distancing and ignoring signs that said the parks were closed and cavorting all over.
I became very vocal in my outrage, and it seems that I wasn’t alone. Many people here shared my outrage, especially local people, who, as my husband so eloquently wrote in this “viral” (pardon the intended/non-intended pun) article he wrote for Smithsonian Magazine on the history of epidemics in Hawai’i, have seen this tragically play out before. They know what can happen to people who live on an island. They felt real fear for the kupuna (elders) here, as did I. And they understood that we needed to close it all down. Stop the influx of people coming in from elsewhere.
This led to (overwhelmingly peaceful) protests by some local people here, asking tourists to go home. I know that the one in Poipu was respectful…I was there.
There have been cases of local people yelling at tourists, or in some cases residents who they thought to be tourists, and I heard there was one instance of someone throwing stones or something to that effect. But there have been very, very few instances of “violence” or “threatening behavior” and the majority of “confrontations” have been online.
I happen to belong to several Kaua`i related Facebook groups, including one that has 30,000 people that is more geared for tourists. Prior to our new Covid-19 world, that site was mainly people posting questions about the weather, which side of the island to stay on and where to eat, along with tons of pictures of the beauty that is this island. But as the virus spread, people who live here, like me, started to warn people that this might not be the time to come, which led to sometimes heated exchanges, which led to the comments being turned off by the moderators. There’s another site that is more geared to locals and residents with a good number of visitors, and while commenting is allowed, the pattern has been pretty much the same: As things heated up, someone who got “yelled at” or heard about people being “yelled at”, would get on these forums and complain about how the “locals” were NOT showing aloha. No matter that the tourist was thinking about or had made the decision to come during a pandemic, the “locals” were expected to show aloha no matter what. And if anyone dared to say, um this is NOT A GOOD TIME, the poster would bemoan how hurt they were. Then others would pile on, POOR YOU you don’t deserve that (heart prayer hand emojis), Or worse, anyone who dared say STAY HOME was told that if they continued to be so mean, people would stop coming so they would lose their jobs.
Even white residents, of which I am one, started to complain about the treatment, saying that they too had been yelled at because of their skin color, although I of course am not in that group. I have never ever been mistreated here, but if I had, I would not have gone on Facebook to accuse Hawaiians of being racists. We had several white people at the protest I attended say hey I live here, and give us the shaka. And honestly anyone who beeped in support was shaka-ed back, no matter what race or background.
But that’s white fragility in a nutshell. I posted on my wall about how I was angered that they were still letting tourists in and that the tourists were not practicing social distancing. Someone I had friended from one of those groups, a white resident, came onto my wall to post pictures of “locals” at a ballpark near her not social distancing, and complained that she had been yelled at and given the “stink eye” from locals for being white. I told her that I agree that everyone should be social distancing, but reminded her that aloha is a two way street, you gotta give it to get it, and I also said that people are angry and that is expressed in different ways. She wrote back something to the effect that it doesn’t give locals an excuse to treat tourists like lepers. OMG! I told her that she needed to read up on Hawaiian history because that was one of the most insensitive things she could have said (or read Doug’s paper on it) My Hawaiian friend took over from there, and the offended one ended up defriending me and I read elsewhere that she is so distraught and upset that someone was so mean to her that she is thinking of moving off the island.
THIS IS WHITE FRAGILITY! Girl, you got your feelings hurt! Someone gave you the STINK EYE. You got yelled at and someone was mean to you on FACEBOOK! Meanwhile…Hawaiian people have had their legal government overthrown, their land taken, they have been forced to work 3 shitty jobs to be able to live in their homeland and they have to put up with entitled tourists all over the island, day in and day out, and STILL they smile and give aloha. And now many just cannot do it anymore, they say please go home, we need to save resources for our kupuna.
But if they dare go online to express any of those feelings or express their anger they are lectured about how we all have to work together, this is not the time for anger. I’ve been smacked down too: if I write about it someone inevitably brings up the one or two cases where peoples’ anger has boiled over, like the case on Oahu where some tourist family who arrived there the DAY before the quarantine because you know cheap fares, were harassed at a park in Waikiki and it was written up in the paper. So of course whenever anyone expressed anger that was the immediate comeback, not an acknowledgement of frustration over the situation, just a big lecture on how nothing is an excuse for violence. So I felt compelled to preface all of my posts with “I don’t condone violence but…”
Of course I don’t condone violence!!! I hate confrontation and want world peace! But I’m done prefacing because really, can’t the “victim” EVER take ANY responsibility? Who in the hell gets on a plane with their fucking family in the middle of a global pandemic and flies to an isolated island with limited resources?! No Aloha left for that!!!
And some were more subtle. Many people who did cancel their plans went online to demand a pat on the back for doing the right thing, and then if someone said something like good you should have canceled, they were admonished for their “negative tone”. Or there were many who said things like “well I would have cancelled but I can’t get my deposit back and I can’t afford to lose that money”. Which makes no sense, so you’re going to come anyway, spend more money and risk everyone’s health? And to which I replied, “people who are losing their livelihoods here are telling you to stay away, think about others.” But you know, I am just so MEAN to the poor tourists.
White privilege, class tone deafness and white fragility, we need to have this conversation because it’s the only way we’re going to get past it. I will leave with the last paragraph from Doug’s article on epidemics because it’s so freaking good. I send much Aloha to everyone, because if you give it freely and humbly. you will get it back.
“As visitors rail in online communities about the lack of aloha they are experiencing (some going so far as to say they felt they were being treated like lepers), the real question is whether or not each person respects the unique culture and history of Hawai‘i and the fragility of this place and its people. The Hawaiian Kingdom was never about race or skin color. Now that all Americans are in that position of being a “virgin population,” it’s time for the non-Hawaiian residents and visitors to understand what the Native people here went through: how they died in droves, how they and their lifestyles were blamed for the illnesses brought in from outside, how this led to their kingdom being taken from them and their lands being overrun by foreigners whose individualism is antithetical to life on small islands. The Hawaiian experience is the very definition of intergenerational trauma. They should not be asked to give aloha. They should receive it.”