After prolonged police violence towards African Americans, George Floyd’s death was the final indignity that pushed the nation towards outrage and protest. Hawaii News Now reported protesters on the mainland United States breaking in windows, attacking officers with bottles, and even setting a police car on fire. They went on to mention, however, that “Honolulu’s protest wasn’t nearly as chaotic as the ones on the mainland.” The islanders have shown great initiative in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which was reinvigorated after the homicide of Floyd; their way of demonstrating was peaceful, but powerful. What motivates the people of Hawaii to be so active in this movement, and why has that activity remained so amicable?
African Americans (the black lives) make up about two-percent of Hawaii’s total population (in comparison, they make up roughly 13.4% of the whole US). With such a small black demographic, Hawaii’s enthusiasm in the BLM movement is surprising at first glance, but this attitude stems from the multi-racial history of the islands. Hawaii is known for its significantly diverse melting-pot of ethnicities, many of which are minority groups in the wider US (including Asian, Pacific-Islander, and Hispanic). Not to mention, Hawaii’s population is about 24% mixed-race, the highest in the country. But the diverse people didn’t always live in peace.
Hawaii has a checkered past of racial prejudice. From early colonization to Japanese internment camps, race-inspired aggression is part of Hawaii’s history. Such events include the injustice of the Massie Trial— a 1932 criminal trial in which multiple Caucasians were found guilty of murdering a Hawaiian man, but were commuted by the governor from 10 years in prison to only 1 hour in the Sheriff’s custody. Residents of Hawaii have since learned from the past, and have worked to make Hawaii a place of acceptance, justice, and fair systems.
When faced with injustice, Hawaii strays far from the mainland United States in how the people carry out activism. Hawaii has mainly shown activism in the BLM movement through marching protests. There have been many rallies amongst the islands in which protestors held signs and chanted phrases such as “no justice, no peace.” What sets these protests apart from those in the continental US is that they are civil and controlled. There were no reports of Hawaii’s protestors illegally flooding the streets, attacking others, or committing arson, all of which have been seen in the rest of the country. Even subtler were the intimate paddle-outs to sea in memoriam of the lives lost.
Hawaii’s peaceful methods are also a result of two factors. First, Hawaii’s government leadership and other officials—who are ethnically diverse themselves—haven’t proven to be discriminatory. This has allowed the many ethnicities on the islands to live in harmony and unity. Therefore, many people don’t see a need to riot, as their leaders have maintained just governance. The second influence may be that of Hawaiian core values. Many people who have been raised in Hawaii have been taught the values of aloha (love), lokahi (unity), kuleana (responsibility) and maluhia (peace) since childhood. These all seem to play into the composure of the protests. The people do not want to cause unrest in the island communities. They want to unite together to spread a message they feel is their responsibility to advocate, without disrupting peace. They want to use their protests to show their love for the black community, not to harm others, loot, or cause wreckage as seen in some mainland protests turned to riots.
Thankfully, the protestors of Hawaii have proven more dignified and composed than their mainland counterparts, while still standing in solidarity with the black community. The diversity of the islands has provided insight on historical racisms, and the Hawaiian values etched in the character of the community from childhood inspire the way they protest. Hawaii’s systems are a great example of equal treatment to the rest of the country, and the protestors acknowledge and respect that through their peaceful protests.