Monday, March 03, 2014
Legislature should clean up its act before censuring Rep. Hanohano
I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.--White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh
by Larry Geller
Except for the unfortunate title, the article posted today by Civil Beat reporter Chad Blair (Chad Blair: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Hanohano?, Civil Beat, 3/3/2014) is an excellent summary of the situation now facing the Hawaii House of Representatives. No person is a “problem,” Chad.
Between the lines is the real story though: the House has chosen to do nothing, so far. What should House leadership do, if anything, in response to media coverage of remarks by Rep. Hanohano?
Perhaps the leadership and other representatives have more sensitivity than the media have shown to this and other issues related to Native Hawaiians in what used to be their own country. Perhaps they also understand that selective enforcement of legislative rules is discriminatory.
Certainly, Rep. Hanohano could have expressed herself differently. I am not arguing to excuse her words, nor was I personally present when she spoke them. But I do want to say that the House of Representatives has a lot of enforcing it might do before getting around to this situation. A lot.In order to explain that last point, though, I think I need to set some background to start with. Bear with me. Background is in the sidebar on the right.
So my point is? Go back to the hydraulic theory. When someone speaks up, we are anxious to plug the leak, stop the noise, get back to forgetting that we are continuing to apply the pressure, the ongoing oppression.
At the same time, if the Legislature enforces its rules (which it is happy to break on a regular basis each session) against Rep. Hanohano, it might first explain why it has not enforced its rules against, for example, legislators who break the law by filing incorrect, incomplete or false reports.
See: Politically powerful state senator files false ethics reports (ilind.net, 5/21/2011). I’ve written several articles about false disclosures remaining uncorrected (for example, this article). I even wrote to the Senate President concerning the Senate’s own rules. Despite the “statutory penalties,” then-Senate President Shan Tsutsui declined to take action against the “politically powerful state senator” under Senate Rule 72.
The House has so far also not taken action against Rep.Tom Brower, whose violent tactics targeting the property of homeless persons in Waikiki. And if he “rousted” them from bus stops while carrying his sledgehammer, though I’m no legal expert, I wonder if that might fit the definition of assault. Brower embarrassed Hawaii nationally and internationally, but the House has remained silent.
So long story short, I have no doubt that Rep. Hanohano could have chosen other words, but as far as enforcing its rules against her, if the House did so it would itself be an embarrassment to the State of Hawaii since the Legislature has ignored far greater infractions of its rules and decorum.
From Chad Blair’s article:
The chief clerks in the House and Senate told me last week that they could not recall any incident in recent memory in which a representative or senator was forcibly removed from a committee, censured or expelled.
So how would it look if the only action the House takes “in recent memory” is against a Native Hawaiian, given that it chooses to ignore far greater infractions on the part of other legislators?
How then do you respond to those who say that the "J" word to those of Japanese ancestry is every bit as offensive as the "N" word? I think we could agree that a legislator calling African-American people "N's" would face truly scathing criticism and cries for stern action.
Rep. Hanohano communicated very badly. I'm not trying to excuse her choice of language. She's getting the scathing criticism. The issue is, what should be done about it? She hasn't broken laws, other legislators have, and the Legislature took no action against them. Words are only words, not deeds. By all accounts in the media, she has otherwise performed her role as a lawmaker well, and has represented her constituents (actual people, rather than corporations or lobbyists) well.
The inept government performance is not a flaw, or a mistake in the State/local government of Hawaii. It is the desired feature. Appearance of addressing of problem while not.
Writing as a local of Japanese ancestry, I understand that some might find the language Rep. Hanohano used offensive. I wouldn't like to encourage its everyday use, nor do I think she uses that language on an everyday basis. When facing the cultural imperialism embedded in our system of government and the flood of Western perspective invading Hawaii for far too long, it is far more offensive to ignore the genocide of the Hawaiian culture than it is to use the "J" word. Who are we to legislate the Hawaiian relationship to sharks especially when we allow the US Navy to bombard all ocean life with sonar and to use the ocean as dumping grounds for obsolete or hazardous weaponry?
Well said, Anonymous 7:51:00.
If only there were a forum for discussing the ongoing oppression, even genocide, taking place here. The newspaper never gets near it, nor does TV or public radio.