Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This one isn't funny

Palin, though notoriously ill-traveled outside the United States, did journey far to the first of the four colleges she attended, in Hawaii. She and a friend who went with her lasted only one semester. "Hawaii was a little too perfect," Palin writes. "Perpetual sunshine isn't necessarily conducive to serious academics for eighteen-year-old Alaska girls." Perhaps not. But Palin's father, Chuck Heath, gave a different account to Conroy and Walshe. According to him, the presence of so many Asians and Pacific Islanders made her uncomfortable: "They were a minority type thing and it wasn't glamorous, so she came home." In any case, Palin reports that she much preferred her last stop, the University of Idaho, "because it was much like Alaska yet still 'Outside.'"

This slayed me. The full New Yorker article is worth reading if you have the time, but I'm only concerning myself with the Hawaii segment. I'd never before realized Sarah's connection with one of my childhood homes (I claim both Hawaii and Boston as separate-but-equal origins. Shut up, I contain volumes). A humor writer shouldn't become a blowhard, so without getting into politics I'll say this. I don't believe that Sarah Palin is a racist who hated Hawaii because, as the first link suggests, there were "too many yellowfaces." I think she was a sheltered young girl with a severe case of culture shock; disoriented by her surroundings and the sudden absence of the ubiquitous whiteness (with everything that entails, from skin color to diet) she'd come to expect from her upbringing.

Hawaii is hard to understand for people who aren't from there. I don't know what a good parallel would be--maybe a white South African?--but as a white person living in Hawaii, you are a minority. Not an oppressed minority, and that's an important distinction, but the fact remains. You suffer the petty indignities of your minority status (there will be certain restaurants where you get looks, certain areas where you get looks and you may occasionally hear a minor toothless epithet like "haole") without the larger indignities (less access to jobs, education, housing, low-interest loans to name a few). For a very sheltered person accustomed to being part of an overwhelming majority, this could easily be uncomfortable.

The other thing is that acceptance, love and hospitality practically ooze from the pores of Hawaiians. Uptight closed-minded people probably wouldn't do too well in a giant melting pot like UH. Fun story: the large numbers of Japanese-descended people in Hawaii are largely a result of the huge numbers of native Japanese brought in to work the cane fields. At first, the plantation owners brought in Chinese workers. But the Chinese workers would quickly marry Hawaiians, leave the plantation and never come back. The Japanese were brought in because they were the only people uptight and racist enough to NOT get it on with Hawaiians, who will make attractive brown babies with anyone.

So yeah, I bet Hawaii didn't suit Sarah Palin. The ironic thing is, the most cherished values of Hawaiian society are the values Palin claims are most important to her. This is a society that shuns elitism and snobbery, is composed almost entirely of poor people, is highly religious (Filipino Catholics and Muslims, Mormon converts, Jehovah's Witnesses), emphasizes unconditional love and generosity, prizes family above all else (Hawaiian children are brought up to consider friends as family members and address them as Auntie, Uncle or Cousin) and even surrendered their sovereignty to U.S. Marines rather than risk war and violence on Hawaiian soil. Sounds almost...Christian.

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