Playing Favorites -- Da Punahele Race

(c) Copyright 2003 - 2004, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

SUMMARY: Is it good for a multiracial society to adopt one of its racial groups as the favorite? Hawai'i's rainbow society is the most ethnically diverse and intermarried in the United States. Yet we tolerate, and even seem to embrace, laws and customs whereby ethnic Hawaiians are singled out as our favorite racial group. We have over 160 racially exclusionary federal and state government benefit programs, and an elite school that excludes all children lacking a drop of the magoc blood. We are told it is right to support such programs because Hawaiian culture and language are great treasures to be preserved and strengthened. But culture and language are not necessarily related to race -- many ethnic Hawaiians know very little about the culture or language, while many people of no Hawaiian ancestry speak the language and practice elements of the culture. Automatically attributing or not attributing culture or language to people because of their race is a form of racial profiling. It is socially divisive and morally wrong for our multiracial society to have a favorite race.


Is it good for a multiracial society to adopt one of its racial groups as the favorite?

During September 2003 Hawai'i was assaulted by the spectacle of a red-shirt march through Waikiki in support of racial discrimination, where some high-profile participants were from racial groups being discriminated against. We have seen published statements by political and business leaders with no ethnic Hawaiian ancestry, supporting the idea that it's OK for both government and private institutions to discriminate against non-ethnic-Hawaiians. This essay will explore the particular self-flagellating version of political correctness that leads to such moral bankruptcy.

In ethnic Hawaiian culture it was formerly customary for a large family to have a "punahele" child. "Punahele" means "favorite" or "specially indulged." The punahele was always given extra food or rare treats even during hard times; was given piggy-back rides on daddy's shoulder while other kids felt left out. "Daddy's little girl" of today is a faded shadow of the punahele child of old.

Today's families of all ethnic groups sometimes still play favorites among their children, but also feel guilty about it if anyone points out this discriminatory behavior. Psychologists say the non-favorite children grow up feeling inferior, or less than fully loved. They harbor life-long resentments against their punahele sibling -- resentments which may explode when parents die and assets are divided through a will (even if the will itself is even-handed). Of course there are culture-specific differences in the way family rights and duties are divided between oldest and youngest, or between male and female. But the sibling who will be punahele is selected gradually, by osmosis, without regard to age or gender customs, as it slowly becomes clear who is the cutest, sweetest, most kolohe (rascal), or whatever traits the parents consider endearing. A cute child with kolohe attitude might have an advantage in the punahele competition if he also has a chronic illness or moderate deformity that makes everyone give him the sympathy vote. Hawai'i adopted the endangered nene as its official state bird, in hopes the punahele designation might rescue it from extinction. Similarly, Hawaiian was made an official language of Hawai'i by the 1978 state constitutional convention, precisely because it was on the brink of extinction and people wanted to show support for restoring it. Today many people learn Hawaiian because it is Hawai'i's punahele language, and people who do not know Hawaiian nevertheless appreciate hearing Hawaiian chants and prayers in the same way as Catholics 50 years ago enjoyed hearing the Mass in Latin.

Today in Hawai'i it is very clear that our rainbow has a punahele band of color. Anyone with a drop of native Hawaiian blood is automatically given special privileges, and even special rights under law, for no reason other than race. Anyone with the magic blood is automatically presumed to have valuable cultural knowledge, to engage in valuable cultural practices, and to have greater than normal needs for healthcare and economic assistance. In other words, ethnic Hawaiians are lumped together. All ethnic Hawaiian individuals are stigmatized with a racial profile that makes them the punahele -- cute and also kolohe; possessing cultural wisdom and personal aloha while also suffering physical, emotional, and economic problems that make us want to reach out to offer comfort and assistance. It doesn't matter that any particular person might not possess any of the attributes ascribed to him by his racial profile. If someone is ethnically Hawaiian, he is automatically assumed to fit the profile until proved otherwise. Sort of like the California crime of "driving while black" only in reverse.

It has become fashionable -- politically correct -- to protest against racial profiling. Police departments in California that stop and search black people at a significantly higher rate than white people are severely criticized as being racist. Yet in Hawai'i it has also become politically correct and morally praiseworthy to engage in racial profiling of ethnic Hawaiians. Although such profiling is seen as helpful and positive, it is actually harmful. By making anyone with the magic blood a punahele, we wrongly stigmatize wealthy ethnic Hawaiians as likely to be needy, and healthy ethnic Hawaiians as being full of disease. We wrongly hold doubts whether someone without the magic blood could possibly have valuable Hawaiian cultural knowledge or might be filled with the aloha spirit. We've all seen bumper stickers that say "No Hawaiians, no aloha." No kidding?

The special treatment given to favored individuals in a family, or a favored race in a multiracial society, is part of a psychological mechanism which might be called the "mascot syndrome." A team mascot might be a real animal, or might be easily recognizable as nothing more than a hired helper running around the playing field at intermission wearing a costume of an animal or even of a hot dog. But everyone cheers the mascot and wants to pet it and shower it with affection, even if the team is losing. Sometimes a real human being suffering a terminal illness is chosen to be a mascot, or "poster boy," to help raise money for a worthy charity. For more information about the mascot syndrome as applied to ethnic Hawaiians, see:

There is also a longstanding blame game in Hawai'i, where ethnic Hawaiians blame Americans in general, and haoles (whites) in particular, for their pain and suffering in the form of historical grievances and economic status as a poor, downtrodden, dying race. There is a growing Hawaiian victimhood literary and film genre seeking to commodify Hawaiian grievances and use them as propaganda for reparations in the form of race-based government programs and political power. See the essay-length book review of "Then There Were None":

This essay will not be discussing whether government agencies or private institutions can legally engage in affirmative action (discrimination favorable to one race and unfavorable to others). No, the issue here is moral, not legal. The issue is one of informal attitude as well as formal, observable, explicit treatment.

In Hawai'i we have numerous state government programs which give benefits only to ethnic Hawaiians, such as Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Department of Hawaiian Homelands. There are also more than 160 federal government programs giving benefits exclusively to ethic Hawaiians, as OHA itself has listed in court documents claiming to prove the existence of a federal trust relationship. See

The University of Hawai'i provides a mix of state and federal programs exclusively for ethnic Hawaiians including over 100 tuition waivers, an OHA-funded project at the Center for Hawaiian Studies to create an inventory of the ceded lands, an endowed chair in the medical school for Native Hawaiian health, and special multimillion dollar programs such as the Native Hawaiian Leadership Project (academic scholarships and travel expenses).

President Dobelle has politicized UH in the same way the German universities were politicized in the 1930s, pledging that the university will become a partner in bringing into reality the dreams of an ethnic group for race-based political power. In his keynote speech to the Center for Native Hawaiian Advancement on September 11, 2002 Dobelle said, "It seems to me that those of you who are battling to define your people according to self-defined terms have a dual citizenship of this state, and of a state yet to come into existence. Of Hawai'i and Ha-va-i'i," he said. "Ha-va-i'i, home of your ancestors, exists now as a state of mind and with the university as your partner, the Hawaiian community will turn that into a state of being. ... " For many years, and especially under President Dobelle, UH has been a hostile work environment for any professor or student who might disagree with the dogmas of Haunani-Kay Trask and the Center for Hawaiian Studies. On issues related to Hawaiian sovereignty, UH practices academic repression rather than academic freedom. See:

It is not wise for a multiracial society to adopt one of its racial groups as the favorite. Doing so weakens the glue of mutual respect and equal partnership that binds us together. It raises doubts whether we will be treated fairly by government and by each other. It portrays one group as the hosts while all others are merely guests. It is socially and emotionally divisive. It leads to pork barrel politics that splinter the rainbow.

Most recently the issue of the punahele race came into focus in the red-shirt march of September 7, 2003 in Waikiki, when perhaps 8,000 blood Hawaiians and non-blood supporters showed solidarity in opposing the lawsuits against racially exclusionary policies at OHA, DHHL, and Kamehameha Schools.

Wait a minute! Was that worded correctly? Did substantial numbers of people with no Hawaiian blood actually participate in a political rally to support policies that would prohibit themselves and their children from receiving government benefits or attending an elite school? Yes! That's what happened! The reasons why non-bloods support discrimination against themselves are very interesting.

Both Honolulu daily newspapers, and Pacific Busines News, reported some of the contents of amicus statements filed September 29, 2003 in the Kamehameha School motion for summary judgment. The statements were submitted by high-profile Hawai'i citizens with no Hawaiian blood explaining why they support Kamehameha Schools' racially exclusionary admissions policy. For a discussion of that policy, and whether it is required by the will of Princess Pauahi or whether it is legally permissible, see:

The amicus statements were described in the following three articles:

The authors of the statements included the following high-profile Hawai'i citizens with no native blood: Gov. Linda Lingle, former Gov. George Ariyoshi, First Hawaiian Bank CEO Walter Dods, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Senior Vice President Keith Vieira, Hawaii Pacific Health CEO Roger Drue, Bank of Hawaii Corp. CEO Mike O'Neill, UH College of Education Dean Randy Hitz. Other similar statements were recently published in the newspapers by other high-profile non-bloods, including Robert Midkiff and Robbie Alm. Some of the writers are clearly serving their own vested interests. For example, the UH College of Education has a close relationship with some of the Hawaiian culture-immersion charter schools, to which Kamehameha School has given large grants. Some banks have an OHA or Kamehameha trustee on their board of directors or in a high executive position. Robert Midkiff has four generations of service to Kamehameha School, and the school library is named after his family. But putting aside vested interests, interlocking directorates, and family intermarriage, there are genuine feelings of support from non-bloods in favor of racially exclusionary beneficiary and admissions policies.

Every reason offered in these statements (as reported in the media) has two components -- the exclusionary policy is good because we support the preservation of Hawaiian culture as an essential component of our society, and because ethnic Hawaiians are our punahele race. Of course, that's not what the writers actually said; but it is what they clearly intended. The point is that Hawaiian culture is indeed a defining characteristic of Hawai'i's rainbow society, precisely because it is a culture shared by all of us. Many people with no native ancestry perform the hula, speak Hawaiian, help restore ancient heiau and fishponds, etc. Some of the greatest experts on the language and culture have been people with no native ancestry. The culture will be preserved and constantly reinvigorated, even if all ethnic Hawaiians were suddenly to die. And the population of people with Hawaiian ancestry has increased tenfold during the first century of American sovereignty, from fewer than 40,000 in the Census of year1900 to more than 400,000 in Census 2000. So, preservation of the culture, the language, and the racial group itself are desirable goals we all agree upon, which have absolutely nothing to do with a racially exclusionary policy toward benefits or admissions. In the end it all comes down to the attitude that one race is the punahele; and that attitude is socially corrosive and morally repugnant.

For example, Governor Linda Lingle said: "I believe that our state needs a qualified and racially and ethnically diverse group of leaders to ensure that all voices and viewpoints are heard and respected as we plan for our state's future for the benefit of all of our citizens," Gov. Lingle said in a sworn statement submitted with Kamehameha's motion. "Kamehameha Schools provides an essential training ground for the education and development of our future Native Hawaiian leaders."

But of course many and perhaps most of Hawai'i's leaders of Hawaiian ancestry were not educated at Kamehameha. We have had diversity in the past and we will always have diversity, even if there is no longer a school which admits only ethnic Hawaiians to its student body. Approximately 26% of all Hawai'i public school children K-12 are ethnic Hawaiians. As shown by a recent study, ethnic Hawaiians (and ethnic Japanese) are actually significantly OVER-represented at the University of Hawai'i, compared to other racial groups and their percentages of Hawai'i's population.

Indeed, the arguments in favor of affirmative action in the University of Michigan graduate admissions case, agreed to by the Supreme Court in upholding that admissions policy, indicate that diversity of the student body in any one particular school can be an essential part of getting a good education there. Just because black students have all-black colleges they could attend, does not mean that it is somehow less important for the University of Michigan to provide diversity on its campus or to use affirmative action to produce a critical mass of black students so they will feel comfortable attending school there. If diversity is important in education, then students attending the all-Hawaiian Kamehameha Schools may be significantly handicapped by their failure to go to school with those who do not share their ethnicity and who do not share the attitude of racial supremacy and entitlement permeating the institution.

Key points filed in the Kamehameha School motion for summary judgment and the amicus statements *as reported in Pacific Business News [response by Ken Conklin]

* Kamehameha Schools was established as a private trust to remedy past injustices and present imbalances suffered by Native Hawaiians. [But private restaurants and private gated communities cannot discriminate racially; past injustices are long past; and present imbalances of earnings and political power are negligible as shown by Census income data and by a look at the ethnicities in the state legislature, judiciary, and executive branch]

* Kamehameha's preference policy is still essential to Kamehameha's mission. [only if that mission is defined by race. If the mission is to preserve Hawaiian culture, then grant admission to students of any race who demonstrate accomplishments and interest in Hawaiian culture]

* Kamehameha's admissions policy promotes leadership and the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture, which benefits the entire state. [see previous responses]

* Kamehameha Schools' students represent a wide variety of races and ethnicity's. Besides Native Hawaiian, students have reported belonging to 61 different racial and ethnic groups. [nevertheless, 80% of Hawai'i's population is totally excluded for no reason other than race. Would it be acceptable to have a school only for students of Irish ancestry, in which 61 other racial groups might also be present through intermarriage?]

* Congress has acknowledged and encouraged the schools' programs and educational mission. [Congress also passed an apology bill in 1993 that contains numerous factual errors; Congress also passed a resolution supporting a now-unpopular war in Iraq, and passed a now-unpopular law called the Patriot Act. Congress also passed laws later ruled unconstitutional, and has so far refused to pass the Native Hawaiian recognition bill for fear that it is unconstitutional and racist]

* If the preference policy is struck down, Kamehameha Schools would not be able to serve Native Hawaiians the way Prince Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the school's founder, intended. [whatever it would be illegal for a living person to do, it is also illegal for a dead person to do through a will. Pauahi's will has already been over-ruled by the courts on the issue of requiring all teachers to be of a Protestant religion.]

* The plaintiffs' challenge is based on a federal civil rights statute enacted to protect the rights of newly freed salves in the post-Civil War South. [the general principles stated in the laws apply to all races equally, even to those of us who have no African ancestry. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution also were passed immediately after the Civil War to force Southern states to treat Negroes fairly, but today those parts of our Constitution protect us all, as OHA has recently discovered in the Rice and Arakaki#1 decisions]

The sort of statements made in the amicus letters by non-bloods supporting blood discrimination are countered by the statement made by the multiracial group of 15 plaintiffs in the Arakaki2 lawsuit, published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday September 28. " Three of our 15 plaintiffs are of Hawaiian ancestry. All 15 have loved ones, aunties, nieces, nephews or friends, colleagues or fellow workers of Hawaiian ancestry. ... All 15 plaintiffs are residents, citizens and taxpayers of the state of Hawai'i and the United States. Ten of them were born and reared in Hawai'i. Five of those have at least one ancestor born in the kingdom of Hawai'i. Included among the plaintiffs are people of Japanese, English, Filipino, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Irish, Chinese, Scottish, Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, German, Spanish, Okinawan, Dutch, French and other ancestries." Their reasons for opposing racially exclusionary benefits can be found at:

People with no Hawaiian ancestry who support racially exclusionary programs, and the resulting balkanization of Hawai'i, are like those Jewish businessmen who politically and financially supported Hitler's rise to power because they thought he would bring economic prosperity and get Germany out of its crushing debt under the Treaty of Versailles. In supporting Hitler for short-term gain, they failed to foresee their own destruction in the holocaust that followed. Historian Bryan Mark Rigg recently published a book entitled "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military." From personal interviews and archival research, Rigg estimates there were 150,000 Jews who served in Hitler's military, including decorated veterans and high-ranking officers, in return for being designated "honorary Aryans." Perhaps that's similar to non-natives joining Ka Lahui as "honorary citizens" and similar to Governor Lingle getting an OHA-issued race card (paid for with government money) identifying her as an honorary Hawaiian.

It might be possible that the courts through some strange twist of legal maneuvering might decide that it's OK for Kamehameha Schools to keep out children lacking the magic blood. The courts might decide it's OK for government programs like OHA to exclude 80% of our people from benefits for no reason other than race. But even if the courts perversely allow such abominations, we as a rainbow society must make our moral opposition clear, and pressure our legislators to defend the rainbow against those trying to splinter it.

(c) Copyright 2003 - 2004, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved