Dear Mr. Obama,
As the final days count down to your inauguration, I would like to share with you one very specific hope and its corollary fear I have. Throughout your campaign, although I did not support your candidacy, I greatly admired your rhetoric on race and race relations. As the first “hapa” president, although you and I don’t share specific bloodlines, we do share the experience of being built and raised struggling with the idea of whether or not we were “half” this or “half” that, or a “whole” something else. I believe the answer we both arrived at is that we are “whole” people, and that beyond “black” and “white” we are both in fact “human.”
One of the primary reasons why I opposed your candidacy was your support for the Akaka Bill, aka the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act. You spoke on the floor before a cloture vote on the Akaka Bill put forth by both Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka, and acting as the “third Hawaiian Senator,” you spoke in strong support of their bill. This despite the fact that the Akaka Bill promises to divide our homeland, the State of Hawaii, into two governments, solely on the basis of race. I imagine that your support of the Akaka Bill was politically expedient, but I hope that it was not in fact based on a thoughtful contemplation of the issue.
I would like for you to imagine for a moment that your mother was native Hawaiian, and had ancestors going back before 1778 in the Hawaiian Islands. Also imagine that your father had never left your mother, and lived with you in Hawaii during your entire time there. Now imagine telling your father that he wasn’t allowed to vote in an election that you and your mom could vote in. Imagine telling your father that he wasn’t allowed to serve in an elected office that you and your mom could serve in. Imagine telling your father that you and your mother had “rights” that he was not allowed to have.
This is the exact scenario that promises to play out if the Akaka Bill becomes law. A group of “experts” will decide who is and who is not “Hawaiian” by race, and this group will be asked to institute a government that will attempt to negotiate rights and resources away from the rest of the public of the State of Hawaii. It may turn out that the State of Hawaii legislature will resist attempts to take over public lands and put them into the hands of a single race-based government. But it may also turn out that the State of Hawaii legislature will be co-opted by the unregulated donations available to them from members of this new race-based government, and will be a willing participant in the reallocation of land and resources based solely on race.
As a fellow hapa-haole, born and raised in Hawaii as you were, educated at Punahou as you were, I beg you to turn towards those who are still promoting the Akaka Bill, and with all the grand rhetoric at your disposal, demand that they abandon their attempts to divide us as a people based on race. Insist to them that we are “One America.” Insist to them that we are “One People.” Insist to them that we should all live under “One Law.” Make a note of the first constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which nobly declared that all people were “of one blood.” Let them know that as a hapa-haole, born and raised in Hawaii, you have just as much, if not more right to claim the islands as your homeland as some toe-nail native Hawaiian who was born and raised on the mainland. Quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, and demand that we should be judged on the content of our character, not the color of our skin. Move them with your sincere belief that we are all human, first and foremost, and that arbitrary racial distinctions do NOT make the man.
I know that your first days in office will be tumultuous ones, with the Middle East burning, the economy tanking, and the various special interests groups pounding on your door for their pound of flesh. But if you could please take the time to make a strong stand against racial division as one of the first acts of your office, you could help heal the wounds in the State of Hawaii that have festered for the past 30 years of the race-based experiment called OHA. You have the background, the charisma and the credibility to demand that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of race. You could change the face of Hawaii politics, and move us away from division and towards conciliation with a single, moving speech.
Please, Mr. Obama, give us the hope you promised.
Jere Krischel, civil rights activist