Jonathan Y. Okamura, Ph.D.
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Last Nov. 18, I participated in a public forum with five other speakers on the topic, “What Can Hawai‘i Teach America about Race,” at The Arts at Marks Garage in Chinatown. It was part of the online newspaper Civil Beat’s ongoing “Hawai‘i Storytellers” series and attracted a capacity audience of more than a hundred people. The other speakers were novelist Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett, entrepreneur Spencer Toyama, attorney Mark Landsberg and kumu hula (hula instructor) Hina Wong-Kalu.
Rather than engaging the panel topic directly, all of the speakers were instructed to tell a personal story related to race or ethnicity in Hawai‘i, which, for me, detracted from what I otherwise would have said. The story I told concerned my experiences as a non-haole professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, where I have been working since 1989, due to the persisting stereotype that non-whites are not faculty. I related how even while walking the picket line during the UH faculty strike in 2001, I was asked by a skeptical haole professor if I was really faculty.