Akaka or King?

Cody Hensarling’s reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

by Cody Hensarling

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am a Native Hawaiian. I also have Chinese and German heritage, but in the State of Hawaii, my native Hawaiian ancestry is usually of the most interest to others.  It is my greatest hope that I am not defined by my ancestry, Native Hawaiian, or otherwise. Perhaps the greatest feature of the structure of American society is equality under law. I am comforted knowing that, in theory, I have the same chance at justice, the same responsibilities as a citizen, and the same rules governing my conduct as every other citizen of this country.  I have no ability to understand those who want to eliminate this most important feature of the American experience. Whether or not I understand it, the reality is that there are people in this state that have a different view of the ideal American experience. Those who would push for federal recognition for Native Hawaiians through the Akaka Bill want to create a separate jurisdiction inside the State of Hawaii that would provide special considerations for those of acceptable blood quantum. I may have enough Hawaiian blood to qualify for certain privileges under a post-Akaka Hawaiian Tribal Authority. I may also not; it depends on what the final bill uses to define an acceptable amount of Hawaiian blood. This also assumes that the bill passes, which is not likely in the near future. I don’t understand why people are so desperate to be defined by the color of their skin. When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, he didn’t argue that blacks deserved special laws to be administered to them by leaders of their choosing. He argued for integration and acceptance. The Native Hawaiian population has almost completely integrated into American society. There are very few Native Hawaiians that aren’t of mixed ancestry; inter-marriage has completely redefined what it is to be a Hawaiian. Acceptance doesn’t appear to be much of an issue, either. After the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1980’s, knowledge of the Hawaiian language is on the rise, and more Hawaiians than any other time in the past fifty years or so have a knowledge of their culture and traditions.  If integration and acceptance are within the grasp of the Hawaiian people, for what are they fighting? Money has to be a large motivation for supporters of the Akaka Bill. New government bureaucracies, increased federal funds, potential possible streams of new revenue are all potential enticements of this legislation. Many have to be enticed by the potential for financial gain or increased control over others. They should remember that in Native Hawaiian society, the vast majority of people were not chiefs, bureaucrats, government officials, priests, or anyone else with power; they were maka’inana: the commoner. There are two competing visions for the future of the Native Hawaiian people. One way is expressed in the Akaka Bill: the path to bureaucracy, stratification of society, and permanent labeling by others. The other was expressed by Dr. King some fifty years ago: the path to integration, acceptance, and equality under the law. For me, the choice is clear. It is my sincerest hope that my fellow Hawaiians would see things similarly.

Cody Hensarling is an intern at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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