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Critical Race Theory and Affirmative Action Programs
To bring awareness to the work of Cristobal and her contribution to Critical Race Theory, I recognize that Kanaka ‘Ōiwi is the preferred terminology when referring to the Indigenous peoples of Hawaii. In order to avoid the misuse of Kanaka ‘Ōiwi, I will use traditional Western terminology. Between 2012 and 2018, I worked for the United States Air Force and was stationed on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. During this time, I volunteered hundreds of hours with Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii (BBBSH). Each year, the program helps over 1,000 at-risk youth facing adversity, to include those living in poverty (BBBSH, 2019). According to Office of Minority Health (2019), 15.4% of native Hawaiians fall below the poverty level, in comparison to only 9.66% for the non-Hispanic whites (Office of Minority Health, 2019). Over the years, I worked with children from the local community and provided a mentoring friendship that focused on educational, social and emotional well-being. Some of the community youth did not attend the public school system and I was introduced to Kamehameha Schools thru the educational portion of the program. Kamehameha Schools fall under a private charitable education trust established by Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a direct descendent of King Kamehameha the I. The Schools do not receive any state or federal funding and approximately 98% of support to the school’s educational programs comes from Bishop’s endowment fund (Kamehameha Schools, 2019). Bishop knew that education would be vital to the survival of native Hawaiians and requested her estate to be used towards an educational system.
After the Hawaii Kingdom was overthrown, the native methods of teaching and learning were banned as part of a systematic distancing to the culture. Many Natives believed the Hawaiian language was required to fully understand the culture, which saw a resurgence during the 60s and 70s. Shortly after, policies were generated to promote the “study of the Hawaiian culture, history, and languages” and to recognize Hawaiian as an official state language (Hawaii State Department of Education, 2019). Beginning in early 2000, there were a series of disputes with Kamehameha Schools, specifically regarding the admission policy, which “gives preference to children of Hawaiian ancestry” (Kamehameha Schools, 2019). The goal of the admission policy is to improve the capability and well-being of Hawaiians through education and is currently serving just under 7,000 students of Hawaiian ancestry (Kamehameha Schools, 2019). The policy is being used as a way to remedy past harms and current imbalances suffered as a result of colonization and to rectify some of the socioeconomic and educational disadvantages. In 2006, the admission policy was challenged under Doe vs. Kamehameha in which a non-native Hawaiian claimed he was denied admission because of his race and in violation of his equal rights (Watson, 2006). I would argue that the admission policy is not problematic, the issue rests with non-Hawaiian students who attempt to use reverse discrimination as a way to challenge and gain admission to affirmative action programs such as Kamehameha Schools. The court upheld the admission policy preference which enables children of Hawaiian ancestry the first right to education (Watson, 2006). The outcome of the case was a significant victory for Hawaiians and all minorities impacted by educational discrimination.
Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a movement “interested in studying and transforming the relationship between race, racism, and power” by highlighting historical and continued racism in all aspects of life (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). In order to address the specific needs of native Hawaiians, CRT was modified and developed into a framework called Kanaka’ŌiwiCrit (Watson, 2006). Although there are different variations of CRT, there are a few core propositions that most theorists agree with. One proposition is that racism is permanent and ordinary, or situated firmly in the day-to-day workings of white dominated society (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Another proposition of CRT is the system of “white-over-color ascendancy which includes psychological (colorblindness) and interest convergence or material determinism features. The notion here is that white people have little incentive to work to eliminate racism, expect in time when greater equality has a positive impact on their lives (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Another proposition of CRT is critique of ahistrocism or the need for historical content and the tenet used to describe the need for the admission policy at Kamehameha Schools. The history of colonization in Hawaii has been altered or omitted so the Western audience is not disrupted. Within the Kanaka’ŌiwiCrit framework education is identified as a major oppressive system to native Hawaiians with an emphasis on the need for education to be taught from a historical revisionist context (Cristobal, 2018).
For several years, I was able to work with a volunteer organization that I deeply admire and was blessed enough to be embraced by the Aloha culture. I was also given the opportunity to learn about the deep-rooted history of Kamehameha Schools. When I was living in Hawaii, I had a basic understanding of the admission policy and after learning about CRT, I developed a better understanding as to why the fight for the policy to be upheld was so important. Native Hawaiians still face many oppressive systems and the admission policy is just one approach to remedy past harms and current imbalances. Moving forward, it is also a way to resolve socioeconomic and educational disadvantages.
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