I Already Have a Tan 🙂
Not to be too racially-focused or anything, but being a Black person in Hawai’i is always a topic of discussion so I thought I’d go ahead and address the elephant in the room…there just aren’t very many Black people in Hawai’i. No worries though! I’m quite used to being the only (or one of the few) person of color in a scenario.
What I didn’t realize was that Hawai’i feels like a foreign country. It has so many people from so many backgrounds, all with a very specific way of feeling about Blacks or African Americans. It has so far been a great cultural experience.
Pack a Swimsuit and Some Sharkskin.
You need thick skin to make this move. In Detroit, people use a little decorum to address someone about something very personal. We put out “feelers” to see if the person you’re talking to is open to the conversation. Not here on Oahu. Nope. Often things said directly, straight-no chaser.
- “What are you?” One local asked. I answered the question, including my combination of ethnicities. Their response? “Oh, I could tell you were something else, not just Black.”
- “There aren’t any more like you up here” a neighbor in a “heights” area that was my first residence on Oahu.
- “I’m sure you’re glad to be here. Not just because its Hawaii, just to be out of Detroit.”
- “Are you going to go back to Detroit and help your people?”
People have even been offensive even in their compliments. One day my husband who was doing me a favor and helping me out on a job site. The client came to me and said, “I wanted to tell you, we’re really happy with the work (sic) is doing. He’s really good at handy things and knows how to figure things out. Could he do lawn work for us?”
Now that didn’t have to be a Black thing, but having spent two days working with that family, I promise you that it was indeed – a Black thing.
Hey Black Person! Aloha.
Meeting other melanated people on Oahu may be the most challenging of all social interaction here. First there’s the obvious thing of being very few people of color on the island (any shade of brown) who are not native. More ironic though, is this thing where Black people avoid speaking to other Black people. Now if you’re not Black this may seem like I’m being petty, but believe me when I say, it’s a cultural thing. We tend to recognize each other in passing, like an extended family. This is particularly true in surroundings where there are few Blacks.
It’s a real thing. A few weeks ago we met a lovely couple visiting from Sacramento, California. The wife said, “Oh my god thank you so much for saying hello and stopping to talk to us! We always find it so odd that when we come here other Black people not only don’t speak, but seem to go out of their way to avoid any eye contact with you.” I gave her a high five that let her know that I knew what she was talking about and we laughed about how weird it was. We’ve invited them to our home for a bar-b-que and we’ve all become good friends.
Most of Oahu’s African American residents are military personnel and their spouses. The hubby and I concluded that maybe the fact that military families move often (sometimes never considering any place home) causes them move a bit differently socially.
How’s that Aloha Spirit?
Native Hawaii’ians tend to be extreme where I’m concerned. They can be very friendly and welcoming. They will warmly address me as Sister or, if I’m the elder, Auntie. On the other hand, they can be narrow-minded in their way of thinking about Black people and the world in general. There have been times when people have been downright rude to me in a very personal way. Several times I’ve had someone (men included) stare at me with malice in their eyes. Hard, long, unblinking stares that follow you as you walk by, making sure you see the spite on their faces.
A couple of times I said hello to the staring person. Once it was out of habit of saying hello to people that I make eye contact with. The other time it was more of a “really, you’re just going to stare at me and not say anything” challenge. Both times, my greeting was met with a cold glare that seemed to say “go home”. I’ve even gotten “the finger” while sitting in my car twice for no reason.
I’m glad to report that most locals have been friendly and respectful, talking story and sharing pupus like family. Many have been helpful and generous. In my short time here I’ve gotten to know some really cool Hawaii’ians.
Person of Color in the Land of Rainbows.
I chose to start with this perspective of my Hawai’ian life because people who know me were concerned about how I’d be treated here. It’s also the question that so many people ask once learning that I live in Hawai’i. They are curious to know if I feel welcomed and at home.
This isn’t mainland America. It’s a mash of many cultures on one little island. It’s over one million people with lots of good and bad information about Black people. Many people have never had a conversation with someone that looks like me.
In Hawai’i, like everywhere I travel, I meet people where they are and bring them along. Like any other place, you’ve just got to meet people one at a time. If its good, great. If its not, I wish them well and move along. Thankfully there’s been much more of the former 🙂
Mahalo for reading! Let’s get together again soon.