Themes:  Race and Ethnicity

This topic is obviously of primary importance in Hawai'i and the theme has produced a voluminous amount of material. Recent scholarship has begun to question, however tentatively, the conventional view that Hawai'i is a multicultural paradise. The stereotyped image of Hawai'i as a place of uncommonly calm race relations grew especially prominent in the early 20th century in the years just after the Annexation. U.S. citizens were eager to know more about Hawai'i and locally produced studies, both scholarly and informal, enthusiastically presented Hawai'i's best face.

Children in costume

Given the degree of racial terrorism in many parts of the United States in the early 20th century, it is a small wonder that Hawai'i seemed like a racial paradise. However, the notable lack of lynchings, race riots, or overt segregation based solely on color is hardly a standard of excellence. As Honolulu grew, so too did episodes of racial and ethnic tension. Neighborhoods and schools were segregated based on class. It happened in Honolulu, more so than in other urban areas, that class was overtly racialized. In other words, the chances were that an Asian or Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian in Honolulu in 1920 was more likely to be working class or poor. Because the vast majority of Asians in Hawai'i had come to work on the plantations, by this early point in the 20th century they were not likely to have made significant strides up the economic ladder. The best example of this is the Portuguese community which has always occupied a middle position between Whites and non-Whites in Hawai'i. Because they too came to Hawai'i as plantation workers, they did not readily blend in with Haole people already here who occupied the top tier of local society along with Hawaiian ali'i. Any understanding of the dynamics of race and ethnicity in Hawai'i has to engage the significance of class lines and how they were understood in local culture.

Although this bibliography can not review the vast amount of material on the specific ethnic communities in Hawai'i, students should have very little problem finding secondary and primary sources that discuss the history and cultures of the various ethnic groups in Hawai'i. Our focus instead will be on materials that discuss race and ethnicity from a theoretical viewpoint or attempt to somehow account for the particular nature of multiculturalism in Hawai'i.

Interracial Marriage

That there is an extensive body of literature dealing with race and ethnicity in Hawai'i is not surprising. Hawai'i has been studied endlessly and used as an example of a multicultural community that works. The earliest explorers commented upon the friendliness of the indigenous people and the presence of so many sailors dropping anchor in Hawaiian waters affected our understandings of race and ethnicity in two ways: the sailors left behind a number of mixed race children as well as venereal diseases. These children, especially those who were part of the ali'i or ruling classes, formed the basis of the acceptance of cross-racial sexual liaisons. This was the case most especially, and perhaps exclusively, when the men were White and the women were not. According to Romanzo Adams, these children were not officially designated as part-Hawaiian until the 1896 census. However, the children of Hawaiians and foreigners were enumerated as far back as 1850. Secondly, the prevalence of venereal disease has been difficult to document, but it is counted among the many epidemics which decimated the indigenous population of the islands. After a short time, cross-racial marriages were a social and cultural necessity if Hawaiians were to survive.

Children in costume

The narrative of race and ethnicity early on was influenced by a line of thinking which attributed racial tolerance to the friendliness of the natives and the lack of official prohibitions against inter-racial sexual liaisons and marriages as well as American missionaries' belief in the principles of equality. As accepted as this line of reasoning has been, it must be open to questioning. For instance, instead of merely accepting the fact of interracial marriage, we might ask: who was marrying whom? The marriages between Hawaiian women and Haole men, especially those that took place between ali'i and missionary descendants who were part of the political and economic ruling class, might more relevantly be conceived of as political alliances. The marriages of some Euroamerican men to Hawaiian women who owned or had access to property helped to secure their future domination over Hawai'i. In other cases, we might ask whether Haole women, particularly those who were missionary descendants were as free to marry Hawaiians as their fathers and brothers seemed to be. If they were not, we are then able to ask about the limits of interracial tolerance and the intersections of racism and sexism in Hawai'i.

For the working class among some ethnic groups, intermarriage was much less frequent. Japanese Americans, for example, did not marry across racial lines in significant numbers until well after World War II. Marriage across racial and ethnic lines may not be the best barometer of the lack ethnic tension in a community but because as a territory Hawai'i was constantly compared to the United States, the number of these relationships and the subsequent large group of mixed race or hapa children stands out as an explanatory rather than contingent factor in local history.


Considering their minority status, Euroamericans have played a disproportionate role in the life of Hawai'i. Euroamericans in Hawai'i occupy a unique position in studies of race and ethnicity in a U.S. historical context because they represent one of the few minority White communities in American culture. Excluding isolated plantations in the Deep South, it is a startling fact that so small a number of White men and women exercised so dominant a role over not only an indigenous population, but a non-White immigrant population. Just as startling is that very little scholarship exists that critically examines their cohesiveness as an ethnic and/or racial community.

Squid fisherman

George Lipsitz argues in The Possessive Investment in Whiteness that historically, Whiteness functions as invisible and operates covertly behind a veil of normativeness. Elvi Whittaker's The Mainland Haole remains the only significant book-length study of the White community in Hawai'i. Judy Rohrer's piece "Haole Girl" discloses some of the intricacies of White identity and privilege in contemporary Hawai'i. Both of these works, however, address the situation in Hawai'i well after World War II. One approach to studying the undiscussed and invisible is to approach it from sources which reveal the concern for the topic in the subtext. Most of the missionary biographies, biographies of prominent political and social figures, and even labor, ethnic and economic histories of Hawai'i presume the fact of Whiteness; the imposition of American values, standards and ideas is the imposition of White values, standards and ideals. Students wishing to understand any aspect of race and ethnicity in Hawai'i must engage the question of Whiteness given the role it plays in structuring all other ethnic and racial identities.

Adams, Romanzo. Interracial Marriage in Hawaii. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1937.

Alexander, Mary C. and Charlotte Peabody Dodge. Punahou, 1841-1941. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1941.

Allen, Riley. "Education and Race Problems in Hawaii." The American Review of Reviews, December 1921, 613-24.

Glick, Clarence. "A Haole's Changing Conceptions of Japanese in Hawaii." Social Process in Hawaii. (1950), XIV, 1-10.

______________ . "Interracial Marriage and Admixture in Hawaii." Social Biology, December (1970), 17:4, 278-291.

Gulick, Sidney L. Mixing the Races in Hawaii: A Study of the Coming Neo-Hawaiian American Race. Honolulu: The Hawaiian Board Book Rooms, 1937.

Hormann, Bernhard L. "Racial Statistics in Hawai'i." Social Process in Hawaii. XII (1948), 27-35.

______________ . "The Caucasian Minority" Social Process in Hawaii (1950), XIV, 38-50.

Johnson, Ronald C. "Offspring of Cross-Race and Cross-Ethnic Marriages in Hawai'i." In Racially Mixed People in America. Ed. Maria Root. New York: Sage Publications, 1992.

Lind, Andrew W. "Changing Race Relations in Hawai'i." Social Process in Hawaii. 18 (1954), 1-9.

Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

MacCaughey, Vaughan. "Race Mixture in Hawaii." The Journal of Heredity 10:1 (January, 1919), 41-47.

_____________ . "Race Mixture in Hawai'i: Second Series." The Journal of Heredity 10:2 (February, 1919), 90-95.

McClatchy, Valentine. "Assimilation of Japanese: Can They be Moulded into American Citizens?" Privately Printed: Remarks Before the Honolulu Rotary Club, October 21, 1921.

Multicultural Hawai'i: The Fabric of a Multiethnic Society. Ed. Michael Haas. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.

Rohrer, Judy. "Haole Girl, Identity and White Privilege in Hawai'i." Women in Hawai'i: Sites, Identities and Voices, special issue of Social Process in Hawai'i. Eds. Joyce Chinen, Kathleen Kane, Ida Yoshinaga, vol. 38 (1997), 138-61.

Smith, William C. "The Hybrid in Hawaii as a Marginal Man." American Journal of Sociology 39:4 (January 1934), 459-468.

Whittaker, Elvi. The Mainland Haole: The White Experience in Hawaii. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Wuthnow, Julie. "Haole Homo: Complicating Queerness in Honolulu." Office of Women's Research Working Paper Series. Ed. Louise Kubo, vol. 4. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, 1995, 46-52.