Dr. Robert Slayton
Although discourse over Hawaiian statehood has increasingly been described by scholars as a racial conflict between Japanese Americans and Native Hawaiians, there existed a broad spectrum of interactions between the two groups. Both communities were forced to confront the prejudices they had against each other while recognizing their shared experiences with discrimination, creating a paradoxical political culture of competition and solidarity up until the conclusion of World War Two. From 1946 to 1950, however, the country’s collective understanding of Japanese American citizenship began to shift with recognition of the community’s military service record and an increased proportion of veterans elected to Congress.
This shift prioritized Japanese American interests in statehood, marginalizing Native Hawaiians. From 1950 to 1959, the indigenous people were forced to frame their opinions before Congress in two ways: by conforming to harmful racial stereotypes, or arguing their opinions based on Japanese American interests rather than their own. These constraints—along with the Red Scare and pre-existing, intra-communal class tensions—eventually silenced Native Hawaiians in statehood discourse, be they in support or opposed. As such, statehood discourse was defined not by an explicit racial conflict between Japanese Americans and Native Hawaiians, but by the empowered assertion of Japanese American identity contrasted with Native Hawaiians’ careful navigation of mainland prejudices and, eventually, their political silencing.
Saito, Nicole, "Sovereignty, Statehood, and Subjugation: Native Hawaiian and Japanese American Discourse over Hawaiian Statehood" (2021). Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters. 433.