Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Reverse Statute of Limitations

There are schools in Hawaii fighting for the chance to continue their racist admissions policies. As this article explains, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is debating

whether some private schools in Hawaii could lawfully give admissions preference to Native Hawaiians.

The Kamehameha Schools was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop as part of a trust now worth $6.8 billion. Part of the school's mission is to counteract historic disadvantages Native Hawaiians face in employment, education and society. The trust subsidizes tuition.

I gather that this trust is administered wholly or in part by the state, and probably receives public funding in addition to its original endowment, so the question here isn’t “Can a private institution be racist if it wants to” but “can the state be racist.” I’d say no.

Well, I probably would say no. If this were any other state in the Union. Or any racial distinction other than “Native Hawaiian.”

I think Hawaii’s kind of a special case. It never wanted to join the Union, after all. Hawaii's a state today because we invaded a sovereign nation, overthrew its leader and forced it to rearrange its culture.

I have a large collection of 19th-century stereoscope cards. Right now, in fact, I’m holding one from a “Views of the World” set made around 1900. The card shows a picture of Governor S.B. Dole “on the palace grounds in Honolulu,” and the back has this to say about Hawaiian history (note how events are not listed in chronological order):

The Hawaiian Islands, now an American territory, were discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778 … The inhabitants were semi-civilized and had a kind of feudal state organization. In 1792 Vancouver brought them cattle and taught them shipbuilding. American fur traders furnished Kamehameha I of Hawaii firearms, whereby he was enabled to conquer the other islands. His dynasty ended only when on July 4, 1894, Hawaii was declared a republic. American missionaries introduced Christianity about 1820, and in 1840 a constitution was granted. King Kalakaua, and after him his sister Liliuokalani attempted to restore heathenism and an absolute monarchy, but were defeated. The queen was dethroned in 1893 and the civilized element placed the islands under the protection of the United States.

I have a hard time criticizing pro-Hawaiian preferences among Hawaiians, because I can’t tell a group of people “since we conquered you and your land, you are not allowed to view yourselves any differently than us.”

On the other hand, I know full well that there’s not a Hawaiian alive today who actually suffered through the American takeover, nor an American alive who was responsible for it.

On the other other hand (the possibilities here symbolized by one of those multi-armed Hindu gods), doesn’t that attitude boil down to “If Country A takes over Country B, country B’s children and grandchildren aren’t allowed to resent the takeover?”

That card is just over 100 years old. There are plenty of Hawaiians whose parents or grandparents lived through the takeover and discussed it with their children and grandchildren. How long before you can morally say “Shut up and accept our rules, we conquered your country fair and square?”

Or to put it another way, if one country conquers and absorbs another, how long until that stops being a Naked Act of Aggression and becomes the legally and morally enforceable status quo?

Can collective grievances ever be justified? (Yes, I know. Collective. Collectivism. The ultimate in obscene C-words among libertarians, who happen to be the main group I hope my new blog here appeals to. So why am I using it? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it’s connected somehow with why I was so unpopular in high school.) If so, when do they stop being justifiable? Should there be a reverse statute of limitations on racism, before which a group can get away with feeling resentful but after which it can’t?


Anonymous El Jefe said...

I'd posit that a "collective grievance," where a number of people have suffered from the same injustice (or any situation where the goals of many people are aligned), is not the moral equivilant of Collectivism, the ethical stance that insists your needs (or redress for injustices against you) are irrelevant, and that this irrelevance must be enforced to insure social order.
Also, to add a few more gray areas to the equation, the Hawaiian dynasty of the 18th century was known for oppressing the populace, using assasination to consolidate power, and treating women not-so-well. Just like most other cases of royalty-rule. The arguement could be made that dragging it into the states was a good thing.
(Please note: I am NOT making this arguement, simply theorizing that it could exist).

6:16 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I have no doubt that the Hawaiian royal family had its share of bad behaviors, Jefe. But some other country could have just as easily justified a 19th-century takeover of America on the grounds that we treated non-whites (especially Indians) like garbage. I'm still prone to thinking that the Hawaiians should be allowed to keep their discriminatory scholarship and admission policies, because to me the alternative seems to be to say "Now that we have conquered you, you must accept this entirely."

As for anyone who might disagree on the grounds that 'they are part of America and now must obey all aspects of American law,' I'm curious to know exactly when a foreign invasion ceases to be something evil and starts to be something the invaded people are obliged to accept.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cut out future public subsidies (if there are any) to the private schools and trust fund and let them continue to discriminate. They've got $6.8b in the bank; they'll get by. Perhaps some of that was ill-gotten, but given time it'll look "fair and square" in retrospect.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Isaac Bartram said...

There don't appear to be any actual public subsidies. The schools are financed from earnings of the Bishop Trust which as noted above has $6.8b in assets. It's one of the biggest school endowments in the country.

The public connection stems from the fact that Bernice Pauahi Bishop's will stipulated that the trustees of the estate be appointed by the Hawai'i Supreme Court. Of course at that time the Hawai'i Supreme Court was part of her cousin's royal goverment. This arrangement is now in the process of being changed due to scandals connected with past trustees.

Her husband was apparently advocating annexation as early as the 1850s. I don't know how she felt about it.

Until the 1980s income came primarily from land rents (hardly anyone in Hawai'i owned the land their houses sat on) but a Supreme Court decision forced the Trust to sell most of its land. This resulted in a huge wad of cash which was then invested in a variety of enterprises. I think the scandals might have started when the trustees' fiduciary resposibility changed from managing a land trust to managing a investment trust.

It's also worth noting that it is the school's policy to give preference to native Hawai'ians, orphans and the poor. However they will admit haoles if there are open slots after all preferred applicants have been considered. I see nothing improper here. However there is some question whether Mrs Bishop intended the preference to go specifically to native Hawai'ians. Some feel that her concern extended to a wider group of the disadvantaged residents of the islands.

Keep in mind that the school is free to all who are admitted. If you're paying the expenses you pretty much have a right to set some conditions.

Which brings up an interesting question. If a privately endowed free school had a policy of admitting only the poor would they risk complaints that they were discriminating against the rich?

12:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

If a privately endowed free school had a policy of admitting only the poor would they risk complaints that they were discriminating against the rich?

I seem to recall something about a rich person complaining about how Pell Grants discriminate against the rich, but I don't remember if that was an actual news article or just some whiny person I went to college with.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Jim Henley said...

As to the crucial "How long? question, I note that the Battle of Quebec was in 1763. Francophone Quebecois: Still not over it. Anglophone Quebecois ended up saying, more or less, "Weellllllllll, I guess you've got a point."

5:27 PM  

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