“Mr. Leighton, Mr. Leighton! So-and-So said a bad word.”
This is how my day has stared for the past two weeks. Like many sociology graduate students, my department does not offer summer funding so I’m forced to find it on my own. This summer, I am a Summer PALS (Play and Learn Sessions) Director in Maui.
The work is hard, the hours are long, and the children are challenging, but through this experience I am able to hear the stories of those being socialized and better understand the process of race socialization in Maui.
“My mom is not from Hawaii,” a 6 year old told me while waiting in line to use the bathroom.
“Why?” I asked, “How do you know?”
“People from Hawaii are brown. My mom is white.”
“What about Boy 1? He’s lighter than you and he’s one-quarter Hawaiian?”
“Oh…. [thinking for 5 seconds] He’s a special Hawaiian. One that’s not brown.”
“So are all Hawaiians brown?”
“No, just some.”
This social exchange made me think of Margaret Hunter’s article “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality,” where she discusses the historical nature—and resultant inequality—of dark skinned people.
Most magnificently, there was no animosity the 6 year old’s understanding of race. (In Hawaii, a disproportionate amount of Hawaiians are incarcerated or on welfare.) He spoke from a place of Illuminated Individualism—an ideology acknowledges racial differences without glossing over race in a colorblind fashion.
If we are to curb racism, we must reach students before they enter our Intro classes. We must challenge racism before it sets.
The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality, Margaret Hunter, 2007, Sociology Compass.
“Colorblindness,” “Illuminated Individualism,” Poor Whites, and Mad Men: The Tim Wise Interview, Part 2, 2010, Andrea Plaid, http://www.racialicious.com.
Photo Credit: Maui County Summer PALS