POSTED: 6 JANUARY 2008 - 7:00am HST

Examining The Question of Racism at KKCR

image above:
Ka'iulani Edens Huff with "distressed" Hawaiian flag. Photo by David Allio for LA Times

by Katy Rose on 6 January 2008

On December 18, 2007, Ka’iulani Edens Huff, the popular and outspoken host of the “Songs of Sovereignty” program on KKCR (Kaua’i Community Radio) was informed by email that her programming privileges had been “terminated” due to a complaint by another programmer with whom she had had a dispute the previous day.

The news spread fast. In fact, Ka’iulani herself learned of it from a third party who had heard a rumor about it. (This breach of confidentiality is but one unseemly aspect of this affair.) Supporters of Ka’iulani and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement immediately flooded the station with emails and phone calls insisting on a proper dispute resolution process instead of the silencing of an important voice from the air. Those who sent emails received a form letter reply from a staff person which stated in part:

“KKCR supports the perpetuation and celebration of Hawaiian culture.  However, there is a no-tolerance policy against violent / abusive behavior - whether directed against other volunteers, visitors, or station equipment. 

We have a code of behavior that's required of every DJ - regardless of their race, wealth, religion, political inclination, etc.  We're committed to providing a safe environment for every volunteer & visitor who comes to KKCR.  It's not about a person or personality - it's about self-discipline and respectful behavior - off the air and on the air.”

Ka’iulani’s actions during the dispute with the other programmer, who is a white man, began to be characterized as “violent,” “threatening” and “abusive.” (A witness in the studio at the time of the dispute described a verbal dispute which, though loud in volume and high in emotion, was not “violent.” ) While the white programmer has not been heard from, according to Ka’iulani the flare up of emotions was related to persistent signs of disrespect from him toward herself, her people and her culture.

Unfortunately, when people of color resist oppression in our society they are almost always labeled “violent” and “threatening, ” so the use of this rhetoric in Ka’iulani’s case has done nothing but increase suspicion about the motives for her termination.

Supporters of station management’s actions have denied that Ka’iulani’s termination was indicative of racism at KKCR, and have insisted that she is simply being held to the same standards as anyone else who volunteers at the station. However, if examined contextually, both positions prove untenable.

First of all, it is important to define “racism.” Racism is different from racial prejudice. “Prejudice” is an individual matter; racism is institutional in that it involves one racial group having the power to carry out systematic oppression through the institutions in our society. Individual attitudes and behaviors can reinforce systematic oppression, to be sure. But it is equally true that individuals who would never consider themselves “racist” or who would never say an impolite word to anyone can support systemic racism through tacit acceptance of race-based privileges.

It is silly to call the anger and resistance of people of color, or their distrust of white people, “racism” because these reactions do not have any material effect on the privileged position of white people in our society. Even in Hawai’i, where people of color are well-represented in government and civil service, the majority of social privilege and wealth is in the hands of people of European descent.
It’s also important to remember that, although this discussion is about racism specifically, there are complex intersections of various forms of oppression always in play: classism, sexism, heterosexism, colonialism, and ableism, to name a few.

One of the simplest ways to identify racism is not by peering into another individual’s heart but by observing the material results of structural decisions. For example, statistics demonstrate that people of color in the United States are less wealthy, less healthy and more likely to be imprisoned than white people. Unless one believes that this is the result of some kind of inherent “inferiority,” it is difficult to deny that in the United States there is an identifiable institutionalized racism. But even as racism plays itself out on the macro scale, we can identify micro scales in our own community institutions.

KKCR provides a good example of institutionalized racism. Because it is located on Kaua’i, it is immediately suspect that all of its board members and staff and the majority of its volunteers are white. This is vastly out of proportion with the demographics of the community as a whole. We are faced with a choice: are there no people of color involved because they are inherently inferior, or are they not involved as a result of structural decisions?

Here are just a couple of factors which may be partly responsible for the under-representation of people of color at KKCR:

The station is located on the north shore, in Princeville. This is a remote location for most of the island’s population, and is also the “whitest” area on Kaua’i.
The Board of Directors, which is all white, is self-electing, leading to the perpetuation of elections of board members who are known to existing members and similar in class, educational and racial background.

Luckily, there are simple, if not easy, solutions to the above conditions. The station can be moved to a major population center on the island, such as Kapaa or Lihue, and become instantly more accessible to a large segment of the community. This is a long-term goal advocated by many in the community. In the short-term, remote broadcasting facilities can be employed to grant greater access to the airwaves to people on all sides of the island. A listener-elected board, such as those which exist at community-controlled radio stations like KPFA in Berkeley, would increase the potential for a more diverse board of directors.

Institutionalized racism has a way of self-perpetuating. One of the challenges to making change is that many individuals involved in organizations with this problem become very defensive when confronted with it. They may fear that their jobs or positions are being challenged and threatened if they are part of the privileged group. They may feel that they are being personally accused of racism, and so their pride is hurt. One of the most common reactions is denial of the problem entirely. But actually, analyzing racism in its institutionalized form isn’t about assigning individual blame. It does hold a mirror up to each of us, and it can be frightening to take a look in that mirror. But more importantly, it allows us to focus on concrete solutions, which is liberating to everyone involved.

There are many wonderful resources available to people who are sincerely looking for a way to dismantle racism in society. Here are a few recommendations:

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh:

The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, Robert Jensen

Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, Paul Kivel
It is my hope that we can work together to build a community radio station which honors the vision of Uncle Butch Kekahu, preserves a medium for information and discussion of Hawaiian sovereignty, and reflects the racially and culturally diverse community in which we are so fortunate to live.

To get more involved in solving the problems facing our community radio station, please come to the next KKCR Community Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday, January 23 at 7:00pm, at the Kapaa Neighborhood Center..

see also:
Island Breath: KKCR Video 1/3/08
Island Breath: KKCR Controversy 1/3/08