W. S. Richardson School of Law Library

This exhibit features archival items from the William S. Richardson School of Law Library that document the influence of racial capitalism in shaping the political economy of the Hawaiian Kingdom, to the U.S. Territory of Hawaiʻi, and to the State of Hawaiʻi. 

Cedric Robinson has defined racial capitalism as the import of European forms of capitalism and systems of government to other parts of the world, such as in Africa.  The implementation of these systems in other contexts manifested as laws and institutions that would legitimize the taking of land, alienating native people from their lands through displacement and taxation.  Native populations, displaced from self-subsistence, were funneled to meet their needs through wage-labor, building the foundations of the European settlement, which would profit from the production of African resources. This system transformed native cultures as they were trained to operate within the colonial settlement. Therefore, the implementation of a capitalist economy required a racialized cultural hierarchy, inferiorizing the native culture and privileging the European culture, to ensure everyone played their role to maintain the imported political-economic order (2019).

This exhibit portrays how racial capitalism was introduced into the legal systems of various Hawaiian governments, shaping the way that people would relate to natural resources like water, as well as one another as labor or employer.  This affected the relations between working-class Native Hawaiians, Chinese and Japanese immigrants with their plantation employers, who sought to profit off their labor. 

Eventually, the plantations recruited more workers from Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and the Americas to intensify production.  These diverse workers experienced forms of racialization, in which their non-European cultural identities were judged as inferior and then they were taught to assimilate into the dominant culture to operate the capitalist economy.  Generations of this type of socialization fostered cultures to adapt, participate, and compete in the system of racial capitalism occupying the islands.

Individuals from Hawai'i's multicultural population also entered into the halls of government. There were instances in Hawaiian history where the law and legal processes became tools for the disenfranchised to advocate for their rights as workers and as native peoples. But to what degree could those demands liberate them from the ills of the imported political-economic order? 

There were Indigenous movements seeking to preserve their cultures and values, to differentiate their livelihoods from the logics of racial capitalism.  The question remains to what degree does this thinking extend and apply to the rest of Hawai'i, especially as our working-class communities continue to depend on imported economic functions of tourism and militarism for livelihood? Does Hawaiʻi's working class have the knowledge to dialogue with Indigenous Hawaiian movements to build public consciousness on how we can collectively work together to change the racialized, capitalistic structure we live in?

Cedric Robinson, Cedric J. Robinson: On Racial Capitalism, Black Internationalism, and Cultures of Resistance 28-36 (2019).