The-Soapbox-Warrior-Princess-400x470In a recent Yahoo! Shine article, a young, white, California entrepreneur, Mindy Budgor, was deemed a “warrior princess” after ditching her posh, luxury-filled life to become the first female warrior of the African Maasai tribe. Armed with Underarmor, pearl earrings and Chanel dragon red nail polish — which made her feel “fierce”– this nice Jewish girl from Santa Barbara, who loved “manis and pedis and warm croissants,” was heralded for singlehandedly empowering the Massai women. She even wrote a memoir about her experience. As a 23-year-old black college student, similar to Ms. Budgor, I set out on my own “spiritual quest” that landed me on the Big Island of Hawaii — miles away from my New Jersey home. But my experience was far less empowering for everyone involved.

I first arrived to Hilo, Hawaii with a large, overstuffed backpack and a tent to help finish constructing a space that would eventually become a safe house for abused women and children. As I waited to be picked up at the airport, to my surprise, I did not see a single face of color, only tanned white, Hawaiian residents. I was confused. Where were the Hawaiians? I expected what I saw in all the movies — beautiful, red-skinned people adorned with colorful leis.

When my host greeted me, she too was a tanned, white woman. She said she had moved from New York City to the island to escape the discrimination she faced as a lesbian.

“Where are all of the native Hawaiians?” I finally asked.

“Well, there really aren’t that many of them,” she responded simply.

“Doesn’t it make you feel weird that there aren’t any Hawaiians in Hawaii?”

“That would be like feeling weird that there aren’t any native Indians on the mainland of the United States,” she replied.

I couldn’t argue with that point. I readily accepted the extermination of the Native American population by white settlers. What made this any different?

I didn’t expect the houses to look like they did either as we drove past huge, quiet, tree-sheltered homes. One that remains forever etched in my mind sat atop a small hill directly facing the ocean– It was a European-style castle. I could not understand the structure’s relevance to the green, tropical environment. And yet that image would come to represent modern-day Hawaii in my mind.

I spent my time there chopping away at overgrown bushes and trees to make way for a garden, usually while getting drenched by the daily downpour hat was a staple of life on the Hilo side of the island. The safe house was more than three-quarters finished thanks to the help of surrounding neighbors who nailed each piece of wood and laid every brick. To celebrate the project, we had a small get-together at a nearby community center. I thought for sure I’d see a native Hawaiian there. To open the festivities, everyone gathered in a huge drum circle and did an Hawaiian chant. There was still not a single Hawaiian face in the crowd.

“Do any Hawaiian people live in this area?” I asked a teenage girl whose parents moved from the mainland to escape the daily stress of city life. My host overheard the conversation and interrupted: “She has been really obsessed with the Hawaiians since she got here.”

“You should take her to the Place of Refuge,” the girl piped in. They both nodded their heads in agreement.

The next day, I was packed into a car along with two bags of kale chips, a couple ham sandwiches and surfboards in case we wanted to catch a wave on the way back home. I was finally going to learn the history of the Hawaii and maybe see a person of color.

The entrance to the historical site was a long hallway with two large murals painted on each side. Tourists from everywhere in colorful Hawaiian shirts, sandals and safari hats gathered to listen to an accompanying audio track that went along with the mural. The place wreaked of too much sunblock. I side shuffled past a groaning teenager complaining, “I wanna go to the beach already, it’s hot.”

When white settlers came to Hawaii,” a male voice boomed from a speaker,”the Hawaiian people were devastated by war.” The earth-toned murals depicted brown huddled masses, some weeping, others at war, many dead. “They believed this space was protected by spirits. This small isle became their place of refuge.”

I stepped out of the hallway onto a marvelous beach. A turtle lounged on a rock next to the clear ocean filled with the kinds of colorful fish I had only previously seen in expensive fish tanks. A few children splashed by as their parents watched attentively from the shore. The water beckoned me. The lazy turtle moved a couple steps then plopped down, once again, on a closer rock.

“Hey! Hey, you!” a deep commanding voice screamed from behind me. “Get away from the turtle!” A tall, brown man bellowed as he approached at full speed like an angry rhino caught in a stampede. I side-stepped, but slipped off of a rock and landed flat on my back. A round face hovered over me.

“Didn’t mean for you to fall, but you can’t stand so close to the turtles. They are endangered,” he said with an extended hand. I grabbed it and he quickly pulled me to my feet. He had a black ponytail and small brown eyes.

“Hey, this might sound really stupid, but are you native Hawaiian?” I asked. He looked surprised then finally laughed out loud.

“Well, pretty much, yeah,” he responded with a chuckle.

“I didn’t think they existed anymore,” I said.

“Yeah, that is what Haoles like to think and say, but we are here,” he said. “Many of us are just pushed to the poorer parts of the island where no one really goes.”

“What’s a Haole?” I asked.

“You might not want to say that too loud,” he advised. “It’s what we call white people. It means a man without a soul.”

He handed me a pamphlet about the endangered turtles of Hawaii, then shook my hand and left.

I decided to continue the rest of my adventure in Kona, the other side of the island. I hitchhiked, stopping to see every beach, every rock even. On the way, small, poor, remote neighborhoods filled with the brown faces of Pacific Islanders cropped up sporadically. It took about three days before I finally arrived. By this time, I was dirty and my curly afro had become untamed. As I walked through the posh neighborhoods with my wild hair and traveller’s backpack, I could feel the stares piercing my soul. Joggers gave me the sideye. Young women with long, flowing ponytails, pushing expensive baby strollers gave me weak smiles. I walked quickly toward a nearby grocery store to buy a sandwich.

As I entered the supermarket, a middle-aged, blonde woman looked me over with pitying eyes.

“I thought I should give this to you,” she said extending her diamond-covered hand with a 20-spot clasped between her fingers. “Just in case you need money to get home.”

It was obvious that my presence was not wanted there. I didn’t take the money, but I took her advice and booked a ticket back home.

When I returned home my friends laughed along with me. They even felt sorry for me at times. But they never seemed to get angry about it.

“How the hell did I go to Hawaii and only meet one Hawaiian?” I’d ask. “And why are they so poor?”

“That’s just history,” they would say, shrugging.

That’s the power of white privilege; the carefree ability to narrate reality as you see fit, to establish the difference between an issue of the past and a problem in the present. You see, for people of color, racism and gentrification are not a relic of the past, but an untold reality of the present. It plagues the biggest cities, the most desirable environments and even the smallest islands. Yet, the narrative is inaccurate, incomplete and free of accountability in the here and now. So much for the people displaced by gentrification in Jersey City, Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles, Harlem or on the islands of Jamaica, the Bahamas and Hawaii. It’s not a problem unless you acknowledge it. White privilege allows you to build castles on the lands of “others,” while pretending they no longer exist.

So when the news tells me that a privileged white girl traveled thousands of miles to empower the colored women in Africa, I know better than to accept that narrative as truth.

 

The Frisky

This post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

  • http://dailylifeandliving.blogspot.com Amor

    As a Tanzanian I had very mixed feelings about the “Warrior Princess” story myself. I felt like she disrespected their culture in an attempt to prove herself because I can’t understand how her feat has empowered the Maasai women.

  • Septembre

    This article was definitely interesting though the title and introductory paragraph about the white “Maasai” woman were very misleading. I was hoping and expected a dissection of the concept of a white, Western woman moving to Africa and “saving” the Maasai women and becoming the “first” female Maasai warrior and got something very different.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    This article was very touchy to me. I oved the visual and the over all message. I have never been to Hawaii myself but I wouldn’t have thought that white people took over like that.

  • jazo

    I really like your point of view. This is a story that takes place all over the world. The older I get, the more sick and tired I get of the whole thing. I come from a country where blacks are the majority and I think it has framed my outlook on white society. They are not as special as they want us all to believe and when they swoop down on another culture before long they destroy it in the name of progress. Hats off to them for being conquerers and fearless explorers but their existence can be summed up like this; they consume resources and destroy cultures. That is their legacy on this earth, like it or not.

  • http://gravatar.com/bossladi bossladi

    Loved this article! She said it best: “White privilege allows you to build castles on the lands of “others,” while pretending they no longer exist.”

  • Chika

    “What’s a Haole?” I asked.

    “You might not want to say that too loud,” he advised. “It’s what we call white people. It means a man without a soul.”

    Well damn!

  • Guest1234

    Nice posting. I think I’ll start using the word “Haole.” It’s pretty useful. Damn shame, those idiots living in Hawaii having convinced themselves that all the native Hawaiians are dead. Those pitiful Haoles – they’re just so ugly, aren’t they?

  • B.

    As a Tanzanian myself I feel like this woman is an arrogant annoyance. She is suffering from the same disease the first colonialist had — thinking we needed to be changed and saved from ourselves and nobody better than herself to take on the challenge. smh. Anaudhi! By the way, if a young Maasai girl had this dream and took it upon herself to make a change I’d have no problem with it. In fact I would root for her.

  • Shirl

    It’s what they do…it’s all they do. They figure that whomever is there before them don’t count.

  • joe

    Anyone familiar with the changes happening in Harlem will have a very uncomfortable feeling reading this story. The number of whites living here has skyrocketed while more and more black residents are being displaced. This young woman’s experience simply confirms the global power of white supremacy. There is no question that Harlem will eventually become a predominantly white community. Many of us have been so brainwashed that we will view this as something positive.

  • Sandy248

    I live on O’ahu and the people who live out at the marinas in Hale Kai sent their sludge to be dumped in Wainae but they claim it wasn’t toxic. If it’s not toxic, why send it to the west side of the island and dump it where working people live?

  • Belle

    Preach Shirl

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    do lions eat under armour?

  • angel

    Very well put

  • DownSouth Transplant

    @B, Nope haudhi, anankera roho, i’ll be damned is all i thought of our newest white saviour, I wonder if she brought the women some pearl earrings for empowerment, NOT!

  • Ads

    It’s called white savior syndrome – see avatar, dances with wolves, dangerous minds, etc….

  • Ads

    Yes there are lots of whites who literally invaded hawaii. However,whites are by no means a majority – they are less than a quarter of the population, asians make up more than a third as do native hawaiians + multi-racial hawaiians. That was a seriously sheltered experience to not see natives or other APIs. I go a couple of times a year, and between hawaiians, mixed race hawaiians, samoans, filipinos, vietnamese, koreans, whites are a minority pretty much everywhere (except
    Maybe at the resorts- though japanese and chinese tourists are in full force too.)

  • http://dailylifeandliving.blogspot.com Amor

    Yeah she is messing up a natural cultural system that might lead to more cultural confusion and dysfunction for those she left behind. Is she just self gratifying herself? I have lived around Maasai and my grandmother is part Maasai and I can’t see the logic of what she did. She is also somewhat dissing the Maasai men by subtly suggesting by her actions that ALL of them are oppressive which is not a universal truth.

  • Lisss

    “a man without a soul.” Sounds about right for most of them.

    Sometimes, i wonder if white people truly realize how much they are despised around the world.

  • Lisa

    Oh My God! that comment was soo ignorant

  • eve-audrey

    i am glad you wrote this article. i already knew that various colored people around the world have faced that shit. what annoys me the most is that it still goes on in the 21st century.

    it reminds me of that speech former french president nicolas sarkozy made in Dakar (senegal). he stated in front of senegalese students that the black man did not enter in history. in other words africa has no history of her own as… africans haven’t been smart enough to built something on their continent.
    i mean with all the african kingdoms and empires that have existed and shined, nubia, egypt, ghana, zimbabwe, Kongo, Ashanti just to name a few he had the nerve to say in african people faces that they did not have any history before the white man came. and the icing on the cake is that he did not even bother correcting himself when many african intellectuals (and some white ones!) let him know it wasn’t true.

    the self entitlement, the ignorance and the passive-agressivity were amazing. he wanted to rehabilitate the pride of french people and to erase any guilt linked to colonization and the only way he had to do it was by walking on africans history. again. i was disgusted that i voted for him.

    no matter how hard this white girl tries she will never be a massai i do not even know if she had taken time to understand their history.
    sorry for the long post and nice article.

  • eve-audrey

    and the official version is that whites are running away from blacks and blacks are following them ruining any nice neighborhood they build. damn it! why don’t all of you resist and stay?

  • Miss E

    Since she’s Jewish & she’s so good at conferring titles on herself; she should have 1st appointed herself as a rabbi to ‘empower’ Jewish women since women CANNOT be ordained as rabbis in orthodox Jewish culture. White people always see ‘problems’ in every culture but their own.

  • Bk Chick

    Preach!!

  • SayWhat

    Um, shouldn’t we be upset at the black male leaders who elected her to be a warrior?! I mean seriously, I blame them, not her. They are the ones who decided to slap every black woman in the face by electing a white woman to do what they would never allow a black woman to do. The only thing this woman did was show up, they chose to roll out the red carpet for her.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    may the lion eat them fools as well……

  • Miss E

    Something tells me that she was being mocked by the Masai leaders and that they don’t seriously consider her as part of their ethnic group or even as a warrior like she claims. She’s deceiving herself. When I lived in Ghana, sometimes, white tourists would go to my village & tell the villagers that they wanted to ‘live the authentic African experience’ in the village. The villagers would take in the tourists, use them to do their daily chores (eg: carry water from the stream) & then fleece them for cash. While the villagers laughed at how naive & gullible the tourists were, the tourists were fully convinced that they had been accepted into ‘the tribe’. This woman just became the butt of a Masai joke & she doesn’t even know. Poor her :D

  • Ads

    I was thinking the same thing

  • Treece

    same thing in DC…It kills me that the Chocolate City is now becoming white chocolate (which I think is gross). They’re even renaming some areas. It sickens me.

  • SayWhat

    With a movie deal and now legitimate claim to their resources, something tells me she’ll have the last laugh.

  • diasporauk

    @Miss E

    Well said.

    @saywhat

    Just because white peoples’ movie deals are important to YOU, doesn’t mean they are to the Masai people.

    They have something far more precious than white people’s movie deals.

    That you clearly don’t get that is why you’ll probably never even get as much a movie deal, much less what the Masai have.

    Elective negros – always stay negro and nothing more.

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Knotty Natural

    There is obvious opulence and poverty in O’ahu! I was extremely surprised! Hawaii’s beautiful though!

  • Dall

    I’ll put it this way: If you went to Hawaii and only saw one native, you weren’t trying very hard,

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    It depends on the island.

  • http://dailylifeandliving.blogspot.com Amor

    Thanks for bringing this up. Why are they quick to destroy male leaders in African diaspora systems?

    People are comfortable with male rabbis but not male Maasai warriors lol.

    I am waiting for a day there will be the headline, “Black woman is the first rabbi”. That won’t ever happen will it?

  • Yesha Callahan

    Alysa Stanton was the first African-American woman rabbi, she was ordained in 2009.

    -Yesha

  • http://dailylifeandliving.blogspot.com Amor

    Thanks and I had no idea.

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