“The Black Queen”: Antiblackness and State-Sovereignty in the Colonization of Hawai‘i

Heidi C Nicholls, Johns Hopkins University

Native Hawaiians scholars have documented how colonists worked to racialize Hawaiians as Black or as White depending on their views on U.S. annexation and incorporation of Hawai‘I (Silva 2004, Arvin 2019). In particular, some settler colonists claimed that the reigning Monarch, Queen Lili‘uokani was of African descent in order to delegitimize her authority and Hawai‘i state sovereignty more broadly. Currently, no sociological or historical research has been done to understand Black views on the “negrofication” of Hawaiians during contentious periods of colonial politics. In this paper, I analyze archives from the Black press during and after the 1893 haole-led overthrown of the Hawaiian Monarchy to investigate how Black Americans understood and response to settler colonial attempts to discredit Hawaiian sovereignty through antiblack discourses. For example, the Washington Bee was a Black newspaper which ran from 1882 to 1922. Starting in 1890, the Washington Bee began publishing letters between Robert Wilcox, a Kanaka activist and revolutionary, and Celso Caesar Moreno, the Minister of Foreign Affairs under Hawaiian King David Kalakaua. I found that major Black newspapers demonstrated solidarity with Kanaka Maoli resistance to U.S. settler colonialism. In the process they articulated their own radical theories of Blackness. By claiming Queen Lili‘uokalani as Black, these newspapers drew parallels between the dispossession, enslavement, and subjugation of Black Americans and the current situation in Hawai‘i. These moments did not place Hawaiians as stateless beings, subject to the inevitable march of settler colonial expansion and rule. Rather, in these examples of “racialization from below” (Nagel 1995), Black writers depicted Hawaiians as Black insofar as they were fighting for sovereignty and autonomy. This paper contributes to understandings of racialization in settler colonial contexts, Black and Indigenous solidarities, and theories of race and the state.

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 Presented in Session 188. Here, There, Everywhere: Blackness Across the Globe