Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mari Matsuda

“Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy” by Mari Matsuda. Excerpted from Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory Out of Coalition by Mari J. Matsuda. Stanford Law Review. Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul. 1991), p 1183-1192.

Haunani-Kay Trask recounts the dispossession of Native Hawaiian people – their landlessness, poverty, unemployment, imprisonment, rates of disease, and illiteracy. Trask speaks of the haole (Causcasian) colonizers who removed the Hawaiian government by force, leaving wounds in the native population that have never healed. Expressing outrage at the haole-backed takeover of Hawai’i has earned Trask the reputation of “haole-hater.” She speaks out in the press. She writes. She debates. Trask is constantly engaged in dialogue with the haole. She works with whites in coalition on a variety of issues, from nuclear testing in the Pacific, to South African divestment, to degradation of the environment through geothermal development.

I have heard people say of Professor Trask, “She would be much more effective if she weren’t so angry,” as though they expect a Native Hawaiian feminist to work in coalition without anger. There is a politics of anger: who is allowed to get angry, whose anger goes unseen, and who seems angry when they are not.

Once, when I intended to compliment an African-American woman on a powerful speech she had made, I said: “I admire your ability to express anger.” She looked at me coolly and replied, “I was not angry. If I were angry I would not be speaking here.” Another African-American friend of mine jumped into the conversation. “I’m disappointed in you,” she said. “This is what always happens to us when a Black woman speaks her mind. Someone calls us angry.”

I remember this exchange because it was an uncomfortable one for me, and because it was a moment of learning. Talking across differences, my colleague told me that if she were hatefully angry, beyond hope of coalition, she would not talk. In this light, Professor Trask’s strong words are acts of engagement, not estrangement.

Would Professor Trask be more effective if she were less angry? There is a cost to speaking without anger of the deaths and dislocation that native Hawaiians suffered in post-contact Hawai’i. On the simple, communicative level, failure to express the pain created by this legacy obscures the depth of one’s feeling and discounts the subordination experienced by one’s community. More significantly, the use of polite, rational tones when one is feeling violation is a betrayal of the self.

Professor Trask’s many white and Asian colleagues who choose to remain in the room when she speaks in tones of outrage about the destruction of Hawaiian lives, land and culture inevitably find their understanding greatly enriched. The discomfort brings with it an opportunity for learning. As a third-generation Japanese-American, I have felt the discomfort and benefitted from the learning when Professor Trask criticizes the role of immigrants in displacing (sometimes with acrimony) the role of colonialism in bringing my peasant ancestors eastward from Asia to work on land that once belonged to indigenous peoples of Hawai’i and North America.

I could shelter myself from conflict by leaving the conversation, but I have come to believe that the comfort we feel when we avoid hard conversations is a dangerous comfort, one that seduces us into ignorance about the experiences of others and about the full meaning of our own lives.

Biography taken from Asian American Justice Center

Mari Matsuda is a writer and law professor.  Her books include Where is Your Body and Other Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law, Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech and the First Amendment, and We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case For Affirmative Action.

Professor Matsuda grew up in Los Angeles and Hawaii, and her writings reflect her experience in multicultural settings. Her many law review articles are among the most widely read and cited in the legal academy, and she is known both for the originality of her analysis and her unique narrative voice. She is an activist, as well as a scholar, a volunteer attorney in civil rights cases and a board member in public interest and social change organizations. Her parents, who took her to demonstrations before she could walk, initiated her into the civil rights movement, and she is a lifetime participant in non-violent protest in support of labor rights, peace and equality.

She has worked as a hotel maid, legal messenger, law clerk to a judge of the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, labor lawyer, and as a professor at the University of Hawaii, at UCLA, and now at Georgetown Law Center.

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