Did “Asians Scare Sarah Palin Away” from Hawaii?
I never thought that we’d ever have a reason to write about Sarah Palin on this blog, but here it is. With the release of her book “Going Rogue,” come opportunities for her to put a few things out for the record– and for people to correct her.
In the New Yorker review of the book, Sam Tanenhaus writes that Palin’s own father suggested that Sarah left Hawaii because there were too many Asians. Not surprisingly, this contradicts Palin’s own description of her reasons for leaving college in Hawaii after only one semester.
Palin, though notoriously ill-traveled outside the United States, did journey far to the first of the four colleges she attended, in Hawaii. She and a friend who went with her lasted only one semester. “Hawaii was a little too perfect,” Palin writes. “Perpetual sunshine isn’t necessarily conducive to serious academics for eighteen-year-old Alaska girls.” Perhaps not. But Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, gave a different to account [Scott] Conroy and [Shushannah] Walshe [authors of another bio, “Sarah From Alaska”]. According to him, the presence of so many Asians and Pacific Islanders made her uncomfortable: “They were a minority type thing and it wasn’t glamorous, so she came home.” In any case, Palin reports that she much preferred her last stop, the University of Idaho, “because it was much like Alaska yet still ‘Outside.’ “
Two things to note about the passage above:
1) The italics above are from Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic, who was the first to point this out and ask “Why–and readers should weigh in–has this gotten absolutely no media attention?”
2) Most articles about this have been quoting the passage above without the final sentence, the one that reads: “In any case, Palin reports that she much preferred her last stop, the University of Idaho, “because it was much like Alaska yet still ‘Outside.’ ”
It’s that final sentence that I think tells the real story. It’s easy to write a headline like, “Sarah Palin is Racist Against Asians,” but the more accurate headline might actually be, “Sarah Palin Did Not Like Being a Minority.”
I’m no Sarah Palin fan– but I’m coming to the defense of Sarah Palin on this one. I don’t think that Sarah Palin left Hawaii because she was “afraid of Asians” or “racist against Asians.” I think that she didn’t like being in a place where “people like her” aren’t the norm. Railing against Sarah Palin about that— her unwillingness to live in a place where she could learn from people different than her– is a much better discussion than simply pulling the race card. I think the fact of the matter is, an 18-year-old Sarah Palin wouldn’t have wanted to live any place with a lot of people that were different from her– period. Just a guess, and I may not be giving Palin enough credit here, but she probably would have quit school if she’d gone to a school in a predominantly African-American area, too. Does that make her racist? Not necessarily.
When I visited Alaska for a couple of weeks last year for a governmental project I was working on (no, I did not work with the State of Alaska or have any dealings with the Governor herself), I took the opportunity to learn about the population of the state. A lot of people don’t realize this, but as a percentage of the state’s population, there are more people of Asian descent than in many other parts of the U.S. In fact, an Asian American (Scott Kawasaki), is a member of the Alaska House of Representatives. Outside of states with large Asian/Asian American populations, most states don’t have any Asian American representation. Although the vast majority of people in Alaska are indeed white, it’s not as if Hawaii was the first place she’d ever encountered an Asian American!
We all know that as most kids are growing up, they just like to “fit in” to their surroundings. Maybe Sarah Palin hadn’t outgrown that by the time she went off to college? Maybe she never did?
But that doesn’t necessarily make her “scared of Asians.”
Original photo by geerlingguy, used & modified under Creative Commons License