This Article revisits the infamous Massie-Fortescue rape and murder cases that occurred in Hawai'i during the 1930s, in order to challenge the methods by which race scholars have previously analyzed the case by relying on gender hierarchies. Thalia Massie, a white woman, accused five "Hawaiians" of gang raping her, even though they were of various Asian Pacific ethnic identities. The rape case ended in a hung jury, and so her relatives resorted to vigilante murder of one of the defendants. The subsequent murder trial resulted in convictions, but the 10- year prison sentences for the white defendants were commuted to one-hour by the governor. The case was central in coalescing ethnic solidarity and racial coalitions on Hawai'i. Though the misidentifying of all five defendants as racially monolithic originated with the white oligarchy, the cases solidified what it meant to be "local" in spite of ethnic divides between the various Asian and native groups.
Asian Pacific American Studies scholars have focused on the racial injustices perpetuated on the five who were accused, largely by attacking the credibility of the victim, Thalia Massie. Yet in so doing, they end up resorting to the same questionable strategies used by accused rapists to defend their actions, such as raising the sexual history of the victim and otherwise attacking her character. This Article is the first to suggest that race scholars should consider the ways in which the five accused had much more in common with Thalia Massie, as all six became pawns in a system that ultimately served the white male power structure. What happened in the cases resonates with what also happened with Emmett Till, Vincent Chin, and Chanel Miller, and demonstrates the ways in which oppression cuts equally across race and gender. In the same way that the Massie-Fortescue affair inspired coalition building between previously fractured ethnic groups on the island, now, at a moment when xenophobic essentialism and marginalization has again retaken center stage in American political discourse, is not the time for disenfranchised groups to focus on what divides us, but rather look to what unites us to each other.
42 U. Haw. L. Rev. 4 (2020).
Chang, Stewart, "Bridging Divides in Divisive Times: Revisiting the Massie-Fortescue Affair" (2020). Scholarly Works. 1322.