In the past week or so, there’s been a resurgence of “boogaloos” on our radars. The Boogaloo bois movement is a group of mostly white, heavily armed men who claim they have a “libertarian” bent, and have shown up to protests against police violence in recent weeks armed to the teeth and looking to start a race war. Over the last month, at least seven men associated with the boogaloo movement have been arrested for possession of weapons and plotting violent attacks. Three were arrested in Las Vegas after plotting to terrorize protesters and attack other targets, including a power substation. One man was just charged in the shooting of a federal officer in Oakland during a George Floyd protest. But one thing you might have noticed about these men: many of them show up to protests wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Why the aloha shirt as a uniform? Apparently the reason stems from an inside joke about the obscure 1984 film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. That joke is racist, a reference to the “big luau,” an adaptation of the word “boogaloo,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The boogaloo meme itself emerged concurrently in anti-government and white power online spaces in the early 2010s,” the SPLC says. “In both of these communities, ‘boogaloo’ was frequently associated with racist violence and, in many cases, was an explicit call for race war. Today the term is regularly deployed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis who want to see society descend into chaos so that they can come to power and build a new fascist state.”
But the origins of even the Hawaiian aloha shirt are conflicting. “Contrary to popular narrative, the aloha shirt does not find its origins in Indigenous craftsmanship and is deeply tied to violent multiculturalism and militarization in the Hawaiian Islands,” writes Gregory Pōmaikaʻi Gushiken at Color Bloq. “Initially, the aloha shirts were created to quell the racist anxieties of American citizens who feared that Hawaiʻi would incorporate a largely non-white population into the American empire… In other words, the American’s capacity to literally wear paradise reified a narrative that Hawaiʻi was theirs for the taking.”
Native Hawaiians eventually reclaimed the style, with Native Hawaiian designers like Manaola Yap and socially and politically conscious brands like Hawaiian Force designing aloha shirts that bring in imagery important to Indigenous communities.
The fact that Boogaloos are attempting to start a race war after naming themselves after a racist meme while wearing shirts that are rooted in the violent colonialism and attempted white-washing of Hawaiʻi is racism piled upon racism piled upon racism. The shirts may be associated with laid-back, quirky people in much of the U.S., but there is nothing cute about the Boogaloo bois.
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