Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Thursday that she considers a Catholic saint who treated people with leprosy in Hawaii to be an example of “patriarchy and white supremacist culture” and “colonialism.”
AOC made her remarks in a series of posts on her Instagram account and was widely lambasted by Catholics.
The statue in question is of Father Damien, a figure long revered by people in Hawaii for his selflessness and dedication to the leper colony that existed at the time on Molokai island. He dedicated his whole existence to caring for the residents of the colony, eventually also getting the disease and dying from it.
Father Damien built structures, held daily Mass, dug graves, and did whatever he could for the island and its inhabitants until he was too weak from the disease to continue. He was officially canonized by the Church a little while ago in 2009.
In an Instagram video, AOC said “This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like! It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture & how it impacts the present day” while training the camera on the statue of Father Damien.
Hawaii has one other statue, which is indeed of a native Hawaiian, King Kamehameha, who unified the archipelago under his rule two centuries ago, in 1810, which could perhaps be construed as colonization as well. AOC has not commented on the subject of King Kamehameha as of this writing. Further research indicates that the Hawaiian traditional culture is also officially classified as patriarchal.
Both statues are currently house in the National Statuary Hall Collection, since Hawaii gave them to the Collection as gifts in 1969.
AOC is a controversial speaker who tends to pop up in the media for statements like this, or for using a fake accent when speaking to Southern blacks. It remains unclear whether she is pandering to what the considers her constituents, or if she really believes what she is saying.