If you've been watching Hawaii Five-0, then you've undoubtedly heard the word "Haole" (pronounced: HOW - LEE). It means "white person." Many Hawaiian locals in the show use it to refer to Steve McGarrett or his partner Danno in a derogatory or demeaning way. It is not necessarily an insult, though. It can also be used matter-of-factly. For example, many people refer to Colt Brennan - the (white) University of Hawaii quarterback who led the Warriors to an undefeated season in 2007 - as "everyone's favorite haole."
More often than not, though, it's derogatory. This became all too apparent to me this weekend when I learned a new phrase - "HTW." It is uttered by non-white people (even white-wash Asians who grew up on the mainland but like to pretend they're locals) and means "Haole, That's Why." You can hear it said if a white person does something inconsistent with Hawaiian culture. For example, "Why doesn't she eat Spam?" HTW. "Why doesn't he wear an Aloha (Hawaiian) shirt?" HTW. "Why is he tall?" HTW.
Now, I always shrug off suggestions of underlying racism, both when asserted by my minority friends back home and when people here claim haoles are treated differently. If someone gives me a dirty look because I'm white...well...I have made enough racist jokes that I probably deserve it. Such is life. This article suggested, however, that haole-based racism may actually be a legitimate problem in Hawaii (insert minority roommate's comment: "wait, you're telling me racism in America is a problem? I'm shocked!"). The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (federal court with appellate jurisdiction over Hawaii, Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Washington) last week rejected a challenge to the Kamehameha Schools admissions practice that gives preferential treatment to native Hawaiians. The lawsuit apparently includes a heated debate over whether four non-Hawaiian students would be subject to racial attacks if their identities were revealed.
Judges Alex Kozinski and Stephen Reinhardt wrote strongly worded dissents, referring to "Kill Haole Day" at Hawaii's schools and arguing that the four non-Hawaiian students would be endangered in a "racially charged environment." What? Kill Haole Day? Surely this is just some silly myth. Well, it turns out that the last day of school before summer is annually known as Kill Haole Day. This is not to be confused with Kick a Ginger Day (which, as we all know, is just plain old good fun!). Local school kids in Hawaii will harass and sometimes beat up on mainland young white kids. Tourists don't exactly get exposed to this part of the culture when they visit, but local people know all about it. It isn't discussed openly or written about in newspapers, but it has been part of island practice among some of the young people for decades, apparently.
From my perspective, I have never experienced haole-based racism...and I have some pretty embarrassing proof that such claims may be overblown. As I mentioned earlier, I went to Sandy's Beach this weekend. When it comes to parking, you have two choices: the paved parking lot or the grass/sand in front of the beach. There is basically a big field in front of the beach that is preceded by a strip of sand maybe 5-6 feet wide. Well, I pull up over the sand, park the car, and go to the beach. No problem. We come back from the beach, get in the car and prepare to leave. I drive over the grass and am ready to pull out on the narrow, one-lane road in front of the beach, but there is a lot of traffic. So everyone has to go slowly and take their time. I, unfortunately, happened to stop right on the strip of sand. I didn't think anything of it. Finally, no cars were coming, so I gradually ease out...oh wait...no...the wheels start spinning but I go NOWHERE. The following conversation took place in the car:
Me: uh oh, I think we're stuck
Me: Stuck in the sand
Passenger: Just give it more gas.
Passenger: Try going in reverse
Yep, goin' nowhere
Passenger: Haha, lol!
Me: That's not helpful...
|Notice the position of the cars...these are where the locals park|
|Example of a Local Boy|
Well, wouldn't ya know it...after another minute of watching this haole idiot screw around with his car, a SWARM of these guys walks up to us. They assess the situation and say, "ah brah, you're buried." Ya think!? A group of them have now boxed me out of the situation completely and discuss among themselves how to get the car out. Within
I'm just standing silently on the side thinking: sure guys, let me know if I can help. After a few minutes, my truck is hooked up to a bigger truck. Now EVERYONE is watching in amusement - including the dozen-or-so line of cars that cannot pass on the road because the bigger truck is blocking it as we are hood to hood. He pulls me out pretty quickly and with my bumper still intact, I am on my merry way with NO intention of showing my face at Sandy's Beach Park ever again. So while they all got a good laugh/story at the haole's expense, I certainly don't think I'd classify them as anything but friendly/helpful guys.
So I suppose I'd have to say that my assessment of Hawaii is a little different than Judge Kozinski's.