Monday, November 15, 2010

Haole in Hawaii

Before I moved to Hawaii, I had a professor tell me how lucky I was to be moving to a place with so much racial and ethnic diversity.  He told me all about how President Obama's book, Dreams From My Father, painted a pleasant image of racial relations in Hawaii.  The book is not the only place Obama praised race relations in Hawaii.  He was also lauded for his speech, A More Perfect Union, which among other things, mentioned the way Hawaii's diverse population and racial harmony could serve as an example to guide the rest of America.  However, I saw an article today that exposes the notion of Hawaiian racial harmony as not exactly least not if you're white.  Have I seen crotchety old asian women give me dirty looks on my commute to work?  Sure.  But when this happens I don't automatically assume they are racist.  I'm not Jesse Jackson.

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 wheels start spinning but I go NOWHERE.  The following conversation took place in the car:

Me: uh oh, I think we're stuck
Passenger:  What?
Me: Stuck in the sand
Passenger: Just give it more gas.  
Me: Ok

Nothing Happens.  

Passenger: Try going in reverse  
Me: Ok...

Yep, goin' nowhere

Passenger: Haha, lol!
Me:  That's not helpful...

Notice the position of the cars...these are where the locals park
Now, I don't have pictures of this cluster f*ck, so I will try to be as descriptive as possible (you can sort of see the layout from this picture).  The road I was trying to turn on runs parallel to the beach (right behind the cars on the left side of the picture here).  The field is directly behind that. To exit the park, you're driving toward the beach and turn right onto the road.  All the local boys are parked perpendicular to the road/beach/field.  As I'm looking out the front windshield, I can see the beach and the entire row of about 15 cars/trucks filled with 4-5 local boys each who have now taken notice of my nightmare what is going on.  I am still spinning the wheels in a futile effort to go somewhere.  They ALL start yelling different instructions at me in an effort to help.  Of course, all the instructions contradict each other.  Some are telling me to give it more gas.  Some say turn the wheel.  Some say go in reverse.  Some just point in six different directions.  After a few minutes, I exit the vehicle to see what my options might be. HA!  The wheels were BURIED in the sand.  Yep, not going anywhere.
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 what seemed like an hour a minute or so, one guy goes over to his truck and pulls out some type of strap.  Now 3 or 4 guys are laying on the ground looking under the bumper screaming at each other, "hook it there!;" "no, it'll pull the bumper, brah, you gotta hook it there;" "nah brah, wrap it around here!"  

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.

1 comment:

  1. The word "Haole" is more of a state of mind than a color! Why? Because most white people in Hawaii live here because they have lots of money and do not care for the lands nor the kanakas. They from the mainland and just bought an extra house here to piss off their mainland neighbors! "Hey John, I bought a house in hawaii"! They just here for the sun and beaches! Big houses, big front gates and American flags next to the gates. That's Haole! That's why Hawaiians tend to not get along very well with them. No respect! White people (tourists) tend to be arrogant with anyone including natives! It's sad, but they don't help their case!LOL
    A little fact:
    Kamehameha’s friend and confidant, John Young who was also known as John Olohana. was a white man! As Caucasians assumed Hawaiian names, pure Hawaiians were known to change their Hawaiian names to Caucasian. The pure Hawaiian Phillips family, for instance, from Kohala on the Big Island can trace ancestry to Pilipo Moke who became Moke Pilipo who became Moses Phillips.
    I know a lot of "white people" who grew up here with the aloha..they give love and respect to the lands, the ocean and the people! and they never experienced anything wrong growing up here. Hawaii isn't racist...It's the people who moves here who are extremely racist and on their defense in regards to native Hawaiians.