Being haole in Hawai'i

Being haole in Hawai'i

Am I a haole? Am I even a Caucasian? I'm not sure, maybe you can help me out. I always get confused about these abstract categories.

We've all heard of the "Japan-bashing" that's been in the news lately, but there's another kind of blind stereotyping that's growing almost unrestrained — Caucasian-bashing.

"Good!" you might think. But since I'm classified as a Caucasian, I feel obligated to explore this issue and defend myself, the individual. So let's step back a bit and see what's going on here.

The fight to prevent racial prejudice is imperative. The need to understand and eliminate racism is a must, especially today. The recent focus on racism (which has never actually left us) shows our concern and frustrations and need for a change in the way minorities are manipulated, ignored and suppressed.

Supposedly, I belong to a group of people who, for a millennia, has repressed, persecuted, dominated and wholly conspired against nearly everyone who was not a part of my white race.

My haole brothers and I are arrogant, selfish, aggressive, insensitive, Godless, well-off, red-necked or skin-headed. We consider ourselves superior to everyone else on the planet — because we're white, right?

There are some problems here, though. It's true that I'm often a jerk and somewhat self-centered, but at the same time I've at least occasionally had some good thoughts and performed some helpful acts. Millions of other whites do much more — for a variety of races. What are we, a failure to our own race?

In Waianae, Kalihi and Waikiki I've been chased and beaten by groups of local who have been taught that I am the cause of their problems, taught to hate or fear my skin, hair and eye colors. I am the foreigner, the changer of things, the dominator. Even my friends, who are mostly local, say things like, "You're a pretty good guy for a, you know, haole."

You may be thinking, "It's about time you folks got a taste of your own medicine." And you will be racist in your thought. Racism is not an exclusively white endeavor.

Many locals consider mainlanders (mostly whites) to be aggressive and negative; many mainlanders consider locals to be passive and lazy. In actuality, it's relative to what each is used to.

What does "racial discrimination" mean? It means being able to separate differences in our recent racial background — discriminating racially. There isn't anything negative implied here. Discrimination itself is not the problem (although the word has taken on new meanings). How we use this ability is up to us, to embrace differences or to reject differences.

No two groups of people are exactly alike: no two people are exactly alike! Whether the distinction is male-female, black-white, local-non-local, European-Asian-African-Arab, we can be prejudiced.

We can create an us-against-them situation even with next-door neighbors. Little League teams, short people-tall people, etc. We can be prejudiced about anything — if we choose to be.

How accurately can one judge another person using only his race, his skin color, his hair color, the shade of his eyes, his heritage?

What about one's social status, education, religion, culture, subculture, gender, nationality, tribe, philosophy, language, interest, skills, talents or government? These are all ways that we've grouped each other in the past.

To judge people, to trust or distrust people — whole groups of people — by some abstract physical characteristics, is incredibly ridiculous. Besides, what is "race" anyway?

"Whites" also have different roots and backgrounds and subcultures which have been conquered, destroyed, changed and forgotten. The world is a changing place. No one can take away our heritage, but we all must change.

In recent newspaper articles and editorials, there have been references to our "haole-dominated" society and "puppet haole governments." These are racist remarks.

Why blame the whole white race, if such a group exists? And since over 70 percent of the population is considered Caucasian, odds are that in a democratic society such as ours, the ways of the majority will dominate.

Can we intelligently say that our problem is due to one race (and sex) dominating others, or could it be the political persuasion — not race — or the religious persuasion — not race — or the socio-economic status — not race? People are complex individuals.

I grew up in Louisiana. The word "haole" is used very much like "nigger" was used then. Just as whites call themselves haoles, blacks called themselves niggers. Both terms are generally derogatory and stereotyped, yet they are used casually. By using these terms, considering the baggage that is carried with them, parents, peers, politicians and teachers teach children racist attitudes.

As a unique person who has a unique background and unique ideas and opinions, I, too, often find myself as part of the minority in situations — yet, I am a so-called Caucasian. How many racial minorities fall into the majority of other categories? If we step back a little from our assumptions, maybe we'll stop bashing each other so much.

So, am I a "haole"? Are you a "local"? Are you a "black"? Are you an "Oriental"? We can classify ourselves however we choose to — but it still won't be us. We're so silly sometimes. I am who I am; you are who you are.

Joey Carter was pursuing a B.A. in philosophy in 1990.