Don’t Call Me Haole… Unless You Mean It

Kudos to USA Today writer Martin Kosindorf for covering the La`au Point issue and giving a national audience some insight onto what has been happening politically on Molokai. Kosindorf’s article is, in all, a balanced estimation of the opinions of most of Molokai’s people regarding any type of development on the island, and provides a breakdown of the basic issues which should be easy for an off-islander to understand.

Even so; the article has it’s detractors, but not over the portrayal of opinions; this controversy is over language. Specifically, there have been questions asked about the term ‘haole’ and whether it implies racism. Molokai’s Annie Van Eps was quoted in Kosindorf’s story as saying "When you bring in rich haoles, there are problems. They're rude, they honk, they just don't fit in."

Ms Van Eps, who is white, says that she never used the term ‘haole’ and that Kasindorf, in paraphrasing her reflection on the social fabric of the island, made her come off as prejudiced because the term haole carries a certain connotation: “people who don’t know us may judge us by the color of our skin and not the color of our heart”.

The USA Today article has had a fair bit of feedback posted on their website in the form of comments related to what it means to use the term haole. Some say the term is merely descriptive and simply means ‘outsider’ and is not meant to be an insult. Others contend that the term can mean anything from ‘soulless’, to “white man” and find the term offensive.

As most cultural authorities will tell you, a language’s original meaning is almost utterly inconsequential; it is the colloquial employment of language which gives words their true power. Words like ‘Eskimo’, ‘Colored’, or ‘Indian’ (in reference to Native Americans) may have innocent origins, but their use today- by anyone other than those individuals about whom the term was meant to describe- in western society is frowned upon and will lead to an outcry if uttered by politicians, movie stars, or anyone else in the public eye.

The term haole, of course, has a few advantages: first, it generally denotes white people and, like the Mexican and Japanese terms gringo and gaijin respectively, has therefore remained in the public’s acceptable lexicon longer than terms referring to the ethnicity of non-whites. Second, many people use the term without the slightest hint of malice, and equally numerous haoles freely self-apply the term and are therefore not offended by its proliferation.

The fact that there are people who are offended by it, however, would suggest that its days could be numbered; political correctness has homogenized the way people speak everywhere in the world, and for an ethnic term that is frequently hurled about as an insult to survive the wave of change is unlikely.

The problem, of course, is that it is used in a derogatory sense. Nobody bats an eyelash if somebody calls a white person haole if they have a smile on their face and aloha in their tone. Hawaiian language is sacred, and it would be a shame if Hawaiians had to stop using their full vocabulary. What is needed then, if haole is to survive, is a new word– one perhaps, that denotes a bull-headed, cocky, selfish outsider who does not malama this land of its wonderful inhabitants.

To view Kosindorf’s article, along with reader’s comments, go to


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