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Book Review


Judy Rohrer, Haoles in Hawai‘i: Race and Ethnicity in Hawai‘i. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010. Pp. 136. $14.99 (paper).


     For Native Hawaiians, haole—"without breath"—intentionally recalls the West's representation of the Hawaiian as different and deviant, a practice beginning with Captain Cook's so-called discovery in 1778. Judy Rohrer's Haoles in Hawai‘i is only the second book to focus on the sociohistorical formation of racialized whiteness in Hawai‘i. Importantly, the author's work concisely covers the use of the term haole through "historical, relational, performative, discursive, and material lenses," in order to demonstrate the concept's complexity (101). Constituting approximately 40 percent of the population, resident Euro-Americans problematically point to the use of the term haole as an example of reverse racism, in which they are victimized by people of color who supposedly gain access to government resources through their status as minorities. The book consists of an introduction, along with four chapters and a short glossary that includes key terms, such as 'āina (land), haole (white person; also foreigner), and hapa (mixed blood) that the author addresses in the body of her work.

     Importantly, Haoles in Hawai‘i continues the conversation begun by The Mainland Haole: The White Experience in Hawai‘i (1986), by highlighting how Native Hawaiians use the term haole with both Euro-American tourists and residents in daily practice. For her book, The Mainland Haole, cultural anthropologist Elvi Whittaker interviewed over one hundred Euro-American informants who had recently moved to Hawai‘i during the time of her study. These "mainland haole" described culture shock after they were labeled as "dirty haole" and "dirty, sub-human, or different," which made them feel as if they did not truly belong in Hawai‘i (149). Whittaker's white informants also reported feeling uncomfortable in places such as the store and the library, in addition to experiencing difficulty when locating housing. The explicit marking of whiteness in everyday practice aggravated haole, who, as Whittaker tells it, migrated from the mainland with naïve visions of open-mindedness and liberty. On an anecdotal level, Elvi Whittaker notes that she had been personally taken aback by the prominent use of the term haole, even though the author had previously resided in multiracial, multicultural California (143).

     Similarly, Judy Rohrer introduces her first-hand experiences with the word haole as jarring, in this case as she stood in line in a school cafeteria. Haoles in Hawai‘i moves quite effectively from the personal to the sociohistorical, by stating that haole "should be turned to questions of racial formation, especially racialization (the processes through which people are raced) as an essential aspect of colonization" (77). On the other hand, The Mainland Haole relies upon psychological explanations, emphasizing prejudiced attitudes instead of conveying the meaning and significance of haole within a comparative historical framework involving Euro-American and Asian settlers, as well as Native Hawaiians. Both The Mainland Haole and Rohrer's Haoles in Hawai‘i correctly present Hawai‘i as mired in racial politics, thus challenging the postcard depiction of Hawai‘i as a generic Pacific Island paradise where racial and ethnic groups peacefully co-exist.

     Judy Rohrer's text picks up where The Mainland Haole leaves off, and particularly on the point that "[t]he ghosts of Captain Cook, the early missionaries (if not their descendants), the early and late entrepreneurs, the perpetrators of annexation, and the strategists of World War II" continue to haunt Hawai‘i (183). One of the strengths of Haoles in Hawai‘i is that it clearly identifies the multiple constructions of the term haole as these arise in daily discourse, while also articulating that Native Hawaiians employ the term as part of their counter-narrative. Chapter 1 traces the historical development of haole, including the cultural renaissance of the 1970s when Native Hawaiians used the term as a form of resistance within a larger context of renewed interest in Hawaiian literature, comedy, and music. Rohrer states that resistance can be found much earlier, in mid-nineteenth century Hawai‘i, and especially credits Noenoe Silva (2004) for examining Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) newspapers publishing sacred songs and stories. Chapter 2 lightly theorizes haole as a racial construct that was formulated under American imperialism depicting Native Hawaiians as barbarians unfit for self-rule. The current use of haole evokes the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in January 1893, an historical event, as Rohrer states, that opened up resistance narratives to "whiteness—stories and knowledge about whiteness that run against dominant (white) ideas" (34).

     As a pushback, Euro-Americans have challenged haole as a pejorative term, stating that they suffer from reverse racism by Native Hawaiians. In Chapter 3, Rohrer refers to the Rice v. Cayetano Supreme Court case (2000) as well as to news articles published in the Honolulu Advertiser, Midweek, and the University of Hawai‘i school newspaper, Ka Leo, to illustrate how the discursive tensions around the use of haole play out in everyday settings, such as the university. For example, college instructors have been urged by (out-of-state) students to abandon use of the term in the classroom. In this regard, Haoles in Hawai‘i can be placed in conversation with scholarly works on whiteness as it operates on the U.S. mainland, where Euro-Americans report that they expect people of color and other minorities to conform to white heteronormative standards.

     To its credit, Haoles in Hawai‘i provides a platform for both high school and college educators to discuss the history of Hawai‘i, colonial resistance, and indigenous sovereignty issues, especially given the increasing presence of Euro-Americans in Hawai‘i. In a college history or sociology course theoretically foregrounding (post)colonialism, culture, power, and race, Haoles in Hawai‘i would pair well with college textbooks discussing the racial formation of whiteness and with sociological texts that critique the discourse of multiculturalism masking forms of social inequality in Hawai‘i. One example of a scholarly work that explores the concept of whiteness in a multiracial part of the U.S. mainland is Shades of Whiteness (2002), an ethnography written by Pamela Perry. She states that at her field sites in California—two high schools, one predominantly white and the other multiracial—the middle-class adolescents she interviewed sincerely believed that being white meant not having a culture. Perry also defines American culture on the continental U.S. as "syncretic" but that its core characteristics, values, and social practices are "derived from European Enlightenment, Anglican Protestantism, and Western colonialism" (23). For Rohrer, Hawai‘i presents a strikingly different situation from the mainland U.S., with Native Hawaiians frequently challenging the Eurocentric concept of race and white ideology. Perry's work adopts the performative approach, noting that racialized identities are dynamic, like the "surface of a river" that can change at any moment. In a related vein, Haoles in Hawai‘i asserts that the term haole is emergent, given the wider socio-political context and the social actors involved.

     On the whole, Haoles in Hawai‘i superbly recognizes racial antagonism, conflict, and violence in the Aloha State that has been portrayed, in popular culture and the mass media, as racially harmonious. Rohrer's work is timely, given the Census Bureau's prediction that by the year 2050, whites will constitute 50 percent or less of the total U.S. population, a figure that is strikingly similar to Hawai‘i's demography. As the first book in the Race and Ethnicity in Hawai‘i series edited by Paul Spickard, Haoles in Hawai‘i serves as largely an informative piece that is relatively free of academic jargon and would prove useful for high school students as well as undergraduates, including those enrolled in Asian Pacific American Studies courses that could be expanded to include alternative and comparative framings of Hawai‘i from Euro-American and Native Hawaiian perspectives, in addition to those claiming Asian heritage. Above all, Haoles in Hawai‘i would well serve anyone who has yet to tackle "colorblind ideology that insists we live in a postracial world with an equal racial playing field" (78).

Additional Reading

Perry, Pamela. Shades of White: White Kids and Racial Identities in High School. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

Whittaker, Elvi. The Mainland Haole: The White Experience in Hawai‘i New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Joy Taylor is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies at Washington State University. Her research interests include critical race, gender, and feminist theories and the representations of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality in popular culture. She can be reached at


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