Haoles, Brahs, Shark-bait, and Racism
Updated: Jun 24
A few year’s back some co-workers and I were talking after finishing up the day’s shift. We were joking around as usual, and I’d just finished telling a story, when one person in our circle said to me, “Don’t call me black!”
I thought she was joking, but she glared at me with a look suggesting I’d just lost her friendship.
“Call me an African American!” She stated matter-of-factly.
Image by falco from Pixabay
After a day of work my patience was about spent, and I’ll never forget thinking to myself… Okay. Then you may call me a German, Irish, and Scottish American. But after thinking about how complicated this might be, I reconsidered and said silently to her… or you can call me white, because I honestly don’t care.
And so went my first introduction to racism. It was the first time—ever—that another person made me feel that their skin color required me to treat them a special way.
Having grown up in Hawaii, I have few childhood memories shared with haoles; people of my own color. The elementary school photographs I have of my classmates are filled with row after row of varying shades of “yellow” (asian) kids. Mixed in with these asians were a few darker skinned brahs that hailed from other islands in the pacific. (The locals affectionately called us Shark-bait, because our white skin made us easy prey in the surf.) the In most of my school pictures I’m the only white kid in the photograph, and the only skin color I shared with my classmates came from the red volcanic dirt covering our shoeless feet.
Flash forward a few decades to Fort Jackson, NC, where I’m getting screamed off a bus at army boot camp. After double-timing with the rest of the soon to be “skinheads” and forming a pathetic excuse of a formation, I looked dead ahead at one of the meanest looking SOB’s who every laid eyes on me. His boots dazzled, his camouflaged fatigues where so crisp they could have stood up in the corner without a clothes hanger, and his stiff hat was so precisely tipped on his shaved head that its brim halted just over his scowling eyeballs. Only then did I notice that my assigned drill sergeant’s skin was a darkened purplish hue, and seemed to glow in the light of the incandescent street lamps hanging above. Despite the challenges offered by the next 10 weeks of training, my 4 year tour was filled with wonderful friendships with fellow soldiers who did not share my racial heritage.
So, my run in with my fellow worker, who insisted I refer to her as an African American, was the defining moment in my life when I first recall experiencing any kind of “racial tension.” Sure, I knew racial inequality existed. I’d just never personally experienced the tension others feel around people of a different color.
My thinking has matured in the past few decades of course. I’m more apt these days to accept that if certain words or actions are racially offensive to someone then it’s my responsibility to do my best and to not be offensive.
But I do reserve the right to be offensive in this regard: My gut reaction towards those who hate others simply because they have a different skin color is that they’re fucking idiots—and I do define this on a scale of overall intelligence. For I can’t fathom how an otherwise intelligent person would allow his mind to be controlled by hate simply because they saw a color which could just as easily be found in a box of crayons.