How to hold a meaningful discussion with Scouts about ethnic slurs

OffensiveLanguageLead the following discussion with your Scouts or Venturers to examine the ethics surrounding this scenario.

The Dilemma

Star Scout Brendan knows words like most other members of the Panther Patrol know fantasy football stats. He’ll use a 50-cent word when a 5-cent one would do.

Brendan’s vocabulary skills will help him at SAT time, but they’ve gotten him into trouble more than once, including in Troop 272. Recently, for example, he convinced the Panther Patrol, which he leads, to adopt the patrol yell “You’re haole, and we’re ohana.” In Hawaii, ohana means family, while haole refers to non-natives and is often considered insulting, something Senior Patrol Leader Javon learned after a quick Google search.

When Javon asked Brendan to change the yell, Brendan declined. He pointed out that haole isn’t inherently offensive and that no one in the troop has ties to Hawaii, anyway. If nobody is offended, Brendan asks, why should he change it?

For Discussion

After reading the scenario with your Boy Scouts or Venturers, discuss these general questions about ethnic slurs:

What is an ethnic slur? (One definition is “an insult based on a person’s race, ethnicity or national origin, often deriving from a perceived physical or cultural characteristic.”)

Are any words inherently offensive? Or are they just random sequences of letters?

Who decides if a word is offensive: the person using it or the person on the receiving end?

Can a third party decide a word is offensive?

Can a word’s meaning change over time? Do words that were offensive centuries ago still offend today?
Next, discuss these questions about this particular dilemma:

Do you like or dislike the patrol yell Brendan created? Why?

Do you agree with his argument that the term can’t be offensive since he borrowed it from another culture? Why or why not?

Imagine someone of Hawaiian ancestry joins the troop. Does that change anything? Why or why not?
Finally, have the Boy Scouts or Venturers decide how Javon should proceed (assuming he’s not satisfied with Brendan’s argument). Discuss how their proposed solution affects Javon’s and Brendan’s status as leaders. Discuss how it aligns with the values of Scouting.


  1. As someone who grew up in Hawaii I would be offended by that patrol yell. However, the questions posed ‘someone of Hawaiian ancestry joins the troop’ does that change anything. Technically haole translates to ‘no breath’ which was a word used to describe foreigners who arrived in Hawaii. Hawaiians would not be offended or called haole. The word haole is now used as a slang to describe white people and usually in a derogatory way. Think reverse discrimination here. This is most certainly an ethnic slur whether the user perceives it as such and should have no place in a patrol yell.

  2. Well, I do live in Hawai’i and I am Haole. I am often called and self identify as such. The catch here is the contex in which it is used. Properly framed almost any word can be used in a derogatory manner. “That GD black dog!” denigrates the terms black and dog. Say “that black dog” and it is negative. While as AmyKay notes it was originally “without breath” or looking pale non-native Hawaiians, it now more or less is used for Caucasians in Hawai’i. In Hawai’i we tend to hold onto our ethnic idle ties while being quite accepting of them. Most of us are “hapa” something.
    Now the question is why was the patrol yell “Your Haole and we’re O’hana” used? (By the way note the correct spelling). Yelling this at a troop gathering or Camporee where the guys next to you are Latino/Black/Asian/Native American literally makes no sense. And it is not specific nor related to their patrol – the Panthers. That is the discussion that should be had. In this case, race “got nothing to do with it” unless YOU are trying to make it so.

    • Absolutely agree with Ponani. Context is critical. Those who think “haole” is derogatory usually hear it directed at them in such a fashion, but it is a legitimate descriptor in daily use.

      The article raises appropriate questions for discussion.

      As a Scout leader,I think what I’m reading into Brendan’s cheer is that “despite being haole, we’re all still ‘ohana” which is a well intended sentiment. However, this does create an air of exclusivity – I’m the leader, and you’re not like me, but that’s ok, which flies counter to a Scout being “Friendly”.

  3. What’s offensive to some may not be offensive toothers. My Mexican friend’s daughter, with very dark complexion, calls herself “La Negra”. And some people seem to seek things about which to be offended.

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