“Hawaiian Sovereignty and the ‘Haole’: positioning whites as antagonists or audience in Goffman’s frame theory”


According to Goffman’s frame theory (later adapted by Hunt, Benford, and Snow) a social movement establishes a fluid identity for both those within and outside of the movement. These identity field classifications are known as protagonists, antagonists, and audience groups. Protagonists are advocates for the social movements cause and are seen as the ‘heroes’ of the movement. Antagonists are framed through the protagonist’s perspective as against the protagonist’s ultimate goal and are often seen as cultural elites or “the man”. An audience identity is seen as a group that is neutral to the cause, but who may react to the movement and can potentially be a valuable out group resource for protagonist’s to draw upon (Hunt, Benford, Snow, 1994).

The social movement Kau Inoa is a Native Hawaiian group based in Hawai’i whose goal is to institute Hawaiian sovereignty and a Native Hawaiian government. Members are all Hawaiian by blood and their relationship to races of non-Hawaiian descent informally differ. I seek to explore the relationship between Kau Inoa and “haoles” or whites and how members of Kau Inoa categorize whites in terms of the frame theory identity field classifications.

To bring this idea to a more practical perspective, I shall illustrate it with a personal example. My brother, a white high school student, watched his classmate perform a beat poem about Hawaiian sovereignty during an end of the year performance. She wrote about the antagonistic characteristics (both historical and present) of haoles. Afterwards she came up to my brother and reminded him that it was not him that she was antagonizing. I seek to explore where the line exists between these two perspectives; the line between “whiteness” as a historically defined and oppressive establishment (antagonist) and the individual—and perhaps potentially helpful—haole (audience). I will do this through observation of the rhetoric that is used consciously or unconsciously by Kau Inoa to decide which group to place “white” in and whether or not this decision changes according to the presupposed goal of the social movement.