In an analysis of what went wrong with pollsters’ predictions in the presidential election, New York Times columnist David Brooks hit a reality check button in his breakdown of the way pollsters divided likely voters into single identity categories and assumed that everyone in that category would think and behave alike.
He cites examples of this miscalculation which assumed that women would vote for Hillary because she’s a woman, or ethnic minorities would vote against Trump because of his racist remarks, or that Democrats would exhibit a single behavior at the polls because they are politically joined at the hip. As it turned out, these single identity assumptions led to misleading predictions of how people would vote. In fact, the assumptions were so wrong that Trump’s victory sent shock waves rolling through all 50 states.
Brooks then goes on to state an intriguing case that invoking single identity behavioral assumptions cuts both ways by pointing out that “…it’s not only racists who reduce people to a single identity. These days it’s the anti-racists too.”
So as a Native Hawaiian I had to pause and give serious thought to what he is saying.
It does seem true that in navigating Hawai‘i’s cultural diversity we do tend to divide ourselves into single identity ethnic groupings. Defining criteria include ethnic last names, skin color and facial features. And, it’s not surprising at how often we are wrong about behavioral assumptions we make about a person based on our read of their ethnicity.
One commonly invoked single identity herding in Hawai‘i occurs in the case of Native Hawaiians. It seems a prevailing public perception that people who share the commonality of having some degree of Hawaiian ancestry are lumped into a common bucket of traits, behaviors and attitudes. Some good, some not.
As of the 2010 federal census, 500,000 people identified themselves as being Hawaiian. Half reside in Hawai‘i and the other half on the mainland. While these folks chose to identify themselves as ethnic Hawaiians, the census is silent on the fact that the vast majority are of mixed ancestry.
Hawaiians historically were color blind and have always freely inter-married the thousands of immigrants from Asia and Europe who arrived here. These inter-marriages, which burst through the single identity ceiling, spawned the term hapa-haole. The word haole does not mean white, it means foreign. So whole new generations of hapa families evolved in an incredible merging of DNA. Hawaiian-Chinese, Hawaiian-Portuguese, Hawaiian-German, and so forth. Hapa-haole family names like Apo, Silva, Aki, Freitas, Akau, Burgess, Wilhelm and hundreds of families of mixed ancestry emerged. I don’t know why, but many of these families who gave a nod to their common Hawaiian ancestry for census purposes did not actually speak to what their dominant socio-cultural-political lifestyle might be. So, the application of a single identity to Hawaiians as having a uniformly predictable set of traits, behaviors, and belief systems belies the truth that the Hawaiian community is far more diverse than uniform.
Hawaiians are a potpourri of Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, tolerant, intolerant, business leaders, social workers, community leaders, farmers, soldiers, scholars, environmentalists, medical workers, poets, artists, scientists and more, in pursuit of every human endeavor.
There is one angle to the single identity construct that I hope will prevail in this changing world when referencing all the people of Hawai‘i. I believe we can still say uniformly that we are the people of aloha. We must always maintain our aloha for each other.