It was one phrase uttered during an interview with a talk show host, but it has caused its share of controversy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said recently in an an interview with right-wing talk show host Mark Levin that he was “amazed” that the ruling of a  federal judge “sitting in an island in the Pacific” in regards the President’s Executive Order or  “Travel Ban” on individuals from at least seven Muslim countries could be halted.

The phrase “an island in the Pacific” has been seen by many in Hawaii as an insult and a putdown.

In and of itself, the phrase does not appear to be derisive or derogatory. However, when used in the context of the overall discussion, Sessions usage comes off as dismissive of Hawaii. The Attorney General sounds perplexed — almost as if he didn’t expect federal judges or courts or an entire legal system to exist in Hawaii.

A lei frames Waikiki Beach.

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Sessions attitude — whether intended or unintended — is indicative of the overall dismissive tone in which Hawaii is held not only by people in the outside world but even by transplants who reside here. Indeed, one can turn to Civil Beat’s own threads on its own site and Facebook site where commenters — largely mainland transplants or simply people who live on the continental U.S. –make outright lies and dissembling statements about the islands: that most local people are on welfare, that public schools here are the worst in the country, that somehow Hawaii is the most corrupt state in the union.

The fact is that a world view exists about Hawaii shaped by archetypes and stereotypes branded and perpetuated both here and outside of the state. Thus Jeff Sessions remarks are not some new manifestation or shaped without a foundation of predisposition. They are predicated on previous ideas and concepts held about Hawaii.

To begin with, Hawaii’s decades-long status as a vacation destination has molded attitudes about the state as solely a sun-and-fun destination for most Americans. Years of print and TV marketing not only by the Hawaii Tourism Authority but previous tourism related bodies has positioned Hawaii not as different and unique. This effort to make Hawaii exotic has helped distance it psychologically in the minds of many across the country and in other nations from the body politic of the U.S. as a whole.

This is no doubt why a number of visitors and even people who don’t get to come to the islands often assume Hawaii isn’t part of the United States. Many locals have met tourists who have mentioned they will be  “getting back to the states”  after their time here or “heading home to America.”

This emphasis on Hawaii as a vacation wonderland has also bounded and limited the scope of how Hawaii is seen. The fact that Hawaii has businesses, companies and industries like any other state seems to surprise some people.

The view of Hawaii as a primitive backwater without the latest forms of technology and infrastructure is held by more than a few individuals. No doubt local born and raised people reading this piece can recall instances from their own lives when they traveled to the mainland and were authentically asked by people whether there were stores, cars or schools in Hawaii.

Years ago while visiting relatives in the South, I was asked by a woman whether people still lived in grass shacks here in Honolulu. That people actually ask these questions sincerely indicates a huge deficit when it comes to accurate and valid information about Hawaii fed to people who live elsewhere in the nation.

Then you have the images in both entertainment and news media that are broadcast nationally and or around the world and which also help shape people’s views.

When it comes to entertainment, often movies and TV shows perpetuate the vacation wonderland archetype I spoke of earlier but also push other archetypes. The idea of Hawaii as troubled and crime ridden was largely shaped by both the original and current version of the network TV show “Hawaii Five-0” and some other programs including the aborted series “Hawaii.”

This is the flip side of the archetypal equation: troubled paradise. An Edenic utopia hard-hit by any manifestation a screen or TV writer chooses to illustrate: crime, drugs, corruption.

The national news media — primarily cable news — has also taken the troubled paradise archetype though mixing it often with the vacation wonderland type for balance. However, the difference here is that these cable news outlets are often looking to belittle Hawaii for ideological and politically partisan reasons.

For example, a couple of years ago Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” sent its roving reporter at the time, Jesse Waters, to film B-roll and interviews for his “Waters World” segment. In his report, Waters touted welfare and promoted the narrative of laziness as somehow indicative of local residents, a view also by conservatives and right-wingers who live in Hawaii.

Finally, Hawaii’s status as a tiny state, a young state — admitted into the union in 1959 — and the lack of attention Hawaii normally receives from the national news media compounds the already potent archetypes and perceptions that have categorized Hawaii.

Keeping all this in mind then, the dismissive comments of the nation’s leading law enforcement officer come as no surprise. Where ignorance and inaccuracy reign, foolishness rises to the occasion. All the more reason why poor perceptions need to be combated with true views and accurate information.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

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