“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …”

So began 19th century author Charles Dickens in his classic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” set during the time of the French Revolution. Little did he know how prophetically these words would play out in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The improbable victory of Donald Trump defied every prediction and when joined by the UK’s Brexit experience makes me wonder if these are early indicators of a new global order – or perhaps disorder.

Another classic book that seems to have predicted where we are now is “The Third Wave,” published in 1980 and written by futurist author Alvin Toffler. I am fascinated by his crystal ball citing of what seems indicators of a global shifting of the tectonic plates underpinning world order. He defines the Third Wave as the last in a set of three: the Agricultural Age, followed by the Industrial Age, and the Third Wave being post-industrial society.

Thousands of Aloha Aina Unity marchers head toward Kapiolani Park from Saratoga Road. 9 aug 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Even when they joined an Aloha Aina Unity march last year, rest assured not all Native Hawaiians were of one accord regarding the issues of the day. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Toffler delineates the indicators of the Third Wave period citing populist attacks on the nation-state governance structure from both the affluent above the system and the struggling masses below that would lead to the obsolescence of the governance model. Central to the demise of the nation-state would be a widening of the political divide between urban and rural, rich and poor, religious and secular, and fundamentalist religion and religious liberalism, combined with divisive ethnic standoffs and gender splits on a wide range of issues.

Multi-national corporations would outmaneuver governments in shaping the futures of entire societies. Economic systems and wealth based on manufacturing would be swiftly eclipsed by knowledge-production and information processing. This would completely change the job market, sending people scurrying to stay employed. Do these indicators ring a bell?

Toffler authored another book that was published in 1970, “Future Shock,” that pre-dated “The Third Wave.” In “Future Shock,” he predicted that we would fall behind and be overwhelmed by our own rapidly advancing technology. So whither we go no one knows – a sentiment articulated best by Stephen Stills in the opening line of his song “For What It’s Worth,” “Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

The Perils Of Single-Identity Groupings

Hawaii, in spite of our geo-isolation from the mainland, did not escape the national experience of being pummeled by every manifestation of media with their angling of news reporting that reached out and squeezed the public jugular. The chilling effect of a round-the-clock anxiety attack had us engaged in public whispering to avoid getting into arguments with strangers.

Of course, on Election Day, as one of only two blue states that did not lose any precincts to Trump, most of us slipped into a deepening state of shock and depression as the day progressed from which we have not recovered.

In an analysis of what went wrong with pollsters’ predictions in the presidential election, The 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.

It’s not surprising how often we are wrong about behavioral assumptions we make about a person based on our read of their ethnicity.

He cites examples of this miscalculation, which assumed that women would vote for Hillary Clinton 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.

Brooks goes on to make 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.”

Expectations were skewed and a hard-earned lesson was learned. So as a Native Hawaiian who takes issue with the homogenization of Hawaiians by Hawaii’s mainstream media I had to pause and give serious thought to what Brooks is saying.

It does seem true that in navigating Hawaii’s cultural diversity we do tend to divide ourselves into single-identity ethnic groupings. Defining criteria includes ethnic last names, skin color and facial features. And, it’s not surprising how often we are wrong about behavioral assumptions we make about a person based on our read of their ethnicity.

A Kaleidoscope Of Hawaiian Identity

One commonly invoked single-identity herding in Hawaii occurs in the case of Native Hawaiians. 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 U.S. Census, more than 527,000 people identified themselves as being Hawaiian. About 55 percent reside in Hawaii and the other 45 percent live in other states, according to a Census report. 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 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.

Hawaiians historically have been color-blind and have freely intermarried since the first immigrants from Europe and Asia arrived. These intermarriages, 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, Wilhelm, Aki, Freitas, Akau, Burgess, Campbell, McCandless, Morgan, Bishop, Trask, Badayos, Cachola, Benham, Thompson, Guererro and hundreds of families of mixed ancestry with the common denominator of Hawaiian 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 in referencing all the people of Hawaii. I believe we can still say uniformly that we are the people of aloha. We must always maintain our aloha for each other.

About the Author

  • Peter Apo
    Peter Apo is a former trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and legislator. He is the president of the Peter Apo Company, a cultural tourism consulting company to the visitor industry. He has also been the arts and culture director for Honolulu, the city's director of Waikiki Development and served as special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Gov. Ben Cayetano.