Everybody in minority on Islands
By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor
Island residents might have reacted with a combination of amusement and astonishment to a poll released last week by a Mainland Chinese-American group that found strong negative attitudes and stereotypes toward Asian-Americans.
Amusement that anyone would think there is a need for such a poll and astonishment at some of the negative attitudes expressed by those surveyed.
The poll was commissioned by the Committee of 100, a national Chinese-American leadership group.
Right off the bat, it must be understood that the group has a vested interest in coming up with such findings. One of its major purposes is to smash down stereotypes and open opportunities for Chinese and Asian-Americans.
So first it must demonstrate that stereotypes and closed opportunities exist.
One of the most stunning findings was that one in four Americans hold "very negative attitudes" toward Chinese-Americans. Nearly a quarter said they are uncomfortable with the idea of intermarriage with a Chinese-American and about the same percentage said they are uncomfortable with the idea of voting for an Asian-American for president.
That's too bad for the quarter of those surveyed who feel uncomfortable but fairly impressive for the three-quarters who say they are not. And in any campaign, three-quarters of the electorate is more than enough to win a race.
There is no question that unfamiliarity breeds distrust, or discomfort. And it's a good bet unfamiliarity was behind most of the negative responses.
Hawai'i, by accident of history, does not have to struggle with this breed of unfamiliarity. In fact, if one had to assemble a majority of one's own ethnic group in order to be elected in Hawai'i, we'd never put anyone into office. Every office-holder in Hawai'i gets in with at least some support from those outside his or her ethnic group.
Yes, there are plenty of examples of ethnic bloc voting in Hawai'i. But this hardly adds up to proof that Islanders carry negative attitudes about other ethnic groups into the ballot box. The simpler explanation is that when little else is known about a candidate folks naturally vote for someone of their own ethnic background.
Why? Because absent any other clues, ethnic background stands in as a proxy for a vast array of life experiences, attitudes and beliefs. And if nothing else, you want someone representing you who tends to have had your experiences and holds your approach to life.
The other explanation for the appearance of ethnic block voting is pure statistical probability. Yes, Wai'anae tends to send Hawaiians to the Legislature while Kalihi sends Filipinos and Waikiki Caucasians. But the Willy Sutton explanation applies here: He said he robbed banks because that's where the money is. The pool of potential candidates in Wai'anae tends to tilt Hawaiian; in Waikiki it tilts to Caucasian.
Is there stereotyping and negative attitudes by one ethnic group against another in Hawai'i? Of course. Human nature is human nature even in the Islands. But ethnicity is not destiny in the Islands. For that, we should be eternally grateful.