Sunday, March 06, 2011

Racist? Yes? No? Perhaps?

I had an interesting, if brief, debate with a mildly right-whinged character signing himself "PhilBest" in the course of which he opined that -

I strongly object to the stereotyping of white NZ-ers, as Habersham also helpfully pointed out. "We" are not "racists". "We" did NOT "defraud" Maori (except in minor cases provable in court). "We" abolished slavery before anyone else. White Europeans biggest problem now is that we are the world's worst suckers for a guilt trip, and a certain proportion of our number, the Neo-Marxist intellectuals, have re-written history to exploit this.

Last Saturday night on Maoritv was an NZ doco entitled "Lines in the Sand". Now, I very much doubt that someone like PhilBest would be in the market to watch Maoritv, and even less likely to choose something that had an element of knowledge and fact to it.

So, let me start by giving my wholehearted recommendation that should this programme ever appear on free-to-view television (sadly an unlikely prospect but stranger things have happened...) it should be a "MUST SEE".

It is a brief - to some it will be very selective - history of Maori "in" NZ since WW2. It is constructed around one person and her life, and she has her own special part in the drawing of lines in the sand. The idea behind the title comes from "the line in the sand"; the principle that such lines can not or must not be crossed; and the times when those lines are crossed; the consequences of the breaking of new ground.

It starts with an ever-so-brief glimpse at the 1978 hikoi for recognition of Maori as an NZ language, the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, the woman (sorry I can not remember her name) who broke all the rules with her "Kia ora" greeting on the official Post Office telephone lines, through to the 1999 All Black rugby tour of Britain.

Those with far better memories than I might remember why that particular tour gained an element of notoriety and it had absolutely nothing to do with the game or players. The traditional singing of the national anthems prior to the game caused an almost deathly hush when Hinewehi Mohi sang the NZ "God Defend New Zealand" entirely in Maori. While this was in part because very few there knew the (Maori) words, there was a far greater element of shock because NZ Rugby was (and still is) one of the most conservative sections of NZ society. It is not as if the dual-language version had never been used at similar (non-rugby) sports events. Netball for instance had been using the dual Maori-English version for about 5 years prior. If I recollect, it was first used at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games in 1974.

And it is at this point that I link back to PhilBest, and to Habersham.

What is the real state of the racial relationships between Maori and (European) pakeha? Is Habersham right? We are not a racist nation? I have to agree that at some levels he is right. There is a lot of intermarriage between the two sides; no question. There are a great many on both sides who work alongside of the other race with great respect for their knowledge and ability. The list goes on...


There are other aspects to the relationship between Maori and pakeha that are not as sweet. Likely the primary examples, certainly those most to the forefront in the past month or so, are Waitangi Day (for those who do not know, our equivalent of Independance Day), and the on-going debate over the ownership of foreshore and seabed. It does go a great deal deeper than that though.

One of the "lines in the sand" was Don Brash's State of the Nation speech to Orewa Rotary

"Two weeks ago, Don Brash delivered "the state of the nation" address to the Orewa Rotary. The main thrust of that address - certainly as far as the media and the public are concerned - involved the vexed question of Maori / Pakeha relationships and the long succession of government policies intended to "benefit Maori", to "favour the disadvantaged", the whole litany of political double speak that comes with pork barrel politics. Do not for a moment think that this is a one-sided position. It might seem that way to many given the special relationship between the Ratana Church and the Labour Party (who just at the moment happen to be "in charge"). In truth as many or more of these policies originated with the National governments as from Labour governments.

"So, we have Don Brash "rescuing the National Party" (which had been polling in the low 20% of total vote since the last election - effectively a rudder-less rowboat with only one oar) with a speech which promoted the idea of "one rule for all".
So, we get back to the "product differentiation" that Donny-come-lately Brash has successfully created. The "one rule for all" (I still know nothing about the rest of his speech, it is as if that is all that he said) idea seems to have taken hold quite nicely within the electorate. If you say it out loud, and often enough it has the kind of ring to it that appeals, in the same way as a referendum asking "Do you believe in Law and Order?" might.

Until today, when the Sunday paper has pointed out (in yet another "the king has no clothes" revelation) that what Donny Brash has said is "a xerox copy" of one Pauline Hanson in her electioneering for the "One Australia Party".

There is the connection I was missing.

What a frightening prospect it creates...

To a very great extent that debate is still rumbling deep in the seismic world of NZ politics. It surfaces (quite frequently as it happens) with minor tremors in the more right-winged part of our political world; as witnessed by the current debate on foreshore and seabed; the debate over the nature and extent of Maori representation in Parliament and in local government; and in the writing of many of those people whose ideas follow the same lines as PhilBest. And, as I say that, I am thinking as well "There is fault on both sides here."

The "one people" principle behind the debate is - as evidenced by PhilBest, but he is not guilty at all of its formulation in this guise - that it is "right" as long as "one people" are all like me. The same might be said of those on the Maori side who pick up on the "We are now one people" statement made at the signing of Te Tiriti. Strangely perhaps the statement of "He iwi tahi tatou" came not from the Maori side, but from Hobson ("As each chief signed, Hobson said "He iwi tahi tātou", meaning (in English) "We are now one people".[17]" Claudia Orange on the signing of the Treaty taken from Wikipedia). So, to that extent the attitudes of the pakeha side seem not to have progressed all that much from those of the paternalistic condescention of the early colonists. PhilBest in his comments presents other aspects of that same paternalism which is sad.

It reflects too the attitude of the colonists right up until WW1 that - as had happened so many times before - the "stone-age culture" of the Maori would die out in a fairly short period of time as the people themselves died out and the population dwindled. Micheal King wrote this period very well in his "Penguin History" which I recommended PhilBest should read.

A vox-poll in the street on the question "Were Maori deprived of their land and authority by theft or valid contract?" the response on the pakeha side would likely come out much in line with PhilBest's -

"We" did NOT "defraud" Maori (except in minor cases provable in court).

Again, I can not say he is entirely wrong. What did in fact happen has been well documented by those "left wing liberal historians trying to rewrite history"; the reason why I recommended Michael King to him and the likely interest of AU in PhilBest as Prof History...

For the truth is, to those who read and understand, quite different. When I was a teenager, Parihaka Lookout in Whangarei was just the name of a hill. There was no obvious statement of how the name was given, or why it coincided with that of a little known village in Taranaki. Since the 1970's, through the work of a large number of people including the likes of Michael King, Claudia Orange, the iwi of Taranaki, to the pop-group Herbs the name of Parihaka and its place in NZ history is generally well known.

Parihaka was a market garden village; much like Pukekohe has been to Auckland. The biggest differences being that Parihaka was owned and developed by the local Maori and they were actively and successfully exporting their products to Sydney. King and Orange have both documented the history of Parihaka in considerable detail. It is well worth the read.

This was not an isolated incident. In other parts, militia and mercenary troops (some of them Maori settling old scores) were engaged in similar tactics in order to "acquire" good farming land for settlers.

To come more up to date, I don't know if PhilBest would count the saga of the Raglan Golf Course as "fraud" or "theft". I guess that the difference really lies in one's point of view. Land taken prior to WW1 for "defence purposes" was granted to the Raglan Golf Club in the 1960's instead of being returned to its owners. It took some 35 years for compensation to be negotiated for the loss.
Personally, I count that as a theft, a misappropriation. It is not a fraud in the strict sense of the word.

Or perhaps he might like to consider the occupation of Bastion Point by Ngati Whatua. The Waitangi Tribunal short history is concise and easy to read - written for school projects - so PhilBest should have little difficulty understanding it. He might like to watch the television film of the eviction just to satisfy his curiosity in re-written history of the Maori and race relations in New Zealand.

Both of these events were featured as "lines in the sand".

The point here is that "racism" as many in this country see it - the discrimination of the Southern States of the US as the predominant example - does not exist. So to that extent I agree with PhilBest. There are no separate toilets for Maori, no laws requiring segregated seating in public transport.

On the other side, there is a very subtle form of racism. It is evidenced by the kind of statement in his opening salvo -

If the people of a stone age culture really does want to preserve their traditions, then they simply cannot expect to share in the benefits of modern life. MOST of the PEOPLE of any given race or culture, given the chance, vote with their feet, and "westernise" just as fast as they can. Radical spokesmen can deny this all they like, but it is true.

So, you can either be Maori and live in the stone age or you become pakeha and share in the "benefits" of our society.

It is a racism that borne of a very simplistic way of thinking. It paints in black and white; lithographic black and white and not grayscale. It parallels GWB's horrendous "you are either with us or against us"; "you are either pakeha or you are not part of our society".

So to those many whose ideas of our society and its inter-racial relationships parallel those of PhilBest (I can not single him out as he is but one of many), I have to say -

I do not, I can not, agree that racism is totally absent in this country.

It is not the overt racism upon which I believe PhilBest and his ilk base their belief.

It is the product of cultural paternalism, the belief that "we are better than you". It is a fundamental cultural arrogance.

It is the product of cultural deprivation; the 19th century belief that inferior cultures would in time "die out"; a process that was encouraged to hasten the demise of the inferior culture. (As an aside, by far the best illustration of this in action comes from Australia; the second best comes from South Africa.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To anyone who says that racism isn't present in NZ:

Who gripes about the revised spelling for a city once known as Wanganui?

Who complained about having a potential Te Irirangi ward and wanted it to be the Howick Ward?

Who are the Maungatautari property owners who are threatening to remove monitoring of the anti-predator fence because of Maori representation on the Maungatautari Trust?

These are some recent examples from the news - and we don't have racism here, do we?

Sadly, the undercurrents are stronger than what we see on the surface - as if that isn't bad enough. The problem is not one of "becoming one people" but one of accepting diversity,and that acceptance has to start with the majority. Any Maori, Indian or Asian will be able to confirm that each of those ethnic groups are subject to negative discrimination. If the worst that a pakeha has to put up with is being called a 'honky' s/he can't complain too much.

Kia kaha, prob.