Tuesday 26 March 2013

National's Two-Fingered Gesture

Sending A Message: Justice Minister, Judith Collins, has responded to criticism of her appointment of Dame Susan Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner with the highly revealling comment: “The far left does not have a monopoly on caring about race relations.” History suggests, however, that if the Left doesn't have a monopoly on, then the Right isn't even in the market for, improved race relations.

DAME SUSAN DEVOY’s appointment as Race relations Commissioner sends a very clear message. But about what? And to whom?
An answer may be found in Justice Minister Judith Collins’ observation that: “The far left does not have a monopoly on caring about race relations”.
Ms Collins packs a great deal of political information into this typically belligerent statement.
It speaks powerfully and directly to the Right’s long-standing resentment at finding itself, again and again, on the morally indefensible side of history.
From the mid-1970s, the National Party positioned itself, politically, as the defender of the Pakeha majority against any and all charges of racism that the Maori minority, and others, were increasingly levelling against them.
According to National, race relations in New Zealand were extremely healthy, and it was an affront to this country’s internationally celebrated reputation for fairness and tolerance to suggest otherwise.
This position became increasingly untenable as, over the course of the 70s, 80s and 90s, a new generation of historians systematically demolished New Zealand’s great foundational myths: the version of history which the inheritors of colonialism had so assiduously constructed since the wars and confiscations of the Nineteenth Century.
The most important to be taken apart was the Myth of the Moriori.
For decades, New Zealand schoolchildren were taught that their country’s first inhabitants, the Moriori, had been wiped out by the Maori – the warlike, culturally superior race of settlers who supplanted them.
For the Europeans who had replaced Maori as the dominant racial group in New Zealand, the Moriori Myth was morally indispensable. By establishing an historical narrative based on successive waves of settlers, each one stronger and better fitted for survival than the last, the European conquest and despoliation of the Maori could be painted as part of a “natural” progression.
“We” (the Pakeha) were no worse than “they” (the Maori) when it came to asserting the right of the stronger to overpower the weaker. We were, however, “better” than they were – because rather than wipe out the people who’d stood in our way, we “advanced” Europeans were willing to share with the vanquished all the “benefits” of Western Civilisation.
That the Maori had not fared as appallingly as Australian Aborigines or the Native Americans spoke eloquently of New Zealand’s “progressive” record of race relations.
The true and tragic story of the Moriori people (of the Chatham Islands) offered as little to Pakeha as it did to Maori. (Which probably explains why both races were content to connive in its extraordinary distortion.)
The myth was , however, of such critical importance to Pakeha self-perception that, even today, you still find many New Zealanders clinging tenaciously to its reassuring message of moral equivalence.
Conservative New Zealanders remained highly resistant to the unpalatable truths emerging from their nation’s colonial past. Rather than let the new historical research bring about a re-evaluation of their previous assumptions concerning race, they and their National Party representatives became even more determined to uphold all the old shibboleths.
National’s defence of the Springbok Rugby Tour of 1981 not only made it a target for the entire New Zealand Left (from Labour to the Workers’ Communist League) but, as events steadily vindicated the arguments of the protesters, it also helped to foster a deep-seated sense of right-wing grievance.
Nelson Mandela Free: The National Party has found it very difficult to accept that on the question of Apartheid - as on so many other racial questions - the Left has been vindicated, and the Right condemned, by History.
The Left had accused the Right of being on the wrong side of history, and History had been unkind enough to concur. Politically, National had no option but to accept the enhanced role of the Treaty of Waitangi (and its tribunal) and celebrate the victory of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (once described as “terrorists” by Sir Robert Muldoon) but it rankled.
Oh yes, it rankled.
And as those historical victories were transmuted into a framework of human rights recognition and protection (building on the more liberal Sir Keith Holyoake-led National Party’s Office of the Race Relations Conciliator, and the Labour Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s, Bill of Rights Act) the Right’s sense of grievance – of being put-upon by what it labelled “political correctness” – grew and festered in the body politic.
Just how large this cancer had grown was revealed in 2004 when National Party Leader, Dr Don Brash’s, “Nationhood” speech, at Orewa, saw his party’s position in the Colmar-Brunton opinion poll advance by a record 17 percentage points.
National’s narrow defeat in 2005, and Dr Brash’s successor, John Key’s, tactical alliance with the Maori Party, both muted and diverted the Right’s angry rejection of the Left’s “political correctness”. Anti-Maori prejudice was channelled into hard-line welfare and law-and-order “reforms” – measures guaranteed to hit Maori New Zealanders the hardest.
Dame Susan’s appointment is emblematic of National’s continuing denial of its historical moral delinquency. With her controversial announcement, Ms Collins simultaneously delivers reassurance to an aggrieved Right, and an obscene, two-fingered gesture to “the far left”.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 March 2013.


Anonymous said...

What qualifications do you need to be a race relations conciliator – just askin'.

Anonymous said...

Comparatively speaking, race relations in NZ have been pretty good. Sure there's conflict at he political and legal level and it often gets heated, but at the personal level most people don't care.

If you go to other countries, you simply won't see indigenous people, much less work with them, live with them and fraternize with them. I've had people overseas actually ask me if I know any Maoris. It's ridiculous. They think that they live on reservations.

I know Australians who've never met an Aboriginal person, for example. We're far from perfect, but better than most places.

TM said...

I say give her a chance. I hope her previous comments were just ill thought out, off the cuff remarks and she will surprise us with some deeper understanding of the racial issues in NZ.

Gerrit said...

The race relations commissioner works for ALL New Zealanders not just as adjudicator for Maori only.

With the changed societal demographics and increase in the number of different and well established cultures in New Zealand, the commissioner must be able to have a brief over (as but one example) Jewish/Arab relations.

Off course the left moan about the selection of the commissioner, but I have yet to hear from the left putting forward any alternative contenders.

Did the left not know that the commissioner position was coming up for renewal and did they lobby the government with a list of suitable candidates?

Cant think of any news article referring to the lefts preferred candidate.

No use complaining after the event, should have been lobbied for earlier.

peterpeasant said...

Thank you. a succinctly successful encapsulation of the festering racialism and pakeha angst in our country.

Anonymous said...

Talking about moaning, the good old rule of thumb in right wing New Zealand race relations is – everything is okay as long as white people are happy. You'll notice that all those right-wing letters to the editor talking about race relations being set back 100 years never ever refer to Maori being dissatisfied.

Monique Angel said...

I think you'll find that Helen Clark provided the biggest two finger salute to Maori and Maori/Pakeha relations by legislating to place outright ownership of the foreshore and seabed into Crown Ownership.This was the act that sparked the formation of the highly successful Maori Party. Right from the heartland of the far left. The solution of "Public Domain", had been devised and was given Cullen's blessing. This was then kicked to the kerb by Peters who spruiked the alternate solution that was so distasteful to Maori

Anonymous said...

What race do you need to be a race relations conciliator – just askin'.

Victor said...

Anonymous@4.42, 26/3

I assure you that, when I lived in the UK, many of my friends and colleagues were indigenous. One of them actually spoke Welsh as her first language.

I think you're eliding race relations (and the concept of human equality) with the issue of indigenousness.

True, New Zealand has behaved better to its indigenous population than have Australia or the nations of the Americas. But that's a pretty low baseline.

We are now,however, a nation of many cultures and peoples.

It could be that the concept of Treaty Partnership between Maori and Pakeha is relevant to all the multifarious issues affecting relations between these different ethnicities. And it could be that it's largely if not totally irrelevant.

Either way, the task of conciliation can require a very broad range of skills and sensitivities, as well as a knowledge of the long and complex histories of the various groups involved (e.g. why do Serbs and Croats tend not to get along).

I think it's not unreasonable to doubt whether Dame Susan has this knowledge base.

Sweaty Socks said...

Hmmm. I'm not sure you're being fair there Chris. I've only been here 20 years but I've seen Labour and National do good and bad.

I arrived as Doug Graham was getting torn into his work and I'm pretty sure National's record of completing settlements is off the charts compared to Labour's (close to nil claims started and finished in nine years of Clark's government?); and as another poster has pointed out it was Labour that pulled the outrageous F&S stunt with ACT being an opponent and National repealing.

On the other hand National disgraced itself in the brief Brash years (or was it months?) and the occasional thing like this.

Anonymous said...

" And it could be that it's largely if not totally irrelevant."

If Maori ever decide it's irrelevant then it maybe. Otherwise it's the rule of thumb all over again.

Anonymous said...

I think the far left should always be in charge of making these type of appointments otherwise they will be very unhappy and discontented. We can't have that!

peterpeasant said...

What is it about the change from "Conciliator" to "Commissioner"?


Paulus said...

Anonymous 3.58pm

Common Sense - the best qualification of all

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