Tuesday 25 June 2019

Confronting Racism In 1981 – And 2019

Turning Their Backs On Fear: The students of 38 years ago didn’t run to the nearest authority figure tearful and distraught: they padded-up, put on crash helmets, and went out onto the streets; risking pro-tour fists and police batons to do all that they could to end the genuinely and murderously white supremacist regime that was Apartheid South Africa. (Photo by Alan Cumming)

HOW VERY DIFFERENT the university campuses of 2019 are from the campuses of 1981. Thirty-eight years is a long time. There will be lecturers and tutors on campus today who weren’t even born in the year the Springboks came to tour. To those whose job it is to look back into the darker episodes of our past, New Zealand must seem like another country. Just how much that other country differed from the New Zealand of today was driven home to me while listening to RNZ journalist Katie Scotcher’s story on this morning’s (24/6/19) edition of Morning Report.

At the heart of that story were the feelings of shock, horror and disgust that gripped a University of Auckland staff member, and her class, when, just five days after the Christchurch Shootings, a young, Pakeha, male student gave voice to his profoundly racist beliefs. The staff member in question was outraged that the University authorities, upon receiving her complaint against the student’s behaviour, counselled her to say nothing more concerning the incident until the complaints process had been completed. This, she asserted, amounted to the university “silencing” a staff member who was attempting to confront the presence of “white supremacists” on the Auckland campus.

I couldn’t help wondering how that staff member would react if she was somehow transported back in time 38 years to the University of Otago campus of 1981.

Rough-and-ready polling conducted during that year’s Orientation Week had indicated that while roughly 60 percent of the student body opposed the forthcoming tour of the Springbok rugby team from Apartheid South Africa, at least a third of the student body supported the tour.

Determined to organise this large percentage of the student body, a young post-graduate history student and tutor by the name of Michael Laws (later to become a controversial National Party, then NZ First, Member of Parliament, and, later still, an even more controversial talk-back host and Mayor of Whanganui) formed what he called the “Students Civil Rights University Movement” (SCRUM). As the months went by, the membership of SCRUM increased to number hundreds of highly vocal student supporters of the Springbok Tour.

All-too-aware of the sizeable number of pro-tour students on campus, I felt obliged, as the editor of the Otago University Students Association’s newspaper, “Critic”, to invite Laws to submit a weekly opinion column. He accepted with alacrity, and “Dragonfly” was born. The subject matter of “Dragonfly” was by no means limited to the Tour, Laws was equally vociferous on a broad range of social issues – all of them approached from a decidedly (and, at times, outrageously) right-wing perspective.

Though many of my comrades urged me to do so, I never once considered what we would today call “de-platforming” Michael Laws. The student newspaper was paid for by the student body, and a significant part of that body were staunchly right-wing in their opinions. It was always my view that, in spite of my personal distaste for conservative students’ opinions, they had a right to see them represented on the pages of their newspaper. Certainly, they had no less a right to representation than those students who, like myself, viewed matters from a radically left-wing perspective.

I can only imagine how the staff member in Katie Scotcher’s story would have responded to Michael Laws. A champion New Zealand debater, he would, I suspect, have made a considerably more cogent case for his views than the rather unfortunate-sounding young man in her class. Indeed, she would have been required to do what my old history professor, John Omer-Cooper, did when, in the early months of 1981, he squared-off against Laws, his former student, in the Main Common Room, in a white-hot debate on whether the Springbok Tour should proceed.

Omer-Cooper, in front of hundreds of students, won that debate. Not by silencing Laws, but by simply out-arguing him. The professor had spent much of his life in southern Africa. He knew of what he spoke – and everybody in the MCR that day could see that he did.

I have never forgotten the professor’s response to Laws’ crowning accusation that he was abandoning the right thing for the expedient thing:

“Sometimes, Michael,” the professor said quietly, “the right thing, and the expedient thing, are the same thing.”

It seems to me, still, even after the passage of 38 years, that Professor John Omer-Cooper’s command of the evidence; his obvious moral commitment to the cause of racial equality; and his quiet dignity (in the face of all the rhetorical slings and arrows Laws could hurl at him) provided that student audience with a truly magnificent example of what a university was – and still should be – about.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Scotcher’s story was the staff member’s statement that after the confrontation with the young “white supremacist” a significant number of her students stopped coming to class. The contrast between these students’ response to overtly racist behaviour, and the response of Otago students to the provocations of SCRUM and the violence of the Police and the “Rugby Thugs” off-campus, is stark. The students of 38 years ago didn’t run to the nearest authority figure tearful and distraught: they padded-up, put on crash helmets, and went out onto the streets; risking pro-tour fists and police batons to do all that they could to end the genuinely and murderously white supremacist regime that was Apartheid South Africa.

What a pity that the staff member in Scotcher’s story didn’t present the infamous “Dawn Raids” against Pasifika immigrants (which triggered the young man’s outburst) as proof of how far this country has come since the days of Rob Muldoon and his ilk. She could have reminded her students that, even then, in the 1970s, there were thousands of horrified New Zealanders prepared to challenge the racist policies of their government.

Because that, in the end, is the point. By joining together in solidarity with the victims of imperialism and colonialism; by facing down both the personal and institutional racism that is its toxic legacy; we can bring it to an end. Public outrage halted the Dawn Raids. Apartheid South Africa is no more.

The evil of racism, again on the rise, will not be defeated by hiding from it and issuing complaints, but by confronting it openly and fearlessly – as tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders did in the aftermath of the Christchurch tragedy.

In the words of that pioneer of African-American civil rights, the freed slave, Frederick Douglass:

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 25 June 2019.


David George said...

Thank you Chris, I'm not convinced that "racism is on the rise" as you assert; perhaps it's just that folk today are more inclined to see a "racist in every woodpile" - so to speak.
Perhaps confrontation is not the best approach to understanding and racial harmony.
When building our house we had my wife's nephew (Pakeha) and my ( reasonably distant) cousin (Maori) on the job as carpenters. They are good friends (more than friends, the wife's nephew's brother was engaged to my cousin's sister) and genuinely like and respect each other.
A news item came on the radio; a house had been burgled and vandalised. "That'd be one of your lot " said the nephew. "We wouldn't have to be doing that if your lot hadn't stolen all our land" was the response. Everyone had a good laugh, I thought it was just lovely.
In a recent clip from Rebel Wisdom (an interview with Tim Lott - highly respected columnist author and old school lefty imbued with wisdom and humility (they invariably go together). A bit like our Chris Trotter, the sort of chap you could "have a beer with" and come away the better for it) discusses the dangers of censorious overreaction and the rising authoritarianism within sections of the "new left". Trigger warning for GS; they discuss Jordan Peterson. https://youtu.be/yRmvzqc8BkU

guerilla surgeon said...

"I'm not convinced that "racism is on the rise" as you assert;"

I agree. It was always there. It's just more open now that people feel legitimized by people like Trump. In the semi-old days they would have thought it but kept their gobs shut until they'd had a few drinks.
Incidentally the "new left isn't a thing. It's a made up rightist word. The usual sloganeering stick to beat the left with.
Don't need a trigger warning about Peterson thanks. The more I see of him the more I think what a good laugh he is. With his diet unfortunately he won't be around to provide me with innocent amusement for long enough dammit.

guerilla surgeon said...

Dammit that should be "new left anymore"

John Hurley said...

National Geographic has an article about Muslim activist Anjum Rahman. It asks: WHAT DIVIDES US
How does a nation create unity, harmony, equal opportunity?

Nation comes from "natio" (to be born - or adopted). “It’s not like you can’t do anything,” says Rahman of racist attitudes. “There are programmes that work, there’s a lot of research. What it needs is commitment and resources.”

Yeah right. You can't have your cake and eat it: multicultural - universal nation/ nation

John Hurley said...

We don't know what he said do we? Possibly too embarrassingly trite to acknowledge?

guerilla surgeon said...

Dammit again I must apologise to Kiwidave. Apparently they ARE calling some economists 'The New Left'. Perhaps to avoid confusing old blokes like me who remember the old New Left they could call it the new New Left.

BlisteringAttack said...

Universities are the place of vigourous debate and advanced discussion.

I suspect this Auckland University lecturer is a millennial who runs to authority figures in tears with a sob story rather than standing up and crushing a position with the power of intellect.

David George said...

Thanks for the NZ Geo story John. Interesting her allusion to separatism with the hint for funding for "tuition". Seperate schools? It seems obvious that the issues are cultural rather than racial.
We had a proposal (from NZ First I believe) that prospective immigrants have knowledge and acceptance of Kiwi culture. PM Adern was quick to condemn the concept with "we are a multicultural society". Fair enough but on several occasions (most recently over the Folau controversy) she proclaimed "these are not our values". Whether she is being dishonest or lacking self awareness or "feels" rather than thinks on moral questions is open to debate but you can't be multicultural (that is; with a multiplicity of values) and then pretend to talk about "our values".
There is conflict brewing; recently (and still unresolved) the Muslim parents of British schools shut the schools down in outrage at the teaching of the acceptance (normalisation, even indoctrination as they put it) of homosexuality and transgenderism.
History reminds of the dangers of pursuing a separatist course; things are sort of OK and folk are generally accepting (apathetic?) of different values, dress or prohibitions on intermarriage. Come hard times and what social cohesion there is collapses - look at what happened in Rawanda during their famine or the Ashkinasi Jews in Europe during the great depression and WW2. Not good.
There is always a natural suspicion of "the other" and the best way to overcome it is through contact, an understanding of and commitment towards a common set of values will follow. I can't understand the government supporting initiatives that lead in the opposite direction, separate Maori language schools for example. The kids, all together in the classroom and on the sports and playing fields are your best bet.

Nick J said...

Just love the concept of safe spaces. You get "threatened" by somebodies viewpoint that is radically opposed to your own, so you run for "safety". But because you have run away you are signalling the need to be "protected" from that viewpoint.

That has many implications.

It is calling on authority to take your viewpoint alone, very authoritarian. It is calling on authority to act on your behalf, heading toward totalitarian thought.

It is very passive aggressive. It's a way of saying I"right you are wrong" without right of response. Unfair and cowardly.

It is intellectually dishonest. If your views are superior they should be able to be argued.

It is not a way of demonstrating commitment. That takes courage. In 81 we stood before the batons. It was scary. Our view prevailed. Imagine if we had all run for safe places: the door would have been locked behind us.

John Hurley said...

That article about Anjum Rahman sums up what what is meant by racism in the modern context. It is liberalism extended to migrants who are not expected to integrate, or share the values and aspirations of the majority culture (9 kids) or be of net benefit to the economy (lying in a good cause is o.k). It is disingenuous, I have been around for the whole show and i have seen a completely white neighbourhood go to multicultural. My first non white neighbour was an Indian who was welcomed as neighbours are allies (you hope). Then i recall lots of Chinese and thinking "they must be highly qualified; then "Nyeun Swei?" abandoned "Little Pumpkin" at Melbourne Airport while her mother's body rotted in the boot of the car. He was owner of one of six Chinese newspapers in Auckland; and house prices went up and up (the National Party became very liberal). Then Chinese bus drivers flooded the tourist industry - a concession given by Helen Clark. Helen Clark went on to become the first female U.N. Secretary General.

Meanwhile the TEU are biting their nails over "white supremacy" and singing "We are, we are union!"

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But you can't be multicultural (that is; with a multiplicity of values) and then pretend to talk about "our values". "
Of course you can.
"Muslim parents of British schools shut the schools down in outrage at the teaching of the acceptance (normalisation, even indoctrination as they put it) of homosexuality and transgenderism. "
And Christian parents in the US shut down libraries who try to organise the acceptance ofLBGT people. Among other things.




So perhaps you could be a bit more forthcoming about what values we are supposed to be adopting or accepting as a nominally Christian and nominally white society?

John Hurley said...

There must be some constants to keep a society united as "us"? Anjum Rahman is claiming that people can undergo programs (re programming). Golriz annoys people (I think) as her complaint is that she is "made to feel she isn't Kiwi enough", meaning she doesn't want to be an adoptee but to assert her right to NZ as an Iranian.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

John. I was actually responding to Kiwi day. I've given up responding to you as your comments seem more and more incoherent these days.

John Hurley said...

GS while there is more difference within groups than between them there are significant differences between groups. For example drawing a cartoon of Mohammed or (Yassim Abdiel-Magheed) rubbishing Anzac Day in a tweet (or whose group will be the majority in the future and whose buildings will dominate (mosque or cathedral)). Thanks to immigration (thanks to elite institutionalisation) we are completely losing control of our future. Fieldmarshal Love (Jacinda Adern) thinks her army will be firmly in control - yeah right! She is King Canute, relying on media culture, however in line with her multicultural policies, ethnic councils are calling for more journalists that "represent them(selves)".
Social Justice has changed over the years. In its original form, it purported to liberate “the exploited majority” from “the privileged hands” of “the exploiting minority” (Stalin’s words). Today, it is more focused on marginalized groups, including women. Influenced by postmodern philosophy, many of today’s Social Justice advocates think of society as a hierarchical structure of power and privilege designed to oppress the Other.

In keeping with this view, racism has come to be defined as systemic white privilege, rather than as an attitude held by individual human beings. This implies that only white people can be racist. In fact, it suggests that white people are, in some sense, inherently racist. Moreover, this means that there is no such thing as anti-white racism. Analogously, the traditional concept of sexism—prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination on the basis of sex—has been replaced by a powerful myth: the patriarchy.

People are thus divided into two categories, based on their immutable characteristics: the oppressed and the oppressors. Inverting Martin Luther King’s vision of a just society, in which people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” identity politics is best defined as a politics of group essentialism.


John Hurley said...

It's Official:

Kia Ora Mr Hurley

Thank you for your email of 15 June.

Yes, the Human Rights Commission considers that race is a social construct rather than a biological characteristic, and that no one race or ethnic group is superior to another.

This is consistent with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which New Zealand is a signatory, which affirms in its foreword "hat any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere."

Yours sincerely

Joris de Bres

Advisor, Human Rights - Race Relations
Based on a query where katherine Ryan on Nine to Noon stated:

Is race science making a come back?


Kathryn speaks with award-winning British journalist Angela Saini, whose latest book exposes and challenges race science, which she says is making a subtle come-back. Angela Saini has been described as one of the world's best science writers, regularly presenting science programmes for the BBC. She writes for the Guardian, and the New Scientist. Holding a Masters in Engineering from Oxford University, where she was also an anti racism campaigner, Superior: The Return of Race Science looks at racial biases in science history. Exposing the lie at racism's rotten core: that inequality is a result of genetics rather than political power, that race is a biological characteristic instead of a social construct.


This puts the state in the position of the Church against Copernicus - almost, as it is more nuanced than the Sun circling the Earth, however not being nuanced in a complex reality is not a good look.

David George said...

GS, I'm not the one promoting one set of values over another, you should direct your question to J Adern.
I think you're confusing race and culture and thereby missing the point. Culture is, above all, a set of values. If you are willing to promote multiculturalism then you must also accept that all (at least the legal ones) cultural/religious values are valid and acceptable. Fundamentalist Christian or Muslim, Hindu whatever; the Gloriavale community and Destiny Church.
While that sounds all very inclusive and accepting I don't believe it's a good idea for the long term future of society,the examples given illustrate the point. The only way to foster the development of a common (Kiwi?) culture is through understanding each other; free and open dialogue, contact and shared experience and that is what we should be promoting. Separate languages and schools are a bad idea if social cohesion is important - it is.
It really doesn't matter so much the source and shape of the evolved culture; my ideas about what it "should" look like are irrelevant.