Tuesday 22 December 2020

Signs and Portents: Is Middle New Zealand Really Less Racist Than It Used To be?

Savage Reaction: Local politicians foolhardy enough to recognise the case for special Maori representation very soon found their efforts rolled back by huge majorities. The vehemence with which proposals for Maori wards were rejected by Pakeha voters was matched only by the vehemence of their rejection of the Treaty when polled. The near unanimity of these rejections pointed strongly to the depth of racial animus in Middle New Zealand.

THERE ARE SIGNS and there are portents – if you know how to read them. Fifteen years ago it was easy to predict how New Zealanders would react to Don Brash’s infamous Orewa speech. Public antipathy to the Treaty of Waitangi registered strongly in opinion surveys. Hatred for all things Maori was widespread across “Middle New Zealand”. Not overtly (except among trusted family and friends) but disguised beneath their equally bitter hatred for what amounted to the same thing – welfare beneficiaries and gangs. Political parties, wary (until Brash!) of playing the race card too obviously, had worked out that they could derive just about as much electoral benefit by beating-up on Maoridom’s body-doubles. Everybody knew exactly who the politicians were talking about, and just about everybody played along.

Ronald Reagan had kicked it off twenty-five years earlier with his inflammatory speeches about “Welfare Queens”. Conservative Americans had no trouble decoding the Gipper’s language: “Welfare Queens” was shorthand for African-Americans taking criminal advantage of White Americans’ generosity. New Zealand conservatives were fast learners of this game. The political emphasis (from both major parties) on beneficiary fraud: on “welfare cheats” criminally gaming the welfare system; was intended to (and did) persuade Middle New Zealand that they were being taken for a ride by “these people”. They were, of course, willing to concede that there were cases of genuine hardship: decent New Zealanders (a.k.a Pakeha) who really did need the community’s help; but not many.

Some of the most powerful signs and portents came in the form of resident-initiated referenda on the creation of Maori wards for district and regional councils. Local politicians foolhardy enough to recognise the case for special Maori representation very soon found their efforts rolled back by huge majorities. The vehemence with which proposals for Maori wards were rejected by Pakeha voters was matched only by the vehemence of their rejection of the Treaty when polled. The near unanimity of these rejections pointed strongly to the depth of racial animus in Middle New Zealand. They had learned how to mask their racism by unloading it onto racially identified proxies, but given the chance to express it safely and anonymously through the ballot box the results were unequivocal.

The silver lining which redeemed all these grim storm clouds was the strong geographical element to Middle New Zealand’s racist impulses. The animosity towards Maori was concentrated in rural and provincial New Zealand. The nearer you got to the centre of New Zealand’s largest cities, the more attenuated the racism of Pakeha New Zealanders became. Notwithstanding the growing strength of this urban liberalism, it was in the “brown” suburbs of the big cities – most especially South Auckland – that Don Brash’s 2005 bid to assuage Middle New Zealand’s hunger for racial rectification was ultimately halted. Even so, as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo: “It was a damn near-run thing!”

The key question thrown up by the extraordinary results of the 2020 general election is, therefore: “Is Middle New Zealand less racist than it used to be?” Did Jacinda Ardern’s inspired rhetoric about the “Team of Five Million”, and the colour-blind nature of the pandemic, put a temporary stop on the deeply embedded racism of Middle New Zealanders – even in Ilam and Rangitata? Or, has natural demographic attrition thinned out the ranks of the provinces’ aggressive racists to the point where the attitudinal shifts of the past forty years have acquired a permanent and decisive electoral heft?

Sadly, the signs and portents from the Sixth Labour Government are all pointing in the opposite direction. A decisive shift in public attitudes away from the racism that has characterised so much of New Zealand history would, presumably, be measurable in the quantum of prejudice still directed towards beneficiaries. If Maori and Pacifica in the grip of poverty and homelessness were becoming recognisable to Pakeha New Zealanders as fellow citizens in need, then surely Jacinda and her Finance Minister would have felt safe in authorising a Christmas bonus for all those Kiwis on benefits. That they have point-blank refused to contemplate such a gesture suggests that Pakeha are still a long way from making this solidaristic identification.

According to Richard Harman of the Politik website, the Labour Party currently enjoys an embarrassment of riches on the polling and focus-group front. Jacinda and her colleagues know more about what New Zealanders are thinking than any party in the last twenty years. That they are unwilling to risk the ire of the hundreds of thousands of voters they have lured away from National, by handing out extra cash to beneficiaries, strongly suggests that the warm glow of unity which Covid kindled has cooled considerably.

That the prejudices of Middle New Zealand appear to be in rude good health this Christmas season is further attested to by the Labour Government’s ever-so-careful tip-toeing away from its earlier commitment to criminalising hate speech. They may also be receiving worrying feed-back from those tasked with devising the new (and compulsory) New Zealand History curriculum. Certainly, a long period of public consultation has been promised before the new programme is rolled out in 2022. More than enough time, perhaps, for a whole pack of sleeping racist dogs to wake up and start barking?

That’s the thing about signs and portents: there’s little point in paying attention to some while studiously ignoring others. Those who insist that the pernicious influence of New Zealand’s colonial history continues to permeate the present state of Maori-Pakeha relations, would surely be unwise to proceed as if the legacy of colonisation carries no contemporary political weight. If there are no signs of Pakeha racism diminishing significantly, then the portents for this government doing very much to advance a serious policy of decolonisation would appear to be decidedly unfavourable.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 22 December 2020.


barry said...

Its got nothing to do with Racism.
I have always understood that NZ citizens (or New Zealanders if you prefer) are all equal. No one has any special rights over and above anyone else. Thus not just Maori, but all people of any race or culture should have any special democratic rights.

The argument that Maori are the first inhabitants holds no water unless the country is to remain in the state it was when Maori first arrived - not even the most die-hard 'proud savage' wants that.

But if race is to be dragged into the arguement - then I can confidently say that there has never been a race based decision anywhere in the world that has an over-all positive outcome. Almost in every case the outcome for the supposed under privileged group that the decision was made to supposedly help has come out of it worse off. A review of the state of Afro-americans would confirm that. As a group they are worse off now than they were in 1960 when the great positive affirmation programmes started. They are worse off economically, educationally, the number of children in solo parent families has gone from around 26% then to about 80% now, there is a higher proportion of the group in prison, on a proportion basis they have the highest percentage of obese people of any group in USA, etc, etc.

Shane McDowall said...

Middle New Zealand racist ?

Noooo ... What a surprise.

I do not support Maori wards.

I do not support Maori seats in parliament.

And I get annoyed when every woe that Maori endure is linked to
"Breaches of the treaty".

Pasifika are doing worse economically than Maori. Lower median income,
lower median net worth. No one links their appalling social statistics to
"breaches of the treaty".

My understanding is that the proposed New Zealand history curriculum does
not include the Musket Wars. This is very interesting as the Musket Wars took more Maori lives - by a factor of at least 10:1 - than the New Zealand Wars.

The Musket Wars depopulated whole swathes of New Zealand and created a genocide
in the Chatham Islands.

The story of British colonisation of these islands is not a story of unadulterated malice towards the "natives". In roughly half a century from 1840, New Zealand was transformed from a virtual wilderness into a first world democratic state.

Being the Britain of the South Seas was not the worst thing that could have happened.

New Zealand could have ended up like Tonga, Samoa, or any of the other third world Polynesian micro-states.

Oh, and a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year to you and your readers.

Yes, even you Guerilla Surgeon.

Geoff Fischer said...

Pakeha New Zealanders living in "the provinces" are not nearly so racist as they have been made out to be. Racism tends to flourish among those who have little or no contact with other ethnic groups. That suggests that it is not a natural organic phenomenon but has been cultivated by those with an interest in promoting ethnic division - to be specific, the colonialist regime. Pakeha living in rural communities know their Maori neighbours, depend upon them in diverse ways, and respect Maori and love Maoritanga.
The situation is not grim. Jacinda will make her own choices of course. She may choose to try to keep Maori on a tight rein and under-resourced. But that will be her choice, not something to be pinned on Pakeha as a whole.
The project for Maori wards in local government is a good one with revolutionary implications. The mistake is that it is not promoted as being revolutionary. If we were to argue that not only Maori, but every single citizen should be able to choose where their community of interest lies when it comes to choice of governance, then Pakeha and others would see a huge advantage to themselves in this fundamental political reform.
The left has no appetite for revolutionary change and lacks the courage to confront colonialism, so it will stick with Jacinda while Jacinda stays with the colonialist system and the Five Eyes alliance, both of which face certain destruction.
So Chris, what you are suggesting is absolute folly. Now is the time to ratchet up the attack on colonialism and to bring all Maori and Pakeha into the revolutionary struggle for the destruction of colonialism and the restoration of kotahitanga, mana motuhake and rangatiratanga.

Kat said...

How about the notion that most beneficiaries would rather a fair pay packet than a benefit. This year has shown most of the sheeple in New Zealand are beneficiaries, in one form or another. That racism has anything to do with it is as old as the notion that the views of Don Brash on society have any real significance today and is akin to believing Richard Prebble still has the key to economic nirvana.

Good breeze for kite flying though........so how about a 21st century ministry of works that offers real prosperity.....mauri mahi, mauri ora.

Max Ritchie said...

Maori wards are a very good example of racism. What you are advocating is special representation for a specific race. In Tauranga, as an example of a community which is demonstrably not racist, we have a Maori MP. His predecessor but one was also Maori. Maori who want to take part in politics in this region can succeed, provided they are seeking to represent all residents and not just those of one specific race. Brash’s speech was not racist - he actually argued for the reverse. Everyone to be treated according to their needs, not their race. Those arguing that that is racist are living in Alice’s Wonderland.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

". As a group they are worse off now than they were in 1960 when the great positive affirmation programmes started."

Partly true, but there is a massive amount of unacknowledged structural racism in the US which has militated against progress. And the National Centre for educational statistics claims that black students have made gains, and aren't in fact worse off than they were in the 1960s. So I don't know where you're getting your figures from.
Of course State governments all over the US have worked very hard to nullify legislation that was supposed to improve black people's lives. And progress on voting rights has been hindered by Republicans' voter suppression laws. Not sure what you are suggesting here – that perhaps African-Americans should simply be left in a state of "benign neglect"?

Anyway, I'm tired of arguing with "race realists" and the like. Brandolini's law you know, so I'm having some time off.
But a very Merry Christmas to all the non-racists on this site. :)

Trev1 said...

Sorry to see you tossing the word "racist" around like confetti during this season of goodwill to all. And to read an argument somehow conflating racism with opposition to "hate speech" laws designed to protect the feelings of the perpetually "offended", or more disturbingly to advantage those who wish to promote a subversive agenda free from public scrutiny or challenge. The Royal Commission's recommendations here are outrageous and would lead to people being imprisoned for "crimes" defined by judges after the fact. Other than that, Merry Christmas and thanks for your columns through the year - always thought provoking, even if disagreeable on occasion. Let's hope for a better year in 2021.

John Hurley said...

Accusations of racism rest on particular tenets of Critical Theory.

The thing about Maori Wards is they are either
1. Obligation or
2. Based on "we have been here longest and have an indigenous bag of tricks what you Pakeha don't have"
3. A combination of both.

To be fair I don't think we should discount indigenous knowledge as it existed. I just don't trust the recreated identarian Frankenstein Maori and whenever modern scientists have pitted theirs against indigenous knowledge the sophisticated statistical techniques have come out on top.

Glenn Webster said...

What amazing conclusions you derive from simple speech.
I am in my 70th year and in all my life I have met less than 50 New Zealanders who hated Maori or hated on the basis of race or skin colour.
If I say that I have contempt for those few who actively milk the welfare system you and many others appear to think that you can re-assign that sentiment as racism.
Where do you get that nonsense from?
I have heard more contempt aimed at Maori by Maori than ever by non-Maori.
And I have had conversations with two senior and prominent Maori who shared my attitudes to social parasites of whatever race, colour or nationality.
And I was very aware of the genuine and extreme poverty and need in Northland after spending six months on the Hokianga in my youth.
Chris, I have been reading you writings for decades but I think you need a reality check

The Barron said...

"...rolled back by huge majorities" has to be seen in terms of turn out. The average voter turn out for the Hobson's Pledge initiated referenda was 40%. Whakatane and Kiakoura the majorities were 56% and 55% respectively. It showed that the majority, Pakeha or otherwise, were not that worked up. You then look at the age bias in local body voting, and it is hard for anyone to suggest any shifting views one way or the other. We should not forget Wairoa set the Maori Wards up with a poll that voted in favour.
If sub-governmental organisations such as local bodies are to operate in a Treaty conscious future, there is a need to have Maori representation and ontology around the table. Hobson's Pledge already seem dated in their 2018 views. Times have changed.

Chris Trotter said...

To: The Barron.

Arguments based on turnout figures are always and inescapably speculative.

The reasons for abstention are wholly known only to the abstainers.

In a democracy, it is the views of the participants that count - and only their views.

To attribute a coherent position to the people the Ancient Greeks called "idiotes" (non-participants in the processes of self-government) is not really an acceptable political tactic. There are instances of organised boycotts of elections - a form of protest - but the examples you cite were not boycotts.

The fundamental rule of democratic politics is unchanging: if you don't vote, you don't count.

The Barron said...

Agreed. The world is run by those that show up. However, if we are to draw social trends we should be cautious of excluding 60% of the people. A voting majority can be a social minority.
Anyway, as the great Christmas standard 'Snoopy's Christmas' says -
'The Barron cried out, "Merry Christmas, mein friend!"

Stephen Todd said...

Instead of insisting on the creation of single-seat FPP wards, why don’t Māori demand that local councils be elected city- or district-wide, i.e., at-large, by STV?

Most councils have 12 to 14 councillors. If they were elected city- or district-wide by STV, each successful candidate would need to receive between 7.69% and 6.67% of the votes, to be elected. The Māori proportion of the populations of most North Island territorial authorities is sufficient to therefore ensure that at least two councillors are Māori.

But, of course, Māori must stand for election, and, most importantly, vote.

Separate, single-seat, FPP wards would simply hand guaranteed representation to Māori, with, as we have seen in the Bay of Plenty, the favoured candidate being impossible to unseat (in FPP contests), or, because of that, being re-elected unopposed. Consequently, separate wards will likely have the effect of actually reducing local democracy for Māori.

Separate FPP wards is not the answer; STV at-large (or, in geographically-large districts, in large 5 to 7-seat wards), is.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Shane
Obviously an objective teaching of New Zealand history must include a discussion of the "Musket wars". It should also address the fact that many Maori - individuals, hapu and iwi - took the side of the British imperial forces in the course of the New Zealand wars.
To the supporters of rangatiratanga, there is no such thing as an inconvenient truth. Truth begets truth and well-being.
The fundamental issue facing us is not whether one is Maori or Pakeha, but where one stands in relation to the choice of colonial rule and imperialism versus rangatiratanga and mana motuhake.
On that we may agree.
Regarding the vexed question of Maori wards in local government and Maori seats in Parliament, I am in one respect agnostic because I don't presume to tell the colonialist regime how it should manage its affairs, but in another respect I see represented here a fundamental principle of rangatiratanga, which is the right to decide one's own political constituency (a right generally denied by the colonial regime) as well as the right to choose one's own leader (a right allowed in theory but denied in practice).
So Maori identify themselves as belonging to a particular hapu and iwi, and they function socially and politically as part of that iwi. It is not for the colonial state to tell them to which iwi, hapori, social group or political constituency they belong.
What we have to do now, in the context of rangatiratanga, is make that right to decide one's own social identity and political constituency absolute and universal.
So for that reason it would be a contradiction in principle for us to argue against Maori seats or Maori wards, except to note that they do not go nearly far enough, and are an expression of more general rights that should not be restricted to those who identify as Maori.

Anonymous said...

People critiquing zionism are frequently mislabelled anti-semetic. Leftists were for a long called Communists, or fellow travellers.

This sort of vilifying those you disagree with as extremists they are not, gets easy cheap publicity for a media who likes sensation, but ultimately it backfires, as accusers loose credibility and sympathy.

More recently the left are responsible for much of this mislabelling.

Thatcher was palpably not a fascist - she was more antifa than the antifa. 'All men are rapists' normalised the behaviour of criminals while alienating half the population. Labelling Trump supporters Nazis shows.

Racism is a particularly potent label. I believe it belongs on those who consciously decide to discriminate because of race - not watered down as 'systemic' or casual' and certainly not confused with an opposition to racial separatism that drives the likes of Don Brash and those rural voters and lower class plebs who defy education they believe amounts indoctrination.

As Kiwis becomes more culturally and genetically blended, this rural, nativist and tragically unhip bunch may well increase their pesky meddling attempts to obtain straightforward answers from a left who long opposed apartheid, as to how division into 'indigenous' and lesser 'others' is to be maintained in perpetuity, and indeed an antidote to actual racism can be found in promoting what seems to be a revision of history that seems to simplify everything into brown skin good white skin bad.

Come to think of it that is almost as silly as believing there is nothing to history but economics and class.

Anonymous, to avoid the inevitable doxing from moderate mild mannered concerned citizens who talk of consequences - and have never heard of Senator Joe McCarty.

sumsuch said...

Racism is a symptom, certainly better to concentrate on economic fairness.

Geoff Fischer said...

Chris, I come back to your final comment
"If there are no signs of Pakeha racism diminishing significantly, then the portents for this government doing very much to advance a serious policy of decolonisation would appear to be decidedly unfavourable." with the contrary view that "Pakeha racism" is not a significant element in the New Zealand psyche, and that even if it was, it would not be a serious impediment to decolonization.
You have to look elsewhere than "Pakeha racism" for the reasons why the state will not decolonize. Those reasons have to do with geopolitics (the Five Eyes alliance) coupled with the essential character of the state (which is after all a colonial state) rather than with popular sentiment.
We seem to agree that the New Zealand state will not decolonize the motu, even though we disagree on the reasons why the state will not, or cannot, lead in that process of decolonization.
But sooner or later the popular will to mana motuhake will become irresistible, at which point the state will have to either go with the flow (as it did in response to the nuclear free movement) or face a revolution.
The colonial government would be wise to jump before it is pushed but if it chooses to resist until the bitter end then we will be neither surprised nor disappointed. An abrupt break with the colonial era will also be a clean break.