Wednesday 2 December 2020

To Apologise For Your Country's History, Is To Admit That You Don't Understand it.

Retrospective Moralising: Ideas that have, generation after generation, been ingrained in the minds of children by their parents, taught in school textbooks, and articulated forcefully by teachers, preachers, politicians and journalists of every stripe, are extremely hard to kill. All the more so when the identity of those to whom they have been transmitted is bound up inextricably with the pride and self-confidence they communicate, and the power they purport to guarantee.

THE DECISION BY STUFF to publish an all-purpose mea culpa for its racism towards Maori will be regretted. That regret will be fuelled in part by future generations’ acute embarrassment at the simplistic anachronisms which constitute the apologists’ central “argument”. Mostly, however, it will be fuelled by the effects of the highly racialised backlash it is bound to provoke. It is clear that a certain privileged layer of New Zealand society has learned nothing from the recent political convulsions besetting both the United Kingdom and the United States. Spit upon the most cherished beliefs and achievements of your “deplorables” and – eventually – they will spit back.

Let us deal with the anachronisms first. The word itself simply means: “a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects, language terms and customs from different time periods.” To judge the actions of historical actors by the prevailing moral precepts of the present is not only philosophically impermissible, but it also betrays the writer’s fundamental ignorance of the history he is purporting to condemn.

The founders of The Press, The Dominion, The Evening Post, The Taranaki Herald and The Waikato Times; the editors they appointed; and the journalists they hired; were all children of their times. They were living in a colony of the British Empire and in their writing they evinced the beliefs and values of what historians have dubbed “The Age of Imperialism”.

The conquest of other peoples’ lands, and the ruthless dismantling of cultures that inevitably followed, was justified by the imperialists’ unshakeable conviction that the steady advance of Western Civilisation across the planet lay at the very heart of human “progress”. The corollary to this belief in Western superiority was the notion that any resistance on the part of those the imperialist poet par excellence, Rudyard Kipling, called “lesser breeds without the law” was an unacceptable impediment to progress and must, at all costs, be crushed.

Which is not to say that these imperialist beliefs were accepted uncritically by everyone. There were contemporaries of the men who founded New Zealand’s colonial press who, while undoubtedly accepting the racial hierarchies proclaimed by the science of the day, nevertheless recognised the theft of other people’s property when they saw it – and weren’t afraid to say so.

If the white races were so self-evidently superior to the rest of humanity, these critics argued, then surely they were honour-bound to uphold the core civilisational values of which they were so inordinately proud? Promises, freely given, must be kept. Rights universally shared must be universally acknowledged. Equality, once proclaimed, cannot be rescinded. It was people of this temperament – a tiny minority of the settler population – who felt moved to write to those same colonial newspapers condemning with considerable force the destruction of Parihaka and the detention without trial of the settlement’s leaders.

It is also a fact that the colonial newspapers printed their letters. Proof, one might think, that the Pakeha New Zealanders of 140 years ago were not all the slavering racist monsters portrayed by Stuff’s current crop of anachronistic moralisers.

Which is not to say that, right up until the childhoods of people still alive today, those racial hierarchies weren’t upheld as scientific truths. Not even the unqualified evil of the Holocaust and the eugenicist murder of innocents by Nazi doctors in the 1930s and 40s, was enough to shake the white supremacist prejudices of the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese imperialists who attempted to pick up where they left off before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

It took the breaking of the imperialists’ grip in India, Africa, Indo-China and Indonesia – by Indians, Africans, Indo-Chinese and Indonesians – bolstered by the scholarship of post-Holocaust anthropologists, historians and political philosophers, to upend finally the racial hierarchies that had justified white supremacy for upwards of four centuries. That, and the fight for civil rights in the belly of the American beast that quickened radically the debate over the place of race in the development of the United States – and the whole of the “Western World”.

It was not an easy fight. Ideas that have, generation after generation, been ingrained in the minds of children by their parents, taught in school textbooks, and articulated forcefully by teachers, preachers, politicians and journalists of every stripe, are extremely hard to kill. All the more so when the identity of those to whom they have been transmitted is bound up inextricably with the pride and self-confidence they communicate, and the power they purport to guarantee. The simple idea that “The West is the Best” is not contradicted – or apologised for – without unleashing resentments and hatreds of punishing force.

Reading the various essays published in the Stuff newspapers, it becomes clear very quickly that the writers possess not the slightest insight or empathy for the settler society they condemn; nor understanding of the 150 years of “racist” journalism they apologise for. What, one is moved to wonder, do they see when they look upon the works of their ancestors? The roads and the railways? The public buildings? The farms and factories? The family histories of struggle, disappointment and ultimate success? The sacrifice of tens-of-thousands of young men in wars whose casualty-lists reduce the New Zealand Wars to a skirmish.

A few years ago, I recall describing to an academic friend from Turkey the “battle” of Rangiaowhia, and explaining the discrepancy between the accounts of Pakeha and Maori historians as to the number killed. Was it twelve or seventeen? “Thousand?”, my companion asked, confused. “No, no,” I replied, embarrassed, “just twelve or seventeen.” She shook her head in quiet disbelief.

To apologise for one’s history is to invite those wronged by it to seek either restitution or retribution – or, maybe, both. The problem is, that what was taken by a combination of force and trickery is unlikely to be reclaimed by anything else. The children of the settlers who built “New Zealand” on the body of “Aotearoa”, understand in that special place known to all human-beings who love their homeland, that the apologies being offered by these radical journalists (who clearly despise everything “New Zealand” stands for) are a warning of deep and tragic upheavals to come.

Some of these Pakeha will reluctantly abandon their country. Some will retreat deeper into what is still its racist heartland. And some will struggle to preserve the nation they have grown up in. A nation whose true history is one of Maori and Pakeha finding more and more to be proud of in the way each ethnicity has adapted to the presence of the other. In the course of that history many apologies have been earned, and some have been given, but not, until recently, for being caught up in historical forces too vast for blame, and too permanent for guilt.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 1 December 2020.


Anonymous said...

Well said as usual Chris. I used to read the Herald for a laugh & Stuff for insight – now it’s full of far too much navel gazing. The worst abuse is their blatant censorship of any opinion that doesn’t align with their editorial line.

For someone who’s ancestors on the male & female sides came to NZ from the Highland Clearances & the Irish Famine respectively I consider the current vogue for reinterpreting history through today’s woke lens is more than a bit self indulgent arrogant pretension. Robbie Wgtn

greywarbler said...

On the one hand I think that stuff has done a good thing.
On the other hand I see the Maori Party pair walking out of Parliament I think because the bloke wanted to wear his hat. Whatever, it didn't seem a good start towards an effective Parliament needing to deal with pressing issues of the past, present and future. Playing games for personal satisfaction of the moment, pathetic.

On the one hand I think Maori have shown the way to hold onto a culture that curates and continues what is good and cohesive and survives, under the leadership of people who weren't into playing games and strutting the boards satirising in the wrong theatre; Parliament being a theatre of conflict of ideas leading to actions in real time and place.
On the other hand there is constant talk about Maori not having good lives, and being disadvantaged, and the culture being ignored despite much effort over the years by them and pakeha to improve matters. I found in one case a stubborn unwillingness to take the educational opportunity to upskill that would enable better living conditions, a determination not to move beyond a lifetime of unskilled or semi, with any tertiary education disdained. Factory work commitment; 'Lt's been good enough for me, and now my children' approach.

I wonder if there is a prevailing prejudice against changing behaviours amongst many Maori that has resulted in many having lifestyles without a plan, living for the day without decision-making and self control. (Resulting in the oft-heard violence statistics and Oranga Tamariki tragedies.) Maori are not just one homogenuous group; there are class divisions, as in general society. Alan Duff wrote of the happy Maori working man, often self-employed, in his searching memoir 'Out of the Mist and Steam': 'Be happy, be glad to be alive, don't analyse, don't argue about stuff you've read, these people don't want to know. Just enjoy.' But himself? 'Can't keep my mind down, think about everything. Want to engage with someone, anyone.'p174 The natives are restless. He would probably laugh at that joke - not hang a racist tag on it. I think he is above that pettiness. One person with heft was Celia Lashlie RIP. Her ideas continue need backing.

On the one hand, perhaps now is the time for advancing Tino Rangatira.
On the other, perhaps there are not enough wise Maori in the vanguard to take the advantages of that and yet hold onto the good that is there in the present system. And not to forget the conservative Pakeha, likely to be in a majority in the retired group, concreting their prejudices as they age, and living longer leaving them ossified. I was distressed to see the number of elderly men popping up at the Constitution Conversation apparently prepared to throw out all the fair and goodwill agreements laboured over so long by Maori iwi and hapu, and willing Pakeha with a sense of justice attempting the balance of settlements for bad behaviour.

Shane McDowall said...

You speak of the ingrained anti-Maori prejudices of the Pakeha dominated media as if it occurred during the last Ice Age.

In the 1990s I sent a letter to the NZ Herald in which I used the words Te Tiriti O Waitangi. It was printed but with the words Treaty of Waitangi.

One of the reasons I took to writing letters to the editor was to combat the blatant racism in such columns. Many of these bigots hid behind a nom-de-plume, hence my deep seated hatred for people who use nom-de-plumes.

The Sunday Star Times gave a column to the late Frank Haden whose anti-Maori bigotry was obvious to the blind. Anti-Maori bigotry sells.

A journalist acquaintance told me that his editor tried to put the word Maori on the front page headline because it increased sales. So it is not like anti-Maori bigotry is historical.

Ricardo said...

Well said.

Boris said...

You make some very valid points Chris. As a former history teacher, I always emphasised that an historian’s job is to understand the people in the past, not to act as a judge and jury. Drawing personal conclusions about right and wrong from studying the past was valid, but personal value judgements should not appear in their writing. The imposition of current values on people in the past is unhistorical, and shows a complete inability to understand people within their own context. Stuff may have attempted todo the right thing, but history is replete with examples of people who ended up doing the wrong thing for what they thought was the right reason.

Trev1 said...

I was appalled by Stuff's apology. They have signed up to the immoral and unjust notion that earlier generations of European New Zealanders and their descendants share in some kind of collective guilt for crimes real or imagined. Their stance is likely to bewilder many, and aggravate race relations. Despicable virtue-signalling of the worst kind.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I spent close to 2 years studying New Zealand newspapers from the very beginnings until the 1980s. I find myself agreeing for once with Shane McDowell. Especially about Frank Haden, with whom I clashed once or twice in the letters pages after he'd written racist rubbish.

The Barron said...

I think to understand the Stuff apology, we have to look at what is expected of journalism. A quick look at the Pulitzer criteria -

'What does the Pulitzer Board mean when it says that “entries must adhere to the highest journalistic principles?”

The board is committed to honoring work that exemplifies the longstanding ethics of the journalism profession. These include a commitment to honesty with both readers and the subjects of our work. The best journalism is transparent about its sources and methods. The rigor and completeness of sourcing is an important factor in judging the quality of submissions, whether it involves attribution in the text, footnotes or the citation of documents.'

Stuff recognized that the historical reporting was below those standards, in particular, the honesty to the subjects of the work.

Historians will interpret primary documents such as contemporary newspaper reports. As the guardians of the historical accounts, Stuff has acknowledged the implicit bias. The apology is noting that the accounts they published may not be balanced or accurate. The historian can still interpret, but the publications have a disclaimer.

I have never understood why historical accuracy would lead to any type of generational guilt. If events have created historical injustice, there is an opportunity to examine the injustice and see if past wrongs can be set right, or at least acknowledged and understood.

It is also insulting to those who suffered injustice to look at proportionality to other suffering injustice in different context. It would seem no relevance to those at Rangiaowhia at the time what may or may not be happening in Turkey. It remains of no relevance now.

In regard to what is seen as an historical awakening in Britain, we should bear in mind Thatcher passed law that the commonwealth can only be taught in terms of benefit to the colonies and Britain. What we are seeing today is the result of suppressing historical accuracy and grievances.

Stuff has done the right thing to preserve their journalistic institutions and integrity.

Nick J said...

I'm all for equity in reporting. That to me is good journalism, something that is in short supply globally where we are constantly fed half truth and lies. As a pakeha I can accept that other cultures see things differently and should be given voice. That said I don't want anybodies voice censored of views that may offend, let that be judged on its merits. I think we need to toughen up and respond rather than stifle and drive underground.

As for Stuff apologising for past wrongs, I say good for them but it's at their own peril to go all woke. Readership and advertising revenues might tell the story.

As for a paper trying to frame history in an apologist manner I'd remind them of mine. In 1066 a forbear of mine fought for William and was part of a conquest that resulted in his descendants lording it over my Saxon forbears for centuries until by dint of interbreeding and cultural synthesis we became an English family. It would be ridiculous for me to demand redress, I have blood from both lines. The settlement of New Zealand was for Maori as much a conquest and subjugation as 1066 was for the Saxons. No amount of guilt or virtue signaling will change this. What will is the continual process where we become one people, through cultural and physical marriage. I look forward to the day it becomes ridiculous to ask a New Zealander if he has Maori or Pakeha blood.

John Hurley said...

As Robert Sapolsky says" "It's complicated".

While I find myself in general agreement with the authors' call for bi-nationalism, as a logical consequence of conflicting messages of kawanatanga and rangatiratanga in the Treaty, I reject their easy acceptance of essentialism as an unproblematic part of that bi-nationalism when they say:

The rationale behind bi-nationalism reflects an essentialist reading of diversity - that is, each group of people is fundamental [sic] different, and these primordial ('essential') differences constitute the basis for entitlement and engagement.

I do not agree that it is necessary to re-introduce 'essentialism' into the discussion. In fact, I think it is dangerous, because it adds fuel to the fire of those who love engaging in 'authenticity talk' to establish that there are no 'real' or 'full-blooded' Maori left in New Zealand anyway, and that consequently nobody can be entitled to anything simply on the grounds of 'being Maori'. The authors should have made clear that it is a strategic essentialism that underlies a commitment to bi-nationalism. Qualifying the essentialism as 'strategic' makes explicit that the Maori nation is constructed as an imagined community with the aim of wrenching power from the 'mainstream', while at the same time avoiding the 'authenticity trap'. Here, as earlier, the book could have benefited from a more thorough engagement with postcolonial theories. This would have allowed the authors to avoid promoting highly problematical terms as 'essentialism'. It might also have led them to explore the (productive?) tension between, on the one hand, their own post(-)colonial politics of binationalism, which ultimately lead to a renewed emphasis on "binary cultural politics" (98), and postcolonial theories, on the other, which generally set out to deconstruct such binary thinking.

Reviewed by Simone Drichel.
Recalling Aotearoa. Indigenous Politics and Ethnic Relations in New Zealand.
Edited by Augie Fleras and Paul Spoonley.

John Hurley said...

This is activism. It seeks not only to revolutionize understandings of knowledge and rigor in university curricula not necessarily to improve them—but also to influence public policies away from evidenced and reasoned work and towards the emotional, religious, cultural, and traditional, with an emphasis on lived experience. It seeks to challenge the core understanding of "scholarly research" as the gathering of empirical data for analysis, in order to better understand social issues. This theme comes across most strongly in the 2004 book, Decolonizing Research in Cross-Cultural Contexts: Critical Personal Narratives,39 which focuses on in-digenous studies and is edited by Kagendo Mutua, professor of special education at the University of Alabama, and Beth Blue Swadener, Pro-fessor of Culture, Society and Education / Justice and Social Inquiry at the University of Arizona. Citing Homi Bhabha, the editors introduce the essays by claiming,

These works stand at the center of the "beginning of the presenting" of a disharmonious, restive, unharnessable (hence unessentializable) knowledge that is produced at the ex-centric site of neo/post/colonial resistance, "which can never allow the national (read: colonial/western) history to look itself narcissistically in the eye.") (emphasis in original)

This means that the authors of the essays within this volume are not obliged to make sense, produce reasoned arguments, avoid logical contradiction, or provide any evidence for their claims. The normal ex-pectations of scholarly "research" do not apply when pursuing research justice. This is alarming, and it is justified Theoretically. In the words of professor of indigenous education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, Linda Tuhiwai Smith,

[F]rom the vantage point of the colonised, a position from which I write and choose to privilege, the term "research" is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. The word itself "research" is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world's vocabulary.'

It is unclear how this attitude is likely to help people in the "indigenous world," which, barring the decolonization of time, also happens to have entered the twenty-first century.

P 83
Cynical Theories Helen Pluckrose, James Lyndsay

John Hurley said...

Meng Foon speaking without notes
Meng Foon on "Kith and Kin"
What did Meng mean by that?

RedLogix said...

An especially insightful essay Chris.

I would add several more observations; one is that us moderns are very fond of sneering at the 'white supremacist' attitudes of prior generations. Yet if you lived in that era, where European industrialisation and deep water navigation were proving so radically successful, the idea that maybe white people were in some way 'superior' was not an unreasonable idea, providing an explanation at a time when few alternatives were on offer.

That it turned out to be a wrong idea is nothing surprising either, history is replete with ideologies that seemed like a good idea at the time.

However we should also be careful not to toss the baby out with the bathwater; their notion of 'progress' may well have been highly Euro-centric (and how could it not have been?), but virtually every feature of our modern lives, from doubled life expectancies to the computers we all tap away on, is a direct legacy of their vision, energy and endeavour.

My problem with the Stuff apology is not with it's undoubtedly good intentions, but that it lazily lies very close to the habit of using shame and 'white guilt' that so many so-called anti-racists are using to bully their way into positions of cultural power. When in reality few people who claim to be concerned about racism ever seem to ask the question 'what are the best ways to change a persons mind and heart, so they shift their aim away from differences, tribalism and prejudice?'.

Patricia said...

History does not exist just to explain the past. Read and understand history to explain why the present is as it is now. .Apologies are healing.

Anonymous said...

Oh Dear Chris. Some of us are caught between an old and a new place! I too am in the older group and have always read the daily paper and today's equivalent online and have noticed the changes over the years and not much had improved. For many years I got thoroughly sick of the repeated-ad-nauseum list of abused Maori children every time there was a similar tale. As a white child at school, Maori kids were looked down on and it seemed normal as that was the adult influence/prejudice/racism? It isn't right now and wasn't right then so we may as well say so!
I must say I am enjoying the navel-gazing by stuff and all it reveals. There seem to be more positive comments in MSM than negative so far. You are absolutely right to say that our forefathers and journalists lived in different times but that doesn't mean they were right in their attitudes and no-one is saying they were wrong in everything they did.
I think Stuff is not apologising for our history. Let's be clear that they are apologising for the blatant slanting of reporting regarding Maori over many years. Since 1840 when my ancestors were trading with Te Rauparaha in the Marlborough Sounds we have had Te Tiriti O Waitangi as a partnership document. It's good to be respecting that a little more now than we did for example at Parihaka.
I challenge anyone who is upset at having to face up to racial injustice to ask to visit their local marae (which I wonder if you would even know where to find it)? They may be surprised at the warmth of the welcome they will undoubtedly receive not to mention the cultural ambience and artistic feel of the surroundings. Then they may be able to forgive themselves in acceptance and humility for having been, as I have been, a little out of step with basic humanity. It was no-one's fault exactly but we were all wrong at times.
Best wishes, Marg

Brendan McNeill said...

Do keep up with the historical perspective Chris.

The same revisionism will be manifest in the school's history curriculum which is presently under review. The aim of the left (yes, I'm afraid this is a project of the left) is to paint all white's as racist and New Zealand the product of racism. We see this being worked out presently in the USA with the NYTimes, and their 1619 project. Stuff is right on board with this, largely I suspect because the young crop of journalists have all been immersed in anti-racism, anti-colonialist, anti-western civilisation dogma at their Universities for many years.

Theirs is a just cause on the side of 'their truth' and righteousness. Moral advocacy as opposed to 'reporting' is what we can expect from now on, at least until the readership decline reaches a tipping point.

If you view everything through the lens of race, and the ideology of intersectionality and oppression, then the future looks bleak indeed. Only by standing up to the obvious failings and inconsistency of this ideology can we hope to overcome it.

I'm pleased to see you take this first step.

Anonymous said...

Wow interesting Chris we need more in-depth writing in New Zealand I feel its like - food Soothing to my soul

JanM said...

Are some of us getting a bit confused between 'history' and the obligations of news media to provide accurate and unbiased reporting?

Geoff Fischer said...

The idea that material progress in New Zealand has been driven disproportionately by Europeans or even pakeha is another colonialist myth. There is no evidence to support it.
Look into history or look around you, look at your neighbours and workmates and you will see that Maori have played an essential role throughout. In fact, without Maori, it would not have happened as it did.

John Hurley said...

Paul Spoonley says "one problem is that some want to emphasize free speech because they have never been the target of hate speech.

1. Re write history. Victoria Square was (some sort) of Ngai tahu market place.
"This place teemed with Ngai tahu"; "a lot of stopping off at market square" despite zero archeological evidence all about the CBD that wasn't "culturally European". That was the "first phase of the city" (they did find two bodies in Cathedral Square). Don Miskell Landscaper also repeats this and got an Queens Birthday award.
We now have two truths but one dominates (because sensitive children aren't up to our level of truth).

2. John Campbell and Peter Brown. New Zealand's identity is one generation thick. Ie if large numbers move here from China "X will have been born here. You know that" therefore are "New Zealanders"

3. Land of the Long White Cloud. Civilians Guide (Dick behind a desk)

4. "We will come to know ourselves in Maori terms"; "a critical privileging of Maori culture" Spoonley quoting During.

5. Conflating racism with ethnocentrism and labelling it a white disease because we (historically had the upper hand)

sumsuch said...

Trump's niece has just described the Republican Party as ' anti-democratic and proto-autocratic'. Well said, but she knows psychology not economics. I think that was the story all along.

John Hurley said...

Bin-Ladens niece likes Trump.

One thing about this cultural acceleration is that ever since the 1970's (as Chris put it) "the Treaty has become the litmus test for authentic revolutionary praxis" (on the left) and journalists have been on the left for quite some time. I recall noting the soft tone of Kim Hill's interviews of Maori and Chris Laidlaw who's subject went back to prison "for a catch up" being ignored etc.So when I see journalists all weepy at this moment it doesn't seem right.

sumsuch said...

Brendan, would you want America here with their pivotal Evangelical influence, or Oz with them picking Liberal MPs? Or maybe our logical democracy, mightily scared of the powerful? Thankful not to have you crazos here.