Aug 11, 2015

Book review: Man of Secrets, the Private Life of Donald McLean

This review was originally published in Your Weekend.

Was Donald McLean, the nineteenth century New Zealand politician, a courageous statesman or an elected crook? Did his land buying practices generate prosperity or war? Is it true he was a pious Christian or was he actually a sly adulterer? To McLean’s allies he was one of the architects of the New Zealand colony, to his enemies he was an immoral politician making personal gains off government power. The truth, as historian Matthew Wright reveals in Man of Secrets: the Private Life of Donald McLean, is more complicated than either his allies or enemies would admit.

Donald McLean arrived in New Zealand in 1840, “a stranger in a strange land”. Born in 1820 the young McLean exchanged the harsh upheavals of nineteenth century Scotland – including an early separation from his parents – for the promise of the colonies. After a brief stint in New South Wales the restless McLean landed his first job in New Zealand as a purchase agent for a Sydney-based timber company. Perceptive enough to realise that te reo Māori would be essential to any future success – Māori held the balance of power in the emerging colony and would continue to do so for at least another decade – McLean quickly acquired a working knowledge of the language.

It was the beginning of rapid rise. In 1843 Governor FitzRoy appointed McLean to a position in the Office of the Protector of Aborigines. The focus of McLean’s work would become land purchasing. The hungry colony needed land and, with knowledge of Māori and their language, McLean was uniquely suited to the role. A decade later he would be appointed Chief Land Purchase Commissioner. Part of McLean’s success was that although he understood the Māori mind and sympathised with their struggles in the new colony, he was comfortable in his own superiority complex and was not beyond using sly tactics to secure a purchase.

The effects of those sly tactics are still felt today. The Waitangi Tribunal notes that McLean’s purchasing methods were not always “transparent” and, in the case of the Waitara Purchase in the Taranaki, McLean’s methods “brought disaster”. Yet Wright takes regular swipes at this “post-colonial” history accusing some historians of “presentism” and condemning their efforts to recast history “to suit changing contemporary ideals”. It is an embarrassing distraction from an otherwise good book and it ignores the fact that Wright’s own book is an effort to recast the history of McLean.

And, for the most part, Wright succeeds in doing so. Far from being the source of all evil – or a benevolent colonial founder who did no wrong – McLean is revealed as a complex man struggling with the residue of an emotionally abusive childhood, the early loss of his beloved wife and a relentless drive to succeed. That drive to succeed would take McLean all the way to Native Minister where he would cement himself as one of the most influential figures in the history of Māori-Pākehā relations.

Mar 12, 2015

On the role of criticism: Te Matatini

So this happened. Via Te Manu Korihi:

“The Tainui group, Te Iti Kahurangi, took to the national Te Matatini kapa haka stage last week and performed a haka which challenged the way [Māori Television] covered Maori issues.

After the performance, its kaitataki tane Kingi Kiriona, [a former Te Karere reporter], questioned how Māori Television covered stories.

He suggested that the station should be doing more uplifting stories about tangata whenua rather than negative stories about them”.

There is a very basic problem here: Kiriona and Te Iti Kahurangi are confusing negativity with accountability. Māori Television – and Native Affairs in particular – do the latter. The investigations into the Kōhanga Reo National Trust were not designed to undermine Māori, but to expose wrongdoing. We could have left it at that, but then this happened:

“Waikato-Tainui said an initial decision by Māori Television to not show the haka performance was censorship.

Te Arataura o Waikato-Tainui Chairman Rahui Papa said the matter served as a reminder to protect not only the right to freedom of speech but also the age-old Māori customary practice to openly discuss and debate issues.

He said the censoring of Te Iti Kahurangi not only impinged freedom of speech but did not align with an important tikanga that had been practised for years”.

There is another basic problem here: Te Iti Kahurangi is arguing for a double standard. While they made the case for their own freedom of speech, their haka simultaneously made the case against Native Affair’s freedom of speech. That is not to say Māori Television’s decision to edit the haka was right, but neither was the substance of Te Iti Kahurangi’s criticism.

If this were merely a question of form then no problem arises. Te Matatini is a proper forum for voicing criticism, as Mihi Forbes acknowledged on Waatea. Yet it is equally true that Native Affairs is a proper forum for criticism and, more importantly, accountability. To suggest, like Te Iti Kahurangi did, that criticism must take a particular form - especially a form which is not accessible to all Māori - is a kind of cultural elitism.

There seems to be some resistance to the idea that Māori Television is, well, Māori. As if Māori cannot take modernity and repurpose it. It is a rigid view which takes things Māori to mean things historical. The irony is that such a view is, in fact, ahistorical. Māori in colonial and postcolonial New Zealand have always borrowed Western systems, technology and aesthetics and then repurposed them.

This is an issue of power, as Leonie Pihama suggests. Yet the power does not lie with Native Affairs – the primary target of the haka – but with those who the haka sought to defend. Native Affairs is a show run by a team of young women with little institutional support from Maori Television (or anyone else). Who holds the power here?

The outsiders on Native Affairs or the establishment figures who they hold to account…

Jan 9, 2015

Gareth Morgan and the Pākehā Pathology

The Treaty of Waitangi. 

Sometimes it seems like the qualities we cherish in our democracy we condemn in our politics. We revere a kind of abstract equality, but we hesitate when it means substantive equality for Māori. There are plenty of New Zealanders willing to admonish Māori underrepresentation in local government, yet few are willing to support any measures to achieve the equality they claim to support. There are plenty of intellectuals and politicians who applaud the rule of law, yet few who supported the rule of law so much that they opposed the Foreshore and Seabed Act. 

This is the incongruous intellectual tradition of which Gareth Morgan is a part. He supports “rangatiratanga”, yet he opposes “unique political rights for Māori”, which is rather contradictory because rangatiratanga is a unique political right for Māori: it is the right to our “unique” indigenous systems*. Surely, for the sake of credibility if not consistency, you cannot support something in one breath and then condemn it in the next. Yet Morgan seems intellectually unfazed. 

As one might be after solving the tax problem and the cat problem, the “Treaty problem” must seem small and simple in comparison. The New Zealand Herald - whose roster of writers on Māori issues appears to be two Pākehā men – has commissioned a four part series based on Morgan’s new book, Are We There Yet? The Future of the Treaty of Waitangi. But Morgan, certainly an impressive economist and publicist, is hardly a Treaty expert.

In his first column, a kind of extended inoculation, Morgan tells us the Treaty “renaissance [should] be celebrated”. Yet in the second and third columns it becomes clear that underneath this superficial optimism is a grim fatalism: the Waitangi Tribunal is using the Treaty to “divide society along descent lines”. I’m sure the members of the Tribunal would be flattered to know they are credited with such sinister power. 

Apparently this division is emerging because the Tribunal is “only talk[ing] to one of the partners”. That is, the Māori partner. The reality is rather different. Far from refusing to participate in Tribunal hearings the Crown regularly disputes claimants’ versions of events and vigorously contests their evidence at hearings. But I suspect this is not Morgan’s meaning – how could a Treaty author get such an elementary fact wrong? – I think the clue to his intended meaning is later in the paragraph where he writes:

“How can those in the Treaty industry guide enduring solutions if they don't take non-Maori with them”

Or, in other words, the Tribunal and the “Treaty industry” - which, ironically, Morgan is now a part of as a Treaty author – must soothe Pākehā sensitivities and avoid findings which do not meet their ideological expectations. Morgan wants to shift the full burden to Māori – we must compromise – the full measure of justice is not available to us because it is not acceptable to them (Pākehā). The statement should be reversed: how can Pākehā society offer “enduring solutions” if they do not take Māori with them?

That is not to say I expect Morgan to completely understand our perspective. The relentless focus on what is acceptable to Pākehā – rather than what is just for Māori – is natural. When you are born to one culture with few voices dissimilar to your own then it is very easy to mistake the happy accident of your own cultural sensibilities as a set of natural laws. 

This is more common than we might hope and it is not peculiar to one culture. Yet in almost every settler colony only one culture gets to draw the line between the acceptable and the unacceptable, the normative and abnormal. Which culture gets to draw the line is a matter of power and where the line is drawn is then a matter of ideology. In New Zealand the culture that draws the line is Pākehā culture and where they draw it will often exclude Māori.

And this is very much what the anti-Treaty industry does: they draw a line and declare that we go no further. But Morgan is more sophisticated than this. He wants us, rather paternalistically, to reclaim our “self-esteem” with power devolved from the state, but he will not permit measures like dedicated representation which give us some power over the state. 

Yet, in the final column suggesting better ways to implement the Treaty partnership, Morgan then goes on to endorse an upper house with a 50/50 split between Māori and non-Māori. Confused yet? You should be because in each column Morgan warns us of this inchoate division the Tribunal and the Treaty industry are creating, yet he then suggests a political division between Māori and non- Māori as a solution to that division. Again, Morgan seems intellectually unfazed.

Which is not to say we should opposes his suggestions - most of them are already in place, all of them are acceptable steps forward – but we should recognise that he fails to examine the Treaty in a substantive way. Marking problems at the edges will not do. The Treaty partnership has no meaning without reckoning with where power lies and how it is really meant to be distributed. 

Social and political reality does not change just because it is unjust, it does so when the material reality that gave rise to it expires. The problem is economic – colonisation was wildly profitable, decolonisation is costly – but also ideological. Pākehā supremacy is an organising principle in New Zealand society. Certainly not in the sense that Pākehā think themselves racially superior and are pursuing a conscious agenda on that basis, rather in the sense that their systems are placed above our systems. 

Thus the burden of compromise always falls to Māori – we can push only for what is compatible with their system – this makes Morgan’s idea that there is some sort of creeping political division emerging an utterly ridiculous one. Think about it from an iwi perspective. For each iwi a typical settlement represents around 1 to 5 percent of what was lost. In this situation who is making the compromise? The party which agrees to concede 95 to 99 percent of what it lost or the party which agrees to return 1 to 4 percent of what it gained?

*Rangatiratanga is more than a "right" as we would normally understand it. It describes a form of authority as well as the systems, practices and so on which derive from it. However, in the context of Morgan's pieces he is referring to the "right" to rangatiratanga guaranteed in the Māori text of the Treaty. 

Dec 8, 2014

Māori wards and the struggle to narrate Māori rights

The New Plymouth District, soon-to-be-home of the newest Māori ward.

The Treaty means whatever you want it to mean, as long as you’re against it. The popular account seems to consist of two jointly asserted and mutually exclusive "facts". Under the first account the Treaty is a rat-eaten relic, a kind of curiosity stored somewhere in Archives New Zealand. It has no application in modern New Zealand. Yet the second account declares that we must dutifully comply with the terms of the English language version. Māori surrendered their sovereignty in exchange for the rights and privileges of British subjects. The Treaty is relevant only as a transaction. 

Which account you prefer depends on whether you want to deny or attack Māori rights. If it’s the former then the claim must be that the Treaty creates no rights – it means nothing – if you prefer the latter then the claim must be that the Treaty creates some rights – it means something – just not what Māori and their guilt-ridden allies think. The truth – or the best interpretation – doesn’t sit somewhere in the middle, nor is it even adjacent, it’s entirely removed from the popular accounts.

Yet you should prepare for a thumping from the popular accounts. In October the New Plymouth District Council voted to approve a Māori ward for the next local government election. The tenacious mayor, Andrew Judd, went a little further in the media and suggested a “reasonable interpretation” of the Treaty demands fifty-fifty representation. Oh, the outrage! Gareth Morgan thinks the decision is an instruction manual for a “divided society”. The New Zealand Centre of Political Research reminds us that the good people of Nelson voted down a Māori ward and so can you. 

Which is a tenuous position. Should Māori rights be subject to the very majority we are seeking protection against? Whatever the answer, democracy is more nuanced than simple majority rule. Democracy must guarantee majority rule, sure, but it’s equally clear it must also guarantee the majority will not abuse its power and violate the basic and pre-existing rights of the minority. Democracy, then, is a careful balance between majority rule and minority rights. This position is as true for John Hart Ely as it was for John Stuart Mill. 

But is it right to think in such rigid – even positivist – Euro-centric terms? We need to recognise the trap. It’s tempting to narrate Māori perspectives in Euro-centric frames, but the claim to Māori wards has little to do with minority rights. I suspect many Māori readers have been flinching at “minority rights” because we understand the argument for Māori wards is based on tangata whenua rights.

Thus our claim to representation is based on the rights we inherit from our tipuna – our rights as Indigenous people – the same rights promised in the Māori version of the Treaty. While the rangatira who signed surrendered governorship over British subjects – "kāwanatanga" - they understood that they retained their unfettered chieftainship – "tino rangatiratanga". The Treaty created a partnership – it was the Treaty of Waitangi, not the Proclamation of Waitangi – and that should be honoured. Fair representation is an integral part of doing so. 

And of course this is causing angst. Gareth Morgan urges New Zealanders to "wake up". Grave changes are occurring, he warns. Yet the push for fair representation along Māori terms has been happening for 174 years, it’s just Pākehā society only seems to pay attention when they fear they have something to lose. Only then are they confronted with the possibility that some injustice may exist - that Māori and their tipuna have been denied their inherent rights. Some Pākehā retreat to their ideological armoury – no racial separatism! – while others confront the past and the place of tangata whenua. I hope there are more of the second than the first.

Note: there was a very poor phrase in here that has been edited out. I won't repeat it, but I do apologise for being thoughtless. 

Sep 21, 2014

Election 2014: the left represents no one while claiming to represent everyone

Our returning Overlord: the Rt. Hon. John Key.

There are, it seems, many New Zealands. There is the sceptical, radical, reformist New Zealand – the one I admire, the one I’m proud to support – and then there is the thin-lipped, conservative, know-your-place New Zealand. Neither New Zealand much likes the other, let alone understands the Other. Yet my New Zealand – and, if you’re reading this, probably our New Zealand – is in retreat, even disarray. Meanwhile, status-quo New Zealand – their New Zealand - is ascendant. 

Even before the results rolled in my sense of alienation had blossomed into something closer to a full-scale culture shock. Where has my New Zealand gone? How could the party of Dirty Politics poll this high? It used to be said that politics was a secondary and subservient branch of ethics, did we forget that or never believe it in the first place? New Zealanders pride themselves on a kind of earthy realism, yet this seemed  like something closer to Stockholm syndrome. 

Of course, the answers don’t matter because we’re asking the wrong questions. This election was never about Dirty Politics or ethics in politics. It wasn't even about the politics of mass surveillance or hope for something better. No one is suffering from Stockholm syndrome either. This was an endorsement of a third way government. It was an endorsement of a man who is less politician, more phenomenon.

The fifth Labour government’s redistributive policies are still in place. Government spending is rising. Unemployment is gradually decreasing. We are in the magic zone (surplus). The status quo still serves those it's meant to keep content – the middle. In light of that change always seemed unlikely. For those who are at the hard edge of government policies and a mediocre economy – beneficiaries and the working poor – voting is increasingly becoming a class act. A middle class act. Not because beneficiaries or the working poor are feckless scum stuck in their self-defeating ways, but because the left isn’t reaching them. 

That's not to say the left isn't left enough. Labour 2014 is further to the left than Labour 2004. Labour 2011 was more left than Labour 2008. The problem is more fundamental than a shift to the left or right. After all, there was plenty to vote for. What excited me, knowing the awful living conditions the poor in this country must put up with, was Kiwibuild. 100,000 new homes. It’s very easy to treat that as an abstraction, but for people living with rotten bathrooms, sleeping in damp bedrooms and eating in mouldy kitchens 100,000 news homes matter. 

Yet the problem wasn’t that the policies were poorly pitched. The problem seems to be that politics – the process, the institutions and then the policies - isn’t reaching voters at the hard edge. Our New Zealand not only talks past the New Zealand that won last night, our New Zealand also seems to talk past the people we claim to represent. Everyone is entitled to a better life, yet our leaders seem incapable of giving convincing expression to that very simple idea. Labour and the Greens made two cases very well – “here’s what we’ll do and how we’ll do it – yet the sine qua non – here’s why we’ll do it – isn’t reaching New Zealand. Notice that I’m using New Zealand as the collective now, not its many parts.

I saw David Cunliffe this morning. I had no words for him. What do you say when your side has been routed? And how do you say it to the man who will be held responsible? Although he put on a very brave face, he was clearly a broken man. Not in an emotional or physical sense, but spiritually spent. It was a uniquely horrible feeling. And's that's for me. 

I saw Metiria Turei too. She was warm, as always. We hugged it out while she was leaving the set. It was small moment of optimism in a bleak day. I reflected on that moment today and decided I’m not going to wallow in the collective pity nor indulge in self-pity. Fuck that. National deserved its crushing victory – credit to them - we most probably deserved our routing. Defeat is an opportunity and I’m taking this opportunity to join the Greens. I see it like this: the left’s old guard has no answers. None. We need a new generation. It's time for our New Zealand to step up. 

Sep 1, 2014

Who's ahead in Te Tai Hauāuru?

Chris McKenzie: the front runner in Te Tai Hauauru

It seems we have a new front runner in Te Tai Hauāuru. Via the Whanganui Chronicle

“The race for Te Tai Hauāuru is as close as predicted with the Māori Party's Chris McKenzie holding a slim three-point lead over Labour rival Adrian Rurawhe. 
A Māori TV/ Reid Research poll released on Wednesday had Mr McKenzie on 32 per cent with Mr Rurawhe on 29 per cent, the Greens' Jack McDonald on 11 per cent and the Mana Movement's Jordan Winiata on 10 per cent - impressive given that he had only been in the race for one week”.

I’m told this reflects the Māori Party’s internal polling. I’m also told it’s difficult to poll at the electorate level, doubly so in the Māori electorates. For that reason, we should treat the poll as indicative, not definitive. In any event the gap between the two front runners is within the margin of error (5%).

But on the strength of the Native Affairs debate last week, Chris McKenzie deserves to lead. I called the debate for Jack Tautokai McDonald – I’m hopelessly biased, granted – but Jack is only after the party vote. Thus, between those who are running for the electorate vote and the party vote, the winner was Chris McKenzie. He was in command of his policies and his facts. More so than Adrian Rurawhe and Jordan Winiata who, it should be noted, were both strong, but there were two professional politicians at the podium: Jack and Chris. As talented as Adrian and Jordan are, they were clearly a cut below the more experienced candidates. 

Not that the debate will change much, other than the respective campaign teams. This is where Adrian’s advantage lies. He has the stronger campaign team (like the formidable Gaylene Nepia). One shouldn’t underestimate the advantage of institutional support too. Drawing on the Labour Party’s campaign knowledge is an advantage, as is the brand bump from standing on the Labour ticket. If the trend continues, the Māori Party candidates will suffer from a brand slump ("a vote for the Māori Party is a vote for National" etc…).

But Chris has a secret weapon too: Tariana Turia. Her endorsement and support might be enough to hold the electorate. However, Ken Mair made an important point last year - "we aren’t looking for a candidate to fill Tariana’s shoes. We are looking for a candidate to carve a new path". I agree with that in one sense - the challenge is not to succeed Tariana the person (though I still think succession politics is relevant). Instead Chris must frame himself as the successor to Tariana’s legacy. That is, the successor to kaupapa Māori politics. 

So, in that light, who holds the advantage? Probably Adrian. As attractive as I find the philosophical and practical argument – that Chris is needed to protect kaupapa Māori politics – Adrian’s position is much stronger. Material needs trump and, on that one count, Labour is in a better policy position

Kiwibuild; KiwiAssure; Kiwisaver; NZ Power; the Economic Upgrade; extending ECE; restoring adult and community education; Māori trade training; the living wage in the public sector and $16.25 minimum wage; forestry and wood products policy; food in schools; subsidizing school donations and free tablets; bowel screening; free dental care; GP visits and prescriptions for pregnant women; healthy homes guarantee; manufacturing upgrade. The list really does go on.  

Labour's position is more comprehensive than the Māori Party. Few voters will know the details, but many will know intuitively that a Labour-led government is in a better position to meet Māori needs than the Māori Party within a National-led government. Now that's a very powerful narrative. 

Aug 13, 2014

The country that white supremacy made

"Two wongs don't make a white"

To believe that racism is the property of the morally corrupt, rather than the property of liberal democracy itself, is comforting to those who think racism is an individual failing. If racism is reduced to a private act – one where the racist carries the shame, not his or her enabler – then there is no need to consider, let alone admit, what makes calculated acts of racism acceptable. Thus Colin Craig, Jamie Whyte, Steven Gibson and Winston Peters are not seen as products of our impoverished political culture – one where racism is strategy – but merely lone bigots. 

But the racism of the individual can’t be separated from the society that supports it. When we offer a moral account of racism while ignoring a political analysis of racism we sanction the more insidious form. Racism is part of our ancestral memory and when something is so embedded in the political culture - as racism is - then the discourse is going to reflect it. Thus Colin Craig, Jamie Whyte, Steven Gibson and Winston Peters are more than just morally corrupt individuals; they’re the descendants of an old tradition – political racism. This is where politicians articulate private racism for public consumption. 

The practice persists because racism is foundational. Our country was built on the theft and exploitation of indigenous land. While New Zealand still wears the scars of settler colonialism, Māori aren’t the only victims of racism in our little settler colony. There is a long and loud history of anti-Asian racism and underhanded anti-Semitism. Racism designed to create the perception that the majority is under ideological and demographic siege. From Jewish bankers to Chinese investors, people of colour are “issues” to win. 

The history of Māori bashing is well known and the practice itself is not exhausted, but the history of anti-Asian racism and anti-Semitism is less known. Asian peoples generally and the Chinese in particular have always been at the hard edge of New Zealand racism. Winston Peters knows as much and is prepared to exploit that history every three years. Political racism is a sort of low-grade fever that flares up every election and puts us – the body politic – at risk. 
Not that this is particularly unusual. The political class seeds and exploits fear of the Asian invasion across the world. Our parochial politicians in the 19th century were familiar with the political benefits of anti-Asian racism and in 1881 Parliament passed the Chinese Immigrants Act. The act imposed a poll tax of 10 pounds on new immigrants from China. In 1896 the tax was increased tenfold and in 1899, in an effort to further restrict “undesirable” Chinese, Parliament imposed an education test on immigrants without British or Irish parentage. When the Old Age Pensions Act was passed in 1898, Asians were excluded (even if they were citizens). All of this happened while we maintained an almost open border policy for migrants from Western Europe and, by the standards of the time, were cultivating the roots of a universal welfare state. 

It’s this ugly history that Winston Peter’s is channeling. Settler colonies work through replacement. It would seem the unspoken fear is the pattern of replacement will reverse and the next cycle, bound to happen by 2050, will be one of the non-white kind. Winston knows it, the audience fears it. Thus “two Wongs don’t make a white” was not an off the cuff and off colour joke, it was a political tactic. Winston knew it would be reported without context and those for whom it was designed would think that it refers to immigration. Racism, then, not only lives in the hearts of particularly cynical individuals – like Winston - but it lives in the heart of our society – with the voters. 

Steven Gibson is part of the same grubby tradition. Whether he knew the stigma behind Shylock or not – he must have, why use a notorious Jewish lender to describe another Jewish banker unless one intended to make a racialised slur? – ignorance is no excuse. Although there might be comparatively little organised anti-Semitism in New Zealand –meaning little statutory discrimination – social attitudes are as toxic here as anywhere. Former Premier Julius Vogel, a practising Jew, had to endure regular cracks at his faith while the political cartoonists of the day were not afraid of deploying Jewish stereotypes. The fact that Vogel served as Treasurer was seen as particularly funny (Jewish Bankers!). The echoes with Key are uncanny. From defaced billboard depicting an orthodox Jew to political cartoons where the cartoonist draws, what seems to be, a hook nose. Like Winston, we should not view Gibson as a lone fool, but a product of our political culture. One where racism is an acceptable political strategy and tactic. The same must be said of Colin Craig and Jamie Whyte too. Each is indulging in a sort of ritualistic racism. Racism is a virus looking for host. Essentially formless, but always persistent. 

But where to from here? How do we change the political culture? Some suggest that racism is not long for this earth. In other words, we should wait for the racists to just die out. The offensiveness of that suggestion aside, people said this in the 60s too. Yet the thing about racism – like settler colonialism – is that it works through replacement. It’s protean. The leopard really can change its spots. 

The assumption is that history is linear – from ignorance to enlightenment. It’s true that we’re closer to racial justice than we were, say, a century ago, but here’s the paradox: while we might be more diverse, more tolerant and more committed to racial justice than our ancestors, we’re committed to an ideology that makes racial justice impossible – colorblindness. 

That is, where the way to solve the “race problem” is to pretend the problems – like inequality or closed borders – aren’t racialised. Thus measures to reduce racial inequality are, according to the colourblind advocates, racist. As one wag put it, “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”. 

This is the ideology that Brash, Craig, Whyte and (I’m willing to bet) at least half of the country are committed to. Racism is seen as a matter of legal distinctions, not unfair outcomes. Where many think that if we remove race from, say, legislation then the “race problem” is solved. It’s not. Racism can’t be reduced to mere distinctions in legislation, policy or social settings. If it could be then measures to correct racial inequality - like the Māori Representation Act - are as racist as the process that necessitated them – that is, settler colonialism. 

Unlike many people of colour – and some movements of the left – just as many young people reject a political analysis of racism. Ours is a moral account of racism. Racism is Bad, thus we must remove race. When one thinks like this it’s then possible to claim that we’ve built a post-racial society. We really haven’t, though. It takes a determined effort in self-deception to think that, say, if we just remove Māori placements in university then, by magic, racism disappears. If we stop talking about race, racism disappears. 

The reasoning is seductive, but a deception. Racism , as Gary Younge put it, is “discrimination planted by history, nourished by politics and nurtured by economics, in which some groups face endemic disadvantage”. Thus racism is not so morally bad that we should never talk about it, rather it is too important that we can’t afford not to. As another wag put it, “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race”. 

Thus the way to confront the racism of Colin Craig, Jamie Whyte, Steven Gibson and Winston Peters is not to pretend that they are lone wolves feeding off of a dying voter base, the way to confront racism is to take it out of the private domain and put it in public. Pretending race doesn’t exist solves nothing, the solution is where people of colour tackle the spoken and unspoken bigotries. It is where we take the opportunities politicians create and lead the discussion. Don’t let well-meaning liberals or anyone else wish it away - that only creates more seething resentment (on both sides) - we need to establish that, actually: race matters. Let's not stop talking about it.  

Jul 30, 2014

Whyte Power: Act and the winner takes all society

David Seymour and Jamie Whyte. H/T Wikipedia.

Yesterday I published the speech that I gave to the ACT Party Waikato Conference on Saturday. It concerned a fundamental principle of Western civilisation. 
I said that all citizens should be equal before the law. 
I realise that in some countries, such as Afghanistan, that might be a controversial idea…  
But in New Zealand today, you might expect the principle of equality before the law to be uncontroversial. You might expect that a declaration of commitment to it would be greeted with quiet equanimity, perhaps even a yawn. 
Not so. My declaration has triggered vitriolic hostility.

And so it should. The argument is absurd. In Whyte’s world substantive inequality is not the residue of settler colonialism, but a failure – on the part of Māori, of course - to commit to equality before the law. This is where equality before the law is not a substantive standard, but a formal one. Theoretical purity is more important that actual circumstance. 

Redneckery’s appeal is in its simplicity. One believes that the history of racism is something that happened – not something that is happening. If the redneck accepts that then there’s no need to acknowledge – let alone examine – how conditions yesterday shape circumstances today. Instead a neat line is drawn between the past and the present. Thus Whyte is prepared to admit some injustice – the sort that fits his dogmatic view of “property rights” – yet he rejects any form of continuing injustice. Utopia is so close! If only the maoris embraced equality before the law! 

Every ideology is built on stilts. The idea that, if all you unseeing others committed to living The Ideology, then utopia will arrive. It’s a particularly nasty form of white male syndrome – the need to universalise everything. Everything. 

You’ll know I’m quite serious when I say white male syndrome. Only last week Colin Craig – a self-described conservative – was pitching to the same audience. That is, the redneck and his supposed desire for equality in liberal democracy. Whyte is appealing to the same audience. But the argument is not, in fact, an argument – it’s a strategy. White men are practising identity politics. 

Not explicitly so. They dress it in the myth of the level playing field. I wrote about this last week. People of privilege push the idea that “all people are created equal and any deviation from that principle constitutes the real injustice”. The idea goes something like this: “injustice is not the fact that you are poor, dumb and incarcerated, but that you need and receive targeted rights because of it”. Formal inequality – that is, anything that isn’t one size fits all – is the real injustice. Substantive inequality? Nope - no injustice there, apparently. 

This is white male syndrome. It’s a rearguard action designed to protect actual privilege – the one of the white kind. If disadvantage is a matter of personal responsibility – the fault of the poor sod stuck in her feckless and self-defeating ways - then no response is required from the privileged. This is what Whyte is arguing for. Not so much a winner takes all approach – the game is rigged, after all - but the pre-determined winner keeps all. In New Zealand, the game was played 174 years ago. The winners took all and Jamie Whyte – who’s on the winning team – will make damn sure they keep it all.

Jul 23, 2014

The politics of the level playing field: why Colin Craig is wrong

Pretty much this. Via Te Ururoa Flavell:

“Māori Party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the Conservative Party’s policies to get rid of the Māori seats, shut down the Waitangi Tribunal and implement ‘one law for all’ are ignorant, dangerous, and are not welcome in our political system or our country… 

The old assimilation policy is hidden behind a few new terms and slogans, such as One Law for All, but the intention is the same and we know all about it. In this day and age there is no place for political leaders who know nothing about our history and know nothing about us”.

Craig and his Conservatives aren’t here to restore “unity”. They’re the exhausted rear guard of New Zealand racism. Armed, it seems, with very little but a slogan and a cheque book. 

The intent is clear: Craig is trying – failing - to tap the reservoir of racism. It’s not “one law for all” but “one law to rule us all”. The latter sounds more chauvinist than the former, quite a feat, yet doomed to fail. What Brash had with one law for all and Craig doesn’t with one law to rule us all is institutional acceptance. The veneer of respectability. As Brash was fond of saying, he was for “mainstream New Zealand”. Craig is merely the perfectly pitched 5 percent politician. 

Mihingarangi Forbes revealed as much in her interview with Craig on Native Affairs. Best described as extended torture, Craig can’t muster a coherent explanation for, firstly, his apparent support for Māori Television and, second, his opposition to division “based on race”. The same for te reo Māori. Craig supports government funding, yet can’t reconcile it with his “one law to rule us all” position. He is left to grasp at artificial distinctions. 

But even in the face of such impressive incompetence, it’d be negligent to ignore Craig. His message is still insidious because it’s pitched at the progressive – yes, irony - desire for equality in liberal democracy. 

That is, the idea all people are created equal and any deviation from that principle constitutes the real injustice. It’s the myth of the level playing field. There’s room to recognise the Treaty and historic injustice, yet Craig and his Conservatives seem to be claiming that – at some unspecified point in time - modern democracy created a nation of equals. It didn’t, but that’s a foundational myth in New Zealand. The idea that a neat line separates the bad Old Days and the more enlightened Good Days. 

So if the level playing field is true - it isn't - then you’re poor, dumb and incarcerated because you deserve to be. Where the injustice is not the fact that you are poor, dumb and incarcerated, but that you need and receive targeted rights because of it. The reasoning is absurd: catering for substantive inequality is actually creating legal inequality. On Planet Conservative, the latter is the real crime. 

But it’s a very attractive argument – especially among the selfish. If disadvantage is a matter of personal responsibility then it requires no response from the advantaged. The demand that Māori accept “equal rights” – so no legal distinctions between different people – is really a plea for assimilation. Craig is really asking Maori to accept their disadvantages quietly. Well, no thanks. 

Replace “Māori” with any other category of difference in New Zealand society. Now try to argue that this category of difference must be abandoned for the sake of “unity”. It doesn’t really work unless there is some manifest harm, yeah? Te Ururoa is right. Craig is merely resurrecting “the old assimilation policy”, but “hidden behind a few new terms and slogans”. Now that “is not welcome”.

Jun 8, 2014

The Meaning of the Internet Mana Party

Hone Harawira

When you think of the Māori electorates, what comes to mind? For some the Māori electorates are a hangover - part of a legacy of failed hand outs to a feckless and troublesome people. For others the Māori electorates are a necessary evil – a hand up to a people never quite capable of pulling themselves up, a sop to a people stuck in their self-defeating ways.

I’m not writing to announce that I know The Meaning of the Māori electorates. There can be no such thing as The Meaning, rather there are many meanings. It’s true that the Māori electorates represent the “last vestige of a lost autonomy”. The electorates exist to protect mana motuhake. Yet it’s equally true that the electorates represent a counterrevolutionary force. It might be said that they exist to contain mana motuhake. On the one hand, the Māori electorates mean that we have a small role in the distribution of public power and that protects our autonomy, but on the other hand it means that we must submit ourselves to Pākehā norms and institutions and that’s a limit on our autonomy.

But what do the electorates mean to Hone Harawira and his Mana Party? There’s a saying that goes “he kai kei aku ringa” - there is food at the end of my hands. This isn’t a statement, but an instruction to seize an opportunity. For Hone Harawira and the Mana Party, the Māori electorates represent an opportunity. On their view it doesn’t matter whether the electorates are benevolent or malevolent. They are a means to an end. That end is “getting rid of National”.

Thus it’s odd to see a handful of Labour MPs deriding the Internet Mana Party as a “dirty deal”. That argument didn't apply to Labour's concession to Jim Anderton in Wigram. It’s even weirder to see some commentators arguing that the deal corrupts the Māori electorates. They seem to have substituted analysis for catharsis. It’s easy to fall back on partisan hackery or didactic moralising, but neither does anything to capture the complexity of the situation.

Kim Dotcom

Governments change, but poverty is a constant in the Māori electorates. Hone represents the people in his electorate – the permanent poor - but he’s also charged with another duty: to improve their lives. If the opportunity exists, why would anyone expect him to conform to other people’s standards and reject an electoral alliance? Why would Hone remain content with actual poverty and a poverty of electoral opportunity? As Tim Selwyn notes, coat tailing is an imperfect rule, but MMP is about “making as many votes count toward representation as possible”.

Sure, the deal is an act of desperation. But that isn’t a bad thing. You would be desperate too if you were on the wrong end of 174 years of inequality. The Mana Party is taking its desperation and, as a matter of fact, committing an act of deep conformism. The coat tails rule is well exploited. Mana isn’t going against the grain but seeking the safety of convention. Yet the spectacle of an independent Māori party – with socialist leanings and, oddly, moneyed support – seems to invoke the latent paternalism of parts of the left. Right wing resistance is a given, but the cries of dirty deal and sell out from the parts of the left resemble many of the attacks against the Māori Party when they made a pragmatic decision to support the National government. The same desperation was at play in the Māori Party at the time. They could remain on the margins and sit content with actual poverty and a poverty of electoral opportunity or they could have a crack at reversing 174 years of inequality. They used the opportunity their Māori electorates had provided and accepted a deal with National.

They did as many Māori advocates always have - submitted to institutional norms for practical change. Mana could hold true to its radical principles – as Sue Bradford did and all power to her – but that would underestimate the desperation in Māori communities. The Māori Party knew it (although they have been punished for the lack of change) and Mana knows it.

Which brings us back to the meanings of the Māori electorates. Mana – like the Māori Party and even the Young Māori Party before it – wants to become a fact in the distribution of public power. The corollary – as the experience of the Māori Party and even the Young Māori Party before it – is that Mana must cosy up with establishment powers and sacrifice some autonomy. But didn’t someone say politics is the art of compromise? Desperate people sometimes do desperate things. Or, in this case, desperate people can do conventional things too.

I wrote this post about a week ago, but didn't publish it because I've been here and there over where I stand. I'm still not entirely sure where I stand. Sometime next week I'm aiming to post an essay on where Māori politics stands and why.  For similar (better) perspectives it’s worth checking out Labour MP Louisa Wall’s post at the Daily Blog - the hypocrisy of attacking Maori seats for being tactical – and Scott Hamilton’s post at Reading the Maps - From Olaf Nelson to Kim Dotcom