Feb 13, 2013

Richard Prosser and white privilege

I didn’t think I had much to add on Richard Prosser and Wogistan. Aside from noting the encouraging response from the political establishment and fair-minded New Zealanders, it didn’t bear thinking about. However, listening to and reading arguments in Prossers' defence made me lose it. I couldn’t sit around without reiterating that free speech is qualified by the right not to be vilified as an individual or a member of a group. And that’s what it is, vilification of Muslims and anyone who looks Muslim (translation: anyone a darker shade of olive). Prosser is admitting that the “language used wasn’t appropriate”, but he refuses to apologise for the sentiment expressed. He still doesn’t get it. The words sting, but the hurt stems from the ideas that underpin Prossers’ column.

Tim Watkin does a good job of demolishing the reasoning (or lack of) behind Prossers’ diarrhea. For Prosser, this isn’t about making a point or stimulating reasoned debate; its toilet-grade shock-jockism. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the first time Prossers had a go at something that isn’t a white middle-aged male. Behold:

Because our society, New Zealand society, Western society in general, has been hijacked by a conspiracy of Silly Little Girls. They’re everywhere; in the schools, in the media, in the public service, in the judiciary, even in Cabinet.

Everywhere we turn, the foundations of masculinity, the pillars of male-ness which have underpinned the construction and development of our very civilisation, are being undermined, by Silly Little Girls. And we are putting up with it.

If you visit Stormfront, a prominent neo-nazi website, this sort of sentiment is standard fare. But from a member of New Zealand’s Parliament… it’s not on. There’s no need to attack the logic behind Prossers’ views (because there is none), the more interesting point is to note that Prosser is a perfect example of white-male-establishment privilege.*

Feminist writer Peggy McIntosh argues that white privilege is largely unconscious and she lists 50 instances of it (and that’s not a comprehensive list). At 9. McIntosh writes that:

If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

The freedom to speak freely (in other words). McIntosh lists other instances: “I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race” (which speaks to the privilege of assuming the universality and supremacy of ones’ own experiences and beliefs). This applies to Prosser, yes, but the most important privilege he is using is the freedom to speak freely

If Titewhai Harawira, a woman of colour, were to express the same sentiment against white people, well, she’d be destroyed. Say she suggested that white men be banned from primary schools because they’re more likely to sexually abuse underage girls or that white men should be barred from owning a business because they’re more likely to commit fraud. It would not be defended as “one woman’s opinion”. But more significantly she would never get the opportunity to speak so freely (there are a negligible number of non-white writers and broadcasters in the media – and fewer to none with the institutional security to express opinions like Prosser). Unlike Prosser whose defenders affirm the worth of his ideas (a spinoff of WMEP - think of Michael Laws and his listeners), a writer of colour would not have the freedom to speak so freely let alone expect defenders.

It happens regularly, white men of the establishment are given the right to say whatever they want and vilify whoever they want. Paul Holmes enjoyed the right to take a dump all over Maori. The consequences he faced were pro-forma and he enjoyed an affirmation of his own worth and the normality of his ideas from blogs, letter writers and talkback (also remember the mountain of shit he started that was directed against Maori). Michael Laws is given the right to slur Maori every week and even suggest that certain people be sterilised. This also speaks to how New Zealanders are desensitised to racism against Maori (and also discrimination beneficiaries, unionists and other marginalised groups).

If it were up to me, I’d have sacked Prosser the moment he contemplated publishing his piece. In an ideal society, no one should hold the views that he does – least of all a Member of Parliament. Take a moment to think about that - a Member of Parliament. I’ll be voting for a party of the left in 2014, but it won’t be going to a party that is part of a coalition that includes Richard Prosser.

Post Script: Bryce Edwards has written an interesting post titled Richard Prosser’s role in making mainstream politicians look progressive, but the best, most articulate piece (and deeply personal) is from a Bengali Muslim describing how it "hurts" and the process of Prossers' "othering". She captures beautifully the human consequences of discrimination. The posts holds true for people of colour in "western" (read white) societies.  

*White privilege is a controversial theory. I think the theory is better described as white-male-establishment privilege – privilege is our society is not isolated. There is an intersection between being white, male and part of the establishment. Some people argue that the theory is better described as economic privilege. The idea isn’t without merit, but again privilege isn’t isolated. Even if we described privilege through class lenses it is still common to see racial stratification in labour (more so American labor – I don’t think it holds true to the same extent in the New Zealand union movement). After all, a poor white person is still a member of the dominant culture and will enjoy some of the privileges that come with that.


  1. Being a university professor and a go-to person for the media when they want inflammatory quotes is pretty establishment. Your point stands without Margaret Mutu being a good example - I can't think of a female equivalent of John Tamihere, or a Maori equivalent of Kerre Woodham.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I had considered that. However, I thought she was the most prominent example (even if her status could be argued against). I've replaced her name with Titewhai Harawira - an anti-establishment figure.

  2. The Privilege of someone like Richard Prosser to speak like this comes from their employer. He made explicit sentiments usually unsaid but implicit in his party. His calculated publicity gambit was a kind of logical extension of Winston's personal politics. He played the game and mouthed the apology and so is still in NZ First. John Tamihere was demoted because he offended the leader. Likewise Laws and Holmes got away with it because their employer liked the ratings. In this country, for a white middle aged male MP, overt racism is a serious political sin, but depending on their party, it can be dealt with by the equivalent of 5 Hail Mary's: a ritualistic apology.

  3. Who wouldda thought that after Paul Holmes wrote his piece of racial bigotry that he wouldn't live to see another Waitangi day?

  4. wow that paul holmes piece was / is shocking

    worse than that were the amount of peope who supported it

    i worry about our country and the number of bigots who live here - proseer / holmes et al :(

  5. Is it just me or did Margaret Mutu's dismissal following her "we should not let white people into New Zealand because they bring racist attitudes with them" completely prove what is being said here?

    Oh, I see... she, a Maori woman, is establishment.

    Or, alternatively, Paul Henry's "Is he even a New Zealander?" leading to his dismissal?

  6. Where did you ever get the idea that....'the right not to be vilified as an individual or a member of a group'...

    What a silly comment. Grouops have been made fun of a vilifies some time started. The Irish and Polish jokes are just a small example. We see official government statistics of Maori violence and how the unemployment rates of Maori and Pacific islanders is so high. These are all examples of groups being set apart.

    And when it comes to serious vilification all one need do is examine the Harwira family - white Motherfuckers all of us whiteys are apparently.

    Ive never heard sich rubbish put forward as a serious arguement.

  7. "Where did you ever get the idea that....'the right not to be vilified as an individual or a member of a group"

    Oh, just s61 of the Human Rights Act 1993, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. But you appear to be an expert on the legal and philosophical aspects of free speech, so I'm sure you forgot about this.

    Aside from having little respect for spelling and punctuation, your comment makes little sense. Come back when you learn to express yourself better.

  8. Morgan - dont be silly. Laws dont change the way people see the world or think about the world. I know the UN and the PC brigade and the feminists have been trying for years to be thought police - but when you walk around the Mangere shopping centre at 2am and feel a bit un-nerved - you are being subject to discrimination. s61 is just crap. When Dianne Yates (that horibin we had the un-privaledge of being a waikato MP ) wanted to bring in hate speech laws - it was another attempt to control thought. Yet while she was wailing on about that - we had schools here having to control how the immigrant somalis, the maoris and the pacific island (all children at schools) came in and out of the classrooms because they would start to fight. They had to use different doors!!! s61 doesnt stop that sort of thing (and frankly anything less than a swift kick in the arse would fail also)

    Of course s61 is totally at odds with that call-cry "lets celebrate the differences".

    It just shows up how crazy some people are in the brain - they want the opposites at the same time. cant be done, and thought police wont change how people think.

    The failure of Nazism and Communism proves that.

    1. You know you're on the right track, Morgan, when the most aggravated opposition to your post is ol' Bazza here. _b

    2. Mangere shopping center is very safe at 2am I live in Mangere what your suffering from is a racist phobia of people that don’t have white skin pigmentation. Its blatantly obvious when you lumped Somalians,Maori and Pacific islanders all in the same box –all people of colour.



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