Nov 26, 2013

Winning in Te Tai Hauauru

The Maori Party has revealed that six candidates will contest the nomination for Te Tai Hauauru. From the party website:

Hundreds of Maori Party members from throughout the electorate gathered at Whangaehu Marae south of Whanganui yesterday to hear from the six nominees and cast their vote... The nominees are: 
  • Frana Chase; 
  • Rahui Katene; 
  • James Makowharemahihi; 
  • Christopher McKenzie; 
  • Amokura Panoho; 
  • Pakake Winiata.

With the exception of Rahui Katene, these aren't big names. Or put it this way: there isn't a Julian Wilcox. But the party doesn't need a name candidate. Tariana Turia's endorsement and support could be enough to keep the electorate in Maori Party hands. It'd be reckless - and more than unfair - to underestimate the respect and support Tariana has earnt and enjoys. Ken Mair makes an important point, though - "we aren’t looking for a candidate to fill Tariana’s shoes. We are looking for a candidate to carve a new path".

The Maori Party needs to rebuild its identity. The Maori renaissance is over and the post-settlement era is beginning. Tariana and Pita Sharples were - and to some extent still are - central figures from the Maori renaissance. New hands are needed to redevelop what a Maori party looks like in 2013. Being loosely pro-Maori doesn't cut it when three other parties can credibly claim the same rationale (Greens, Labour, Mana).

There's increasing political choice in the Maori electorates. Labour's monopoly is over and the two-way battles of 2005 and 2008 were short lived. Four parties can credibly claim that they're contenders. In an environment where each seat is contested vigorously the Maori Party needs to have something more. New blood is better positioned to redefine the contract between the Maori Party and Maori society than the old hands. That's why the decision in Te Tai Hauauru might be the most important decision the party makes. Good luck to them.

Nov 20, 2013

Living in the age of racism without racists: Andrew Shaw and TVNZ part II

Are the "Yes" voters absolved of their racism because
they didn't intend to be racist? On TVNZ's definition - yes
H/T The Jackalman

The shovels are out at TVNZ and they’re digging deeper and deeper. But the question is who or what do they throw in the hole? The defendant Andrew Shaw, the spokesperson Megan Richards or TVNZ’s conscience and credibility? Pacific Eye Witness reports:

A TVNZ Spokesperson says they are horrified that people have interpreted what Andrew Shaw said to be “taken to mean something that was never intended – that’s why Andrew has apologised to anyone who may have been offended either at the event or after.”

Regan Cunliffe is right: how can you be “horrified that a joke about race was interpreted as being racist”? The answer is easy, but hard to swallow. We live in an age of “racism without racists”.

There’s a sting in being labelled a racist. New Zealanders want to avoid that. But too many don’t want to change their behaviour. Instead a culture of excuse making has developed and TVNZ is perpetuating it.

It goes like this: there are no racists because intent is a safe word. But if that's accepted - and it shouldn't be - then suddenly the struggle for equal rights isn’t about effects, but the intent of the abuser and, you know, 'why can’t we sort this out over a beer because you might be a reverse racist for accusing me of being a racist'. 

But no. Just no. Intent is never the full story. Intent doesn't define what racial bigotry is. Intent doesn’t absolve racial bigotry itself. And when that racial bigotry goes unchecked it helps reinforce racial oppression. 

Intent doesn't matter when a person actively discriminates against Polynesians. And that's what Shaw was doing - actively perpetuating Polynesian stereotypes. There's a history of bigotry against Polynesians - especially Polynesian immigrants - that Shaw is now a part of. 

New Zealanders are desensitised to racism against Maori and against other Polynesians. It’s encoded in our colonial memory and it holds us back. And it’s going to keep holding us back until we get over intent as a barometer of racism. Because there can be no such thing as racism without racists.

Post script: is anyone else unhappy with the silence over this? I mean, Whaleoil is pushing this issue harder than many on the left or in the media. Politicians have weighed in – h/t Sua Sio, but other than that the silence continues. And is anyone else utterly, utterly fatigued with people getting away with bigotry and casual racism? I am. Lastly, here's something of a backgrounder on racism without racists.

Nov 18, 2013

Taking the piss at TVNZ: why Andrew Shaw makes combating racism harder

That's audio from Andrew Shaw - TVNZ's general manager of commissioning, production and acquisitions. In front of an audience of 1000 Shaw "joked" that Auckland is a shithole and Wellington and Christchurch don't get enough "Polynesians".

When Throng revealed the comments and Whaleoil and others publicised them, TVNZ responded:

"We've spoken to many people who attended last night and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and for many, Andrew's presentation was a highlight of the evening. There was no indication anyone was offended and the subsequent questions [yesterday] came as a surprise."

Which misses the point. Completely. It continues:

"Andrew had no intention to cause offence and unreservedly apologises to anyone who may have been offended at the event or subsequently."

I can't put it better than Ta-Nehisi Coates did when discussing Richard Cohen: "context can not improve this. Context is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear". It doesn't matter whether Shaw meant to cause offense. It's this sort of casual racism that makes confronting other forms of racism - like institutional racism - more difficult. Accidental racism is still racism and it makes parting the iron curtain between Polynesians and the rest of society more difficult. We're still talking past each other if we think intention absolves racism.

I'm not sure whether Shaw is sorry for saying the "joke" or sorry for getting caught. But what's grating is that TVNZ found the "subsequent questions... a surprise". TVNZ shouldn't have to rely on others to be their conscience. The fact that no one in TVNZ recognised the racism in Shaw's remarks is surprising. Is TVNZ a racist institution if it can't recognise the racism in joking about Polynesians being a problem and a reason Auckland is a shithole?  

And then there are the Polynesians in TVNZ itself. It must be hard knowing that workplace racism still exists. This isn't Rhodesia in the 1970s. And then there's the double standard: Paul Henry lost his job for racism, why not Shaw? I'm sure an argument will be made about degrees of racism. Henry's position was different and his racism was of a different kind (which is true). But is it really appropriate to differentiate between racism in degrees? To me, that makes the job of confronting other forms of racism harder still. 

Nov 16, 2013

It's time to talk about colour: why we have to reject labels like 'white Maori'

Manuera Benjamin Riwai Couch: a former All Black, Minister of Maori Affairs
and the first Maori after the abolition of the half-caste rule to win a "European"
(now called general) electorate. Couch is perhaps the father of the ideologies about
Maori development that run through National's Maori MPs. HT Te Ara.

We hardly talk about skin tone. That’s not because we live in a post-racial society, but because our identity as Maori is grounded in whakapapa. Aesthetics don’t define Maori-ness.

But that doesn’t mean colourism is a non-issue. The reverse is true. Colourism is encoded in our colonial memory and the heady hangover remains.

In New Zealand “half-castes” were privileged over “full-blooded” Maori. But the division between full-bloods and half-castes – or dark skins and lighter skins - wasn’t unique to New Zealand. We inherited it.

In the early days of colonialism Britain would divide its slave labour according to skin tones. In the fields of the American South slave owners would privilege light skinned slaves over dark skinned slaves. In South Africa the difference in skin tone (and other features) determined whether a person was black or coloured. Blacks had to carry dompas, coloureds didn’t. In Australia the Half-Caste Act gave states the power to remove “half-caste” children from Aboriginal care and assimilate them into white society.

Early commentary on half-caste Maori cast them in a positive light. Josiah Firth, an early New Zealand farmer, went as far as to celebrate half-castes. He wrote:

“The Half-Castes of New Zealand are in general a fine type of men and women… They are of fine physique, the women being often very handsome…” 
“I have employed Maori half-castes as stockmen, boatmen, and one, as Captain of a river steamer, and I never had better servants”.

But the full blooded or the dark skinned Maori was a paradox. Writing in the early 1900s a perplexed Professor John Brown tried to get his head around Polynesian beauty standards that didn’t value whiteness:

“The finest type of European faces might… find their match in these islands of the Pacific, [but] these were not the most admired by the dusky races, just as the fair skin that sometimes appears amongst them was not admired”.

In an effort to try and explain why Polynesians beauty standards favoured dark skin and “flat noses” Brown argued that it was a result of conquer and intermarriage by and with Melanians who were “negroid” in appearance.

From the early days of settlement and into the 20th century New Zealand society has tried to classify and understand Maori according to skin colour, blood quantum and – but to a lesser extent – cultural practice (i.e. assimilation). But the most telling factor in whether a Maori was half-caste or, well, just a Maori depended on whiteness.

I hope it’s obvious why this matters: skin tone was and is loaded with social and political assumptions. Today there’s a difference between being labelled a “white Maori” and just “Maori”. They’re categories based on appearance, but the first category carries an unearned privilege over the second. Whiteness means full integration and acceptance. Just being Maori implies browness. There are a set of assumptions attached to being brown. Think of the warrior gene.

In a Euro-centric society whiteness can be monetised. Overseas research has indicated that a relationship exists between skin tone (colourism) and upward mobility. A Brazilian study found that people with lighter skin and mixed ancestry have higher rates of social mobility. Anecdotally, the same could be said about New Zealand. Skin tone can have a tangible effect.

Rejecting this is hard. But it starts with self-identification: owning our own identity and using whakapapa as the true measure of identity. What’s external isn’t important when whakapapa is adopted as the only measure of identity. If we can cut ties with labels like half-caste, white Maori, plastic Maori and the others, then we’re half way there.

But rejecting the assumptions that come with being, say, outwardly white is more difficult. The social assumptions attached to being coloured remain. Every Maori who can pass as white has witnessed the racism that seeps through when people think they’re in safe company. Changing that requires a cultural shift. But that comes later. The first step is for us to reject classifications based on appearance and embrace whakapapa as the true and only measure of identity. Other measures minimise people's identity as Maori. Once we get over the hang over from colour in the 19th and 20th century, then we can take on the rest of society.

Nov 1, 2013

The real impediment to a Mana-Maori merger (and it's not National)

Mana Party President and tino rangatiratanga advocate Annette Sykes

Claire Trevett reports:

The Maori Party and the Mana Party have reached a truce of sorts after a meeting between the parties' hierarchy last night. 

Mana President Annette Sykes met the Maori Party's co-vice president Ken Mair last night and the two parties agreed to work framework setting out areas of policy on which they would work together. That is due to be launched in early 2014 and it likely to include areas such as Maori unemployment, poor housing, and child poverty.

Yesterday I ran through the archives of this blog. I was disappointed with the tone (and some of the substance). It was angry. But it was a reflection of Maori politics at the time.

The seeds of tension emerged in 2008. The Maori Party had traveled the country to secure the membership's consent to a supply and confidence arrangement with National. By most accounts, the party leadership won an overwhelming mandate and there was optimism in most circles. But time eroded the consensus. Difficult policy choices started to build. The party misstepped when it supported the ETS and pressure was applied on its MPs to pull their support for Budget 2010 and the GST rise.

Come 2011 the tensions had swelled and the understanding between the Maori Party's radicals and the conservatives – meaning the idea that a Maori political movement is strongest when its united - came crashing down. The rest is history. Hone Harawira broke away with half of the Maori Party and Mana was born. Political parties reap what they sow.

But a relationship accord between Mana and the Maori Party (hopefully) signals that the tide is going out on that conflict. There’s an increasing acceptance that Maori are better off because of the Maori Party’s relationship with National. It hasn't been progress, but the Maori Party has acted as a buffer against decline.

Yet one impediment remains - and it's not necessarily National. The conflict is between Mana and the Maori Party’s conception of politics. Mana is ideological, but the Maori Party acts as post-ideological.

Working "at the table" is the Maori Party's ideology. Party policy is dictated by what can be achieved at the table and what is necessary to remain at the table. There's a pragmatic logic in that, sure, but the consequence is that Maori politics is confined to what's palatable to the ninth floor. There's also an element of circular reasoning when being at the table is both the means and the end.

So if being at the table is the Maori Party's raison d'être then there's little room for Mana - a party that values external change and leftwing ideologies. After all, Hone Harawira threatened the Maori Party's place at the table and he was removed. 

Yet maybe the Maori Party is on the right side of history. The trajectory of Maori politics hasn’t been towards revolution or wholesale structural change. Leaders of the later stages of the Maori renaissance and now the Maori Party, Iwi Leaders and many others prefer integration into New Zealand power structures. The attraction among battle-weary activists and heroes of the movement is clear. But it’s not an approach that attracts Mana. And that’s the real impediment to a merger – not National.