Sep 12, 2011

Racism and power

Marty at Mars 2 Earth delivers a powerful post:

To be upfront - I don't rate John Tamihere and that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the good he has done for Māori - I just feel the negatives outweigh the positives - Tamihere doesn't speak for me. Which is what he says about Professor Mutu and that is why he entitled his post "Mutu doesn't speak for me". Tamihere calls Professor Mutu a reverse racist and I don't care about that because as I have mentioned, racism = prejudice + power and if you think a Māori woman within academia has power you would be incorrect. So the worst that anyone can say about Professor Mutu is that she is prejudiced and I have no issue with that. Tamihere makes this statement

I also rate the positive work John Tamihere has done for Maori, but I – like Marty – disagree with the thrust of Tamihere’s piece. Having said that, I do not share Marty’s definition of racism. Racism is an unfortunately subjective term. My definition of racism does not include power as a precondition. I can hold prejudice and perpetuate prejudice without holding power. I may need power to further racism in a significant way, but on a day to day level I do not need power to be a racist. If I were to say “all Asians are bad drivers” what does that make me? I think it makes me a racist. Or am I just stating a truism? No, I am furthering a racial stereotype based on my own unfounded prejudices – I think that makes it racism.

So what are you saying john - that everyone is tangata whenua now - if they have lived on their land for 3 generations, because if you are - you are wrong. We are all guests in this country at times - if you visit a new marae you are a guest, if you travel to another area you are a guest - guest isn't a swear word it is a term of honour because of the reciprocity of obligation and responsibility attached to it. This term 'ethnic supremacy' is also inflammatory and incorrect - it is not about supremacy it is about equality and any Māori who frames it incorrectly is treated with suspicion by me.

Marty is right. Pakeha are not tangata whenua, read indigenous. Pakeha are New Zealanders and this is their place, but Pakeha do not share the same interests as Maori. We all share this country and it is as much mine as it is my Pakeha flatmates, but my place in Aotearoa is different. For example, I have unique interests in the whenua given my whakapapa i.e. As a Maori I have an obligation to exercise kaitiakitanga over the lands of my tipuna (the same tipuna who settled this land before anyone else).

Like I said last week, I have no appetite for debating Professor Mutu’s call. The racists on both sides ensure reason is forgotten and poison introduced. New Zealand needs to mature before we can deal with this subject adequately.  


  1. On the definition of racism: if people want to argue that racism is not possible without power, then fine, but it's pushing it to claim that Mutu is powerless. I accept that Maori and other members of marginalised groups generally have less power than more privileged people in similar social positions, but surely there's a point at which social position becomes more important, otherwise you'd have to argue that Barack Obama is powerless because he's African-American.

    Re the 'indigenous Pakeha' thing: as a Pakeha I have no problem with not being tangata whenua or indigenous, but I do have a problem with being called a manuhiri or guest when my family has been here since the 1840s. More importantly, when people ask me 'no hea koe?' I don't say 'no Uropi au' or 'no Ingarani au' I say 'no Whanganui-a-Tara au' because this is where I belong. 'Guest' implies I belong somewhere else and will leave at some point: I don't, and I'm not going to.

  2. I don't think Marty or I are trying to say Pakeha are guests. I think Marty is saying that we are all guests at times. I am a guest when I go to another Marae, I am a guest when I walk into the home of a Pakeha friend. As I said, this is as much my place as it is yours. But my interests are different and the nature of my connection to this land is different. That is not to say my place is superior, because it is not, my place is just different.

    I do not really buy the argument that Mutu is powerless either. She sure is less powerful than Pakeha in similar positions, but I think she retains more power than, for example, a Pakeha panel beater. Hell, even I have more power than a Pakeha panel beater.

    I should have included this in the main post, but meh: I want to make it clear I support Prof. Mutu. I may disagree with the way she conveyed her thoughts, but I essentially agree with the thrust. Racists do pour into this country and bring "destructive" attitudes. However, it is unfair to taint the entire group and then call for restrictions based on race. She has identified a problem, but posed the wrong solution.

  3. Kia ora koutou

    Yes powerless is not correct, I am pretty sure i didn't say Professor Mutu was powerless, but nevertheless - can a woman have 'real power' within patriarchy? IMO Relative power next to other groups without power occurs within the system but if the whole system is oppressive by nature, then the relative power is false and tokenism, especially if it maintains and supports the larger oppression. The divide and rule meme works here by creating heirarchies. The same line of thought follows for tangata whenua and colonisation. The system creates heirarchies within itself to give the illusion of power to selected groups, and that process itself maintains the overall system of oppression.

    The real power or empowerment comes from mana and the people Professor Mutu represents rather than just the exhalted position she has attained within society.

  4. Morgan: Fair enough. There are some people, though, who seem to think everyone is either tangata whenua or manuhiri, when clearly there's a middle ground of people who belong here but aren't tangata whenua (ie something like 70% of the population).

    Marty: "can a woman have 'real power' within patriarchy?" Well, yes. Are you really arguing that Helen Clark was powerless when she was PM? While women as a group are disadvantaged compared to men as a group, that is completely different from the idea that all women are disadvantaged compared to all men. You could argue that as a woman I am disadvantaged compared to a man in a equal social position (although I can't see any substantial evidence myself) but to argue that I'm powerless just becuase I'm a woman is bizarre and a bit insulting.

  5. I'm not saying what you say I am saying.

    I apologise to you and any others that are insulted by what i wrote.



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