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.