Tapu Misa: Humanity versus racial one-upmanship
NZ Herald 16 November 2009
Occasionally I get emails from people who like to extol the virtues of something they call white culture and civilisation. In a kind of racial one-upmanship, they claim for themselves, as part of the “white race”, every important advancement in human history. What I see as examples of human endeavour, they see as evidence of white superiority.
I saw elements of that last week, amid the clamour that followed Hone Harawira’s expletive-ridden email to Buddy Mikaere. On Breakfast, Phil Goff railed against the apparent belief behind Harawira’s email that “all of the problems of the country can be laid on white people” and then went on to agree with Paul Henry that “we” painted the beautiful paintings that Harawira went to Paris to see. By “we” they meant white people, rather than, say, Leonardo da Vinci. Yes, Harawira started it, but it’s interesting to see how easily we slip into a “them” and “us” mentality.
Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws does the same thing when he rants against what he calls Maori racism and separatism on the one hand, and then asks a group of Maori school kids (who’d dared to write to him about restoring the “h” to Whanganui) what they’re doing about child abuse among Maori. Because, of course, you’re responsible for anything that anyone in your ethnic group does, no matter how young or powerless you might be.
Laws reminds me of the anonymous correspondent who sends me clippings in the mail whenever a Pacific Islander makes the news for committing a crime.
If I had a return address and could be bothered, I’d have asked my mystery correspondent about some of his people – Clayton Weatherston, for example, and those nasty (white) child rapists who raped, impregnated and then locked their daughters away for years to conceal their wrongdoing.
Then there’s the woman who wrote to me recently telling me how proud she is of her “white race”. I’d have understood if she told me how proud she was to be Scottish, or Irish, or Dutch – but “white race”? What does that mean?
So it’s been interesting to watch the fallout from Harawira’s Paris excursion and his angry, late-night email to Mikaere – “White motherf******s have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries and all of a sudden you want me to play along with their puritanical bullshit” – which has led to a record number of complaints to the Human Rights Commission and pressure from the Maori Party leadership for Harawira to go independent.
In his apology last week, Harawira tried to explain that he wasn’t talking about all Pakeha and that what he meant was that “European colonisers have been responsible for the loss of more than 63 million acres of Maori land over the past 150 years and it is inappropriate that you should be holding me to standards set by people with such little regard for Maori land and Maori custom”.
Which still doesn’t excuse him skiving off an official engagement to take his missus to Paris, even if he paid for the trip himself.
There’s no question that taxpayers of all hues would agree that if we send an MP to the other side of the world to attend a conference, at no small expense to the public purse, the least he can do is turn up.
To blame all Pakeha for the effects of colonisation is, of course, as stupid as blaming all Maori for the high rate of child abuse among Maori.
The pity of it is that there’s a discussion to be had about the impact of colonisation on Maori, but little sympathy or patience for it among many New Zealanders. As Tariana Turia knows. In 2000, she made a reference to “the Maori holocaust” that caused a furore and brought an edict from then Prime Minister Helen Clark that the word holocaust should never again be used in a New Zealand context.
And in 2002, Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres found himself embroiled in an almost career-destroying row when he described the colonisation of New Zealand as “a sorry litany of cultural vandalism” and likened it to the Taleban destruction of the third-century Bamiyan Buddha images of Afghanistan.
Harawira’s outburst was stupid and intemperate, but it wasn’t hate speech,as de Bres knows.
And that’s not because Harawira is Maori but because, as talkback listeners know, our legal system places a high value on free speech – and rightly so.
Should Harawira be forced out of the Maori Party nonetheless? It seems the party leadership has had enough of him, but as several Maori commentators have noted, Harawira represents a significant section of Maori society, and the party risks losing its connection with its grassroots if he is forced out.
As Haami Piripi, a former head of the Maori Language Commission, said on TVNZ’s Tonight, it’s worrying to see a Maori voice make it on its own feet into Parliament only to “become subdued and subjugated to a coalition voice”.
Harawira’s remarks were damaging but “by the same token we’ve had hundreds of thousands of acres of land confiscated still not given back to us, people driven off their land and we’re still feeling the effect of that. So when you compare an insulting remark of that nature to some of the things that happened in New Zealand history it doesn’t even compare.”