In an attempt to introduce some reason into public discussion of racism in New Zealand, Karl du Fresne offers this definition of racism: “the belief that some races are inherently superior or inferior to others” (‘Racial division in New Zealand is permanently built in”’, 28/5).
Surely, when we speak of “racism” as something morally repugnant, it is this phenomenon of racial “supremacism” that we primarily have in mind. This is what must be condemned, as both –
- false, because human beings are equal; and
- harmful, because of the injustice and hurt it invariably leads to.
I say “primarily” because there is another kind of assertion which, though less odious, might appropriately be called “racist” for the same reasons. I’m referring to assertions that assume that all people of any given race have certain attributes in common. The idea that, once you know that a person is of this or that race, there are all sorts of things you instantly know about them even though you haven’t met them. Regardless of whether or not these attributes are negative or “inferior” in nature, this kind of assertion still assumes a high degree of uniformity in the race that is almost certainly untrue and that ignores and offends against –
- the uniqueness of the individual being referred to;
- the uniqueness of all the other individuals of that race;
- and, therefore, the richness and complexity of that race.
I agree with du Fresne that the introduction of clear thinking is resented by some of those who are keen to present New Zealand as irredeemably racist. Many advocates of racial grievance seem to be in such a hurry to condemn New Zealand in this way that they find any clarification of the subject-matter highly inconvenient, and even infuriating.
For them, it seems that any idea or assertion that is in any way displeasing to a race to which they are sympathetic is “racist”, though they never explain how. Indeed, they often make this claim without consulting the race itself: any assertion displeasing to the advocates will suffice! And half the advocates are not even members of the race being discussed: their advocacy is entirely presumptuous.
Something else the promoters of grievance tend to resent and ignore is perspective.
When they say New Zealand is “very racist” (and, let’s be honest, they’re only talking about pākehā), they avoid responding to questions like, “Compared with whom?”. Whatever “racism” means, it exists to some degree everywhere – but it exists in some places more than others. Are we more racist than, say, the People’s Republic of China, or North Korea, or Myanmar? More than Japan? More than Iran? More than Pakistan or India? Or, moving west, more than continental Europe or Great Britain? Canada or the US? Or, looking nearby, more than Australia? Chances are, we are less racist than all of these; and, if so, we can and should improve but we needn’t panic.
I’m from Melbourne. For the vast majority of Australians, who live in cities on the eastern seaboard, aboriginals are simply out of sight and out of mind. Aboriginals hardly have a voice, and the eastern cities are relatively quiet in this respect. Here in New Zealand, Māori voices abound and it’s rowdy. By “rowdy”, I mean animated discussion of colonisation and “White Privilege” pervades public discourse.
What do we conclude from this?
I suggest that it’s rowdy here, compared with Australia, because New Zealand is less racist towards indigenous people. So far as I can see, as an outsider, the Treaty of Waitangi gives Māori significant standing (despite some of its terms being contentious) compared with a country that doesn’t have a treaty at all. Māori have things to say and they are encouraged to say them. They have a large and receptive audience and resources to support their message. By contrast, aboriginals in Australia have meagre standing; discussion of colonisation happens, but it isn’t common.
If a colonised people have significant legal standing and are able to air their grievances, it will be rowdy. (How could it be otherwise?) This rowdiness is not a cause for alarm. It is a healthy sign because neither information nor emotion should be buried.
The race alarmists must be extremely sensitive to noise.