I spent my school years growing up in Wanganui, and for the time being I’m back here, taking care of family matters. Having grown up here as a Pākehā with strong connections in Te Ao Māori, I can say with some authority that the region is mostly populated by unreformed Pākehā racists who loathe Māori out of fear bred from profound ignorance. I say mostly – but not entirely; there is an understandably large Māori population, and some more tolerant Pākehā. This fear and loathing is both the cause and the result of the fact that Māori in Wanganui are poorer, less-well educated and more likely to be involved in crime than non-Māori. Not so different from the general mentality of NZ as a whole, but stronger.
The Wanganui District Council yesterday voted against recommending to the NZ Geographic Board that the name be changed to its proper spelling – Whanganui, endorsing a 2006 referendum in which 82% of respondents favoured retaining the spelling. This post comprises two parts: first, an argument as to why retaining the name without the h is an absurd example of the grasping settler mentality; and second, an explication of how this morning’s front-page article on the topic frames the issue as a crisis, and promotes the same sort of fear and ignorance by marginalising and ridiculing the voices and opinions of those favouring the change.
Mayor Michael Laws:
Wanganui is not a Maori name. It has assumed an identity, a heritage, a history and a mana of its own.
You’ll go far to find a more convenient statement of revisionist ignorance in NZ identity politics. This forms the sole and entire argument in principle against the name change: it’s been that way for ages, so the word no longer means what it once meant – or more plainly, it’s an old mistake so it’s no longer a mistake. If this were to hold everywhere, then the mis-transliteration or misspelling of any word would necessarily destroy any connection to the original in every case: a patently idiotic idea. The fact is that Wanganui is a Māori word, misspelt by the original transliterators because the local dialect drops the `h’, pronouncing `Whanganui’ and `Wanganui’ practically the same, with a Wa sound, not a Fo sound. It’s not a new word – it’s the old word misspelt but pronounced correctly. This is a critically important example of the damn-fool ignorance I’m talking about: most of those against the change complain that they don’t want to have to pronounce it with a `F’, not realising despite mostly having lived here all their lives that nobody would. Hardly anyone pronounces the name of the river – which name is spelt with the h – as such; just ignorant but wanting-to-be-culturally-sensitive Pākehā, or other Māori wanting to make a point about the superiority of their dialect over the local one.
So, the argument in principle is invalid, and the argument of practicality is equally invalid. Why are people so opposed to the change? Because the local Māori want to exert their rangatiratanga by insisting the name of the settlement on the river be rendered correctly, as a symbolic matter, and the settlers are opposed to any assertion of rangatiratanga for fear that they might lose control over their identity and their community, or become hori-fied, as Dam Native put it. Spelling, pronunciation and other such matters are important symbolic markers of identity and authority, and the river and its surrounds physical manifestations of that. As local iwi say: Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the river, the river is me. That such a central part of their identity may be grasped and mutilated and withheld as if it no longer belonged to them is almost as grave an insult as is possible.
This grasping settler mentality is the fundamental reason why Māori have to endure a decades-long, frightfully expensive and time-consuming judicial process under a foreign system weighted against them, generations after the fact and opposed every step of the way by the crown, business, the media and the settler public, in order to get a fraction of one per cent of the reparations to which they might otherwise be entitled. It’s the same principle which prompted the Iwi/Kiwi ignorance, and the same which recently led to the rhetorical backlash against the vesting of Ka Mate in Ngāti Toa Rangatira, about which I wrote recently. It grasps things of value, and then refuses to return them, or share them, or relinquish any control over them, no matter how slight, and even when such a gesture of goodwill would be the basis for more meaningful and harmonious engagement with the settled outsiders and a route to a more peaceful future, not the opening of the floodgates feared by the settler majority.
The Wanganui Chronicle‘s lead story this morning was headlined `H bombs in crucial vote’, with the `H’ in red lettering, alongside a large photo of Māori protesters (although the secondary story `Protesters on the march’ notes that most protesters were Pākehā). The corresponding story on the Chron‘s website has the same photo, but the more sedate `Council split over ‘H’ in Wanganui’ headline. Message: locally, this is war. For the rest of the country, it’s just another bit of local government trivia. The headline both minimised the importance of this issue as a symbolic matter of rangatiratanga and amplified its importance as a site for dispute between settlers and outsiders. People know they have to fight against it, but don’t know why.
The story lead with the fact that the vote was closer than expected – five councillors (of thirteen, including Laws) would not vote for the existing name. Prominent share of voice was granted to those five councillors, mostly making the arguments above, that the change was the correction of a historical inaccuracy and not `bending to the whims of radicals’, but the highlighting of these five councillors as opposed to the 82% majority in the referendum clearly framed them as the radicals in council – outsiders, out-of-step with their electorate. This was reinforced by three other points: first, one councillor said he was `ashamed’ at the response to the referendum, being as it was based on ignorance, fear and misunderstanding – the message in the context of his decision was that he was ashamed of the electorate, directly at odds with the adjacent `Love this place!’ vox pop of a cute girl talking about why Wanganui is so great, a variation of which is repeated daily on the front page.
Second, other than Laws, only one councillor who voted in favour of the existing spelling was quoted on the matter, saying that she was elected to `represent the views of her community, as expressed during the referendum process’, almost identical wording to that used by Laws, and a strong statement of normative majoritarian orthodoxy.
Third, Laws said, with somewhat wolfish magnanimity, that `it was comforting to see elected officials take an unpopular stance’, echoing other councillors who `acknowledged they could lose votes’ for refusing to endorse the existing name. Not a principled stance; an unpopular one; which represents them, not us. Message: If you’re not with us, you’re against the community, and if you’re against the majority, you’re the enemy by definition.
Against this background, there sometimes seems no hope for race relations in Wanganui, or perhaps even for NZ at large. At ANZAC weekend, I will be attending the launch of a book by Canterbury University scholar John Newton, at Hiruharama up the Whanganui river, which I expect will argue the opposite: that the spirit of goodwill and compromise and understanding exemplified by the relationship between poet James K Baxter and his associates and local Māori during the 1960s and 70s provides a model for NZ race relations, opposed to the majoritarian settler orthodoxy which now dominates.
I can’t work out if it’s a getting-to-know-your-new-Government strategy or a look-we’re-pro-family strategy, but I’m seeing an awful lot of National Party wives and kids right now. This is not an exhaustive list but:
Any thoughts about the strategy?
In my short time blogging I have discovered that posts which mention the Christian Right get some kind of kneejerk reaction: sometimes someone leaps to the defence of the CR despite the lack of attack in the post, sometimes people leap in to attack the lunacy of the CR despite my lack of opening for the attack.
It’s not just blogging either. When I argue for lowering the MMP threshold one of my arguments is that it will allow the CR representation in Parliament, often people’s immediate reaction is that they’re the kind of lunatics the threshold is intended to exclude. When I talk the history of the family values movement in New Zealand with conservative people (which, you’ll have to trust me, I do respectfully and with interest) someone often leaps in to defend the CR and tell me that they’ve been misrepresented and are far more moderate than they have been painted.
What is it about the Christian Right that polarises views and creates an attack-and-defence dynamic so quickly?
I know many at the socially liberal end of the spectrum will say that the CR is prejudiced and tells them what to do. But so do many other political, religious and community groups.
Many in the CR will say that they’re ridiculed for their religious and moral beliefs and they are, to at least some extent, right. Some of their knee jerk defensiveness is a response to that contempt, some is probably out of a sense of moral certainty.
What is it that makes it ok for the socially progressive to sneer at the CR? We would never allow it to be said of GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women; why do we allow it to be said about this religious minority?
Two innocently political photos:
(via the wonderful Amy Stein)
I have recently been reading about the rhetoric of family values, starting with the assumption that it is simply a dogwhistle for conservative Christians. Yet the more I read about the origin of the phrase in US politics the more I saw analysis saying it was initially a neo-liberal anti-welfare construction. It’s original intent was to aid the transfer of responsibility for poverty from the state to the the poor (Dana Cloud’s article is quite a good read, but there are lots of others out there).
Marion Maddox’ analysis of John Howard’s Australia is very similar; family values provided both a call to arms for the Christian right, and a rhetorical device to soften the fear-inspiring free market:
So, what’s the story in New Zealand, is it also the bridging point of the neo-liberalism and conservative Christianity? The original users of “family values” in recent NZ politics were United Future which was formed from the neoliberal refugees of the fourth Labour government and quickly joined by the evangelical and conservative Christian right.
Nowadays “family values” is most often heard from Family First, an organisation which uses classic anti-welfare rhetoric like:
The Sensible Sentencing Trust, another “family values” organisation holds welfare provision like the DPB responsible for having
So it appears that family values, like private schooling, is a carefully crafted concept providing a common cause for both the neoliberal economic right, and the morally conservative Christian Right.
This morning’s blackout was quite widely observed. My impressions (and ratings) of some of the usual suspects’ efforts are presented below. Overall – I’m a bit underwhelmed.
The point of the action was not about colouring your site black – it was about withholding content. To black your site out and to obliterate all the content on it, demonstrating what might happen in a s92-safe world. Many did, many didn’t.
So, according to my totally unscientific rating scheme, if you didn’t remove the content the best you got is a bare pass. Other than that, it was points on or off for clarity of message, design, and general commitment to the cause. Don’t take this as me being uncharitable – I figure everyone benefits if actions like this are as well-produced as possible.
Public Address – clear, punchy, doesn’t get bogged down in detail, links through to information. A.
Kiwiblog – One post blacked out, ads off, comments off. Given that KB is one of the banner sponsors and organisers of this action, you’d think it was important enough to do properly. Bloody weak. But then some time around 0945, the site redirected to http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout-homepage.html, thankfully. B overall.
Scoop [shot] – `404 Page Censored’. Mixed messages, but 404 is the http error meaning `file not found’, and this is what we’re looking at under s92. Requires people to engage (which they might not), but `page censored’ is a strong statement. A.
No Minister – Partisan hackery plus no blackout and all the content still there – only the animated gif. Minor points for leaving up a full explanatory message. Not quite worse than useless, but almost. D-.
Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty – Properly blacked out, Dylan Horrocks cartoon instead of s92 message is a nice touch. B+.
Frogblog – Nice work on the theme, but content remains and the advertised cartoon isn’t actually showing. C-.
Micro Party Watch – Technical fail, but at least done with some humour. D.
I haven’t rated those who didn’t participate – they all just get `F’ for `Fail’. Also, these are just the sites I got around to checking – add others below, if they’re notable.
A few weeks back I wrote a post about European complicity in an Asian experiment in developmental authoritarianism. Aside from one blogger who felt that the post was racist because I noted the Confucian justification for this particular brand of authoritarianism, most readers understood that my points were simple: that when living in an authoritarian country one does not have to subscribe to the local cultural logics and ideological justifications for oppression; and it is dangerous for small liberal democracies like NZ to have returning ex-pats and new immigrants who subscribe to such logics assume positions of political and economic control.
Now I will give a specific example of why I believe this to be true. It involves the plight of maids in the Asian state in which I reside.
In this country maids are not covered by local labour law. They are required to learn English before their arrival. Employers are required to post a $5000 bond for securing their services, which is forfeitable if the maid engages in “unacceptable” behaviour. Such behaviour include getting pregnant, drinking in public and consorting with foreigners. By law, maids have zero days off per year–read that again: ZERO days off. The length of the working day and conditions are set by the employer. By law, maids have to be foreign, in this case usually Philipine, Indonesian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Thai, or mainland Chinese. They must always be female, and they must, unless otherwise specified, be under the age of 30. Maid recruitment agencies specialise in different nationalities depending on the employers preferences. Some employers want docile characters, some want ethnic kin, some want high school grads, some want children-friendly, some want cleanliness freaks, some want sultry, some want young (18 is the legal age for contracting a maid). It all depends on the employer’s penchants and proclivities. For their service, maids are paid, in a very generous household, a salary of $200/week.
Maid quarters are most often windowless cubicles located off an open air laundry with a toilet, washbasin and cold water shower. In many cases the maid cubicle has external locks to prevent their unauthorised exit from the employer’s premises.
Given the bond requirements, there is no incentive for employers to allow the maids out of sight. Thus the no-holiday rule plays neatly into the employer’s (and the state’s) rationale. To be sure, an employer can forfeit the bond if the maid, say, falls to her death while cleaning the windows of a high-rise apartment (that has happened). But the thrust of the laws are to control the maids, not protect them. The servitude of the maids is such that foreign MNCs calculate in their relocation packages not only the costs of losing the bond should the maids of their executives misbehave, but also the costs of the maid being upgraded to the status of domestic partner (which is common to the point of becoming a joke amongst resident expat Europeans).
The incidence of maid abuse is a well guarded but open secret. Since they are not covered by labour law, any maid subject to sexual, physical, financial or emotional abuse must report the complaint to the Police. The Police are wary of “he said, she said” type of complaints and are ordered to be suspicious of foreign nationals in any event, so it takes an extraordinary (young) woman to make a formal complaint knowing that the best result will be her deportation.
NZ has strong diplomatic, economic and security ties with this country. In fact, it has a Free Trade Agreement with this country as well as a defense partnership. NZ-born executives populate the upper reaches of its managerial elite, and they enjoy the services of these maids. NZ fetes this country’s leaders whenever they visit. In fact, NZ uses this particular country as a model for economic development in a trade-dependent state. Yet at no point, either under Labour or National, has the NZ government questioned the propriety of close relations with a country that uses indentured servants as part of its economic development. The country in question is not the PRC–that is a whole other kettle of stinking fish.
There is much more to this picture but I will stop with this question. Do you, as a New Zealander, countenance close state-to-state relations with a country that uses indentured servitude as a component of its development strategy?
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the news over the past year or three, you’ve seen his face hundreds of times. You know who he is and what he stands for. You’d probably know who you were listening to if you heard his voice on the radio.
But can you name him, based on this close-up full-frontal portrait?
(Answer and story here)
Posted on 18:18, February 21st, 2009 by Anita
TV3 had a piece in the first segment tonight about the Police wanting hate crimes legislation. Oddly they twice said that the reason the Police want the change in legislation is so that they can collect statistics on racially motivated crimes.
This makes me puzzle about four things:
Either way around, I’d be pretty uncomfortable with the idea that something is criminal because it is motivated by racism, rather than because of its actual outcomes – if you hit someone because they’re Asian it’s just as wrong as hitting them because they’re queer, or remind you of your ex, or because you’d had too much to drink.
The recession is spoken about as if it is universal: blind to gender, class and race it will hurt us all. Yet the reality is that groups which are already disadvantaged will pay the biggest price: not only are they they worst affected, but our government is providing them with the least support.
This is not the first time this pattern has occurred, the Asian recession in the 1990s forced women out of the workforce and back into the kitchen, or overseas, or into sex work. This recession is no different, early last year a US Senate committee investigated the impact of the growing recession and reported
Analysis in the UK similarly predicts more severe effects on women. In New Zealand no-one seems to have done the research yet, but there’s every reason to expect the same outcome: women will experience redundancy, loss of hours, and reduced pay at greater rates than men.
So our government’s response? Well there are the tax cuts, which will disproportionately benefit men, there’s the economic stimulus package which appears targetted toward working men and, of course, Tony Ryall’s instructions to the public sector to suppress women’s pay.
National is determined to keep bankers in business, corporates afloat, construction workers busy, and boost the pay packets of the wealthy; women should expect no help as their jobs, hours and pay are cut.