Sunday, October 10, 2010

scratching the surface

It seems that I had, once again, forgotten that, when writing for a job, it is very hard to make the time to write in order to live, if you (and Henry Fielding) will excuse the mixed allusions. That's all I'm going to say about that.

I'm also going to - largely - ignore this week's controversy about someone I've long loathed - and instead, attempt to use the flurry of discussion about what consitutes racism in New Zealand as an entry into some stuff I've been thinking about. Unfortunately, it's not very trivial.

Henry's initial apology threw the conversation, for me, into another discourse entirely - with his self-deprecating reference to being "half a gippo", Henry, inadvertantly I might add, inserted this media fracas within the context of ancient and modern trauma. The persecution and maltreatment of the Roma people in Europe is well-documented - and still going on - and yet here in Aotearoa/New Zealand we have little understanding or knowledge of that past.

Which brings me to my point, I guess. Henry's classification of the New Zealand-born of Indian (by way of Fiji) descent Sir Anand Satyanand as failing to look like a 'real' New Zealander is, I consider, born out of the same stance that sees thousands clamouring to call themselves 'New Zealanders' on their census forms, or those who reject the unique nomenclature of Pakeha. It's a stance that refuses to recognise the diversity and depth of places we came from - sometimes centuries ago. This attitude sees the Prime Minister very rarely described as the son of a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, and the son of an English migrant; his past is glossed over, and we have presented to us the self-made man - from state house to Parnell mansion in a lifetime.

That's not John Key's fault - this absence of back story is becoming increasingly common. Where once we had Michael King outlining his personal subject position each time he wrote - be it an article or a book - we now have Paul Moon slamming He Whakaputanga in the Herald without more than a Professor of History byline. I like the backstory, the subject position, the acknowledgement that we all write, or think, or feel, with some influence from the past - whether we have constructed ourselves anew in opposition to it or embrace the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

So I'm just wondering if we reclaimed this practise - an acknowledgement of whakapapa - we'd be less likely to think that saying so-and-so doesn't look like a 'real' New Zealander is not racism. We'd recognise that for what it is - the dismissal of a person's contribution based on an attribute about themselves that they cannot change and for which they are not responsible. We'd start judging those in the public sphere - be that the media or government - on character; that aspect of self for which we are responsible.


  1. What do you think about the brouhaha regarding Te Papa's exhibit? Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Andrea xx

  2. The reason for the census 'New Zealander' thing(although I think last time I put 'jedi'), is that (in my case at least), the backstory is remote enough that the only people I know that remember it are either dead or never talk about it(in the case of my grandmother, this is because she was 18 months old at the time, so can't remember anything but NZ).
    This is the reason that I say that I am a 'New Zealander'. What are my other options?
    European 3-times removed?
    Pakeha my be unique, but it unfortunately has no meaning for me besides to denote my skin tone.
    I acknowledge that I am influenced by my past in almost every way, but how should this be expressed?
    My ethnicity should imply a certain cultural, religious, and social background.
    I agree that answering as 'New Zealander' when asked my ethnicity is silly, but it's the only thing that comes close to answering the question. Suggestions are welcome though...

  3. Posted an attempt at an explaination for you just now, Andrea! deciding if I will Nanorimo or not too ....

  4. whatthesquirrel - the thing is, your comment is, in many ways a stating of your subject position. A kind of I have no other place to stand but here moment. Being a New Zealander means that too - what I was trying to tease out was the way in which our contexts are often ignored. I'm not sure what the solution is regarding the ethnicity question. I personally am comfortable with Pakeha - for those who are not, it is harder.

  5. It's not that i'm not comfortable with it, it just doesn't hold any significance for me. at least no more so than 'white', 'caucasian', 'european' or any other similar word.

    I agree with you re: context etc.. I just wanted to hear what you though about the whole 'new zealander' thing, as it's always bothered me that I don't really have a good short descriptor for myself.