Monday, February 06, 2012
Waitangi Day from a distance
Being a kiwi living in London, Waitangi Day is notable only because it is not hard to remember 6 February, although with the exception of a work colleague (Australian) mentioning it, it would be easy to forget it.
Despite the news, only reported in NZ, of the Waitangi weekend pub crawl (and only reported because one man complained about it), there is nothing to note it here. It's refreshing for me, in part because of the cringe of the usual annual show is largely invisible.
Waitangi Day has tended to be a time when mainstream politicians celebrate the purported partnership between the state and iwi (said to be Pakeha and Maori, a curiously romanticised albeit blatantly incorrect rendering of the situation). It is a time presented as a chance for more "understanding" and raises the Treaty of Waitangi in a way that meets the desires of many who see it as quasi-constitutional.
Meanwhile, it is a chance for protests. This time it is unsurprising that Hone Harawira's gang of Marxist ethno-nationalists have seen it as a chance to be rude and to make far from novel demands for the state to hand over property, power and money to those who his lot approve of.
Yet there is another view. It is one that treats New Zealanders as individuals. That doesn't mean must or should deny their ancestry, or claim whatever ethnic, national or other identity one wants. It is not, despite the squeals of racists like Hone Harawira, about being "anti-Maori". What it is, is about the state being colourblind. It embraces the Treaty of Waitangi for what it is. Not the creation of a distinction between the amorphous non-entity called "Maori" and the Crown, but the granting of individual rights and property rights to Maori residents, in exchange for ceding final authority to the state.
It is a view that means that Maori language and culture can thrive, if those who want it to do so make their own efforts to promote it, whether as individuals or through iwi authorities, or other non-governmental bodies. It is also the view that government doesn't promote culture either, but steps to one side not only from Maori, but everyone in areas where its role should not be as great as it currently is. It means using property rights, contracts, rule of law, societies, voluntary groups, relationships and choices to build and develop the communities, institutions, businesses, sports, art, culture, inventions, discoveries and everything else that is the creation of humanity.
Yet, even setting aside my vision of a smaller state, there is a valid view that today, in the 21st century, the state should not treat individuals or corporate bodies differently depending on their ancestry or the ancestry of those who own or control it.
It rejects the infantile claim that New Zealand is bicultural, when it is populated by people of multiple cultures (the "bicultural myth" was generated by Maori nationalists wanting to portray Maori as being separate from the state which represented "Pakeha" culture. Multiple cultures undermines the myth that Maori are also not represented by the state). Cultural is not homogeneous. It is not defined by ancestry, or ethnicity, or religion. It is multifaceted. In a world where people make connections across boundaries with modern communications technologies, people are themselves multicultural as they have relationships based on business, family, sports, arts and other interests. The cold monaural world of "identity politics", which more than a few Maori educators inculcate among their students, is quite simply inaccurate.
The neo-Marxist "identity politics" view means that anyone who "identifies" as Maori is, by definition, disadvantaged by the state and society. This is regardless of their personal wealth, education achievements, employment or own individual status. Maori are, in the world of the likes of Harawira, automatically oppressed. Daughters of lawyers and doctors, who are Maori, are deemed "disadvantaged" and deemed fit for affirmative action programmes, whereas sons of labourers or convicted violent criminals or cleaners, who are "Pakeha", are deemed to not be so deserving, as the state is presumed to be on "their side".
Identity politics have plagued much of the world for centuries. It isn't just Europe or countries once colonised by Europeans that have been damned by it.
Those that reject this view blithely and cheaply throw the word "racist" at it. They think that for Maori to exist and be acknowledged, the state must treat Maori as a distinct entity, separate from the state and implicitly not represented by the state. The Maori seats help entrench that by implying that a Maori voter is somehow, peculiarly, not represented as well as a non-Maori voter.
Maori are separate from the state, as individuals themselves are. However, it is time that the tired view trotted out by the likes of Hone Harawira, Margaret Mutu, Metirei Turei and other nationalists is confronted for the poison that it is. It denies any need for the state to be colourblind, it demeans and diminishes the status and rights of all those who do not identify as Maori, and actually diminishes the individual rights of Maori by focusing on "rights" of corporate iwi entities, politicians and governmental entities.
There are three parties in Parliament that explicitly embrace the nationalist view of Maori relations with the state (Mana, Maori and Green), and three which appease it (Labour, National and United). Could there be a party that rejects this without being so blundering in its language that it can be interpreted as being denigrating to Maori?