08 September 2011

Is Margaret Mutu's view of racism that unusual?

I first encountered the Critical Race Theory view of racism, that Margaret Mutu has so eloquently expressed, at university. It is part of a wider set of beliefs and philosophy that includes identity politics, race consciousness and Marxist social class analysis that abandons treating people as individuals, and focuses entirely on what they are, not who they are and what they do.

In other words, you can’t possibly claim that Professor Margaret Mutu, a senior academic at a university, is capable of uttering a phrase that is racially discriminatory and degrading, not because of what she says, but because of her subjectively determined (by her) racial background. She is, according to her “world view” (you can have as many as you like, they are all valid – except ones she disagrees with), less empowered than a minimum wage Caucasian labourer. You see, she sees people according to the colour of their skin (and a bit more than that, because “race” is more about “ethno-national identity”) not the content of their character.

When I questioned the notion that someone “who identifies as” Maori heritage “cannot be racist”, I was patronized and it was explained it was she has “less power” than me, despite us both being students at the same level in the same university (and the female Maori student having parents of professional university educated backgrounds, unlike my Glaswegian parents who left school at 15). 

You see, nothing else mattered but race, it apparently spoke more than just who your ancestors were - it defined your social standing, access to money and influence and life opportunities - except of course, that it really didn't.  However, reality is disturbingly complicated to subjectivists.

This extreme radical view of race, power and politics could have simply been confined to the corners of universities where the likes of Mutu could express their views, and have them robustly questioned, if they hadn’t permeated so successfully into the minds of graduates in the 1970s and 1980s, and so the New Zealand political and bureaucratic body politic. Of course, affirmative action isn’t racist, for anyone of Maori (or Pacific Island) background is inherently disadvantaged, and anyone who isn’t is already, by implication “lucky”. Blank out the white, Chinese or Indian kid who is the first in her family to go to university, the family on low incomes working hard to give their kids a fair go Blank out the daughter of two lawyers who I encountered getting a public sector scholarship to complete her legal education, because she was Maori. 

It isn’t about individuals, it is about the “system”. It is a philosophy that has been cultivated at universities throughout the country, in Maori Studies departments, Politics departments and even Law Faculties. It is why when Don Brash calls for “one law for all”, he is deemed to be racist. The very notion of equality before the law denies the view that there is inherent persistent racism everywhere, because Maori are not the dominant race.

It doesn’t matter that government isn’t based on race, it doesn’t matter that laws exist to protect individuals without regard for race, or that taxes and handouts are distributed on a similar basis. See Mutu can say most white immigrants are white supremacists, and it’s ok - but don’t you dare stereotype Maori, otherwise you are being oppressive –unless you are Maori, in which case either you’re having a laugh, or you’re “not really Maori”, but a traitor.

You see race based views of the world are indeed very black and white. You’re either with the structuralist, identity politics view, or you’re racist.   Why else would you reject it?  Like Mao, you either were with the Cultural Revolution, or you were a capitalist roader out to exploit the masses, who was worth less than a dog.

It’s tempting to invoke Godwin’s law, you can do so yourself. When you think of all people and their relationships with others in terms of race, you find lots of allies. Robert Mugabe is the obvious one, but you might add Slobodan Milosevic, Daniel Milan, Robert Kajuga. All people who thought about race, all people who put aside thinking about individual deeds and backgrounds.

However, in New Zealand you might add Hone Harawira. Indeed, the entire Mana Party would hold this view that Maori cannot be racist. By its mere existence, so would the Maori Party. It doesn’t think it is racist to be a political movement inspired to advance one “ethnic group”. That should be obvious.
Yet the same views are easy to ascribe to the Green Party. It carries with it the same neo-Marxist, power based identity politics view that pigeon-holes people based on race, sex and sexuality. Maori lesbians automatically have less power than Chinese heterosexual men. 

You see an objective definition of racism is to act to discriminate against someone purely on the basis of race. It isn’t based upon what race a person is who is saying “x are criminals” or “y are lazy” or “z are mostly fascists”. It is based upon what is said.

The 20th century is littered with the corpses and blood of millions who were killed not because of what they did, but because of what category of people they were deemed to be. Whether it be race, religion, sectarian group, profession, education level, family background or class. The pain and loss of this is incalculable, the waste of talent, creativity, joy and intelligence is inconceivable. 

The only way forward for any civilisation is to reject the history of treating human beings according to what psychologically made up (for this is all they are) group they belong to, and treat them as individuals and judge them by deeds and words, not classify them like farm animals. Mutu does the latter, how many more of our politicians are of her ilk?

For all of the flurry about how Margaret Mutu says she can’t be racist, she can largely be ignored except for her living off of the taxpayer. What shouldn’t be ignored is how many people standing for Parliament share her view? Does the Green Party believe Margaret Mutu was being racist? Does the Maori Party believe it? Does the Mana Party believe it? Does the Labour Party believe it?


Lindsay Mitchell said...

"For all of the flurry about how Margaret Mutu says she can’t be racist, she can largely be ignored except for her living off of the taxpayer."

What if she stands for Mana? I don't know if there is any substance to the suggestion mooted by various people since her outburst.

Libertyscott said...

I hope she does stand, good reason to confront her.

Craig said...

Hi Scott,

This is very topical for me, as I'm having to grapple with "Critical Educational Research" in some postgraduate education papers.

Critical Educational Research, as you can probably guess, is where you dispense of any attempt at research neutrality or objectivity and seek to change society by "revealing sources of illegitimate power and oppression" (see Marx: Class struggle).

It does my head in that this is seen as a valid way to discover new knowledge, rather than the subversive form of political activism that it is.