Friday, 28 September 2012

A reply to the girl in my politics lecture

Something I have tried to avoid in my writing of this blog is ranting and directly assaulting the views of others, especially since I usually write about religion and politics. When I last checked these are the best possible topics to alienate an audience with. However, I am going to break my rule this one time. The reason for this is a girl in my political philosophy lecture, and her extremely loud and preachy comments yesterday. This particular girl (I have been told her name is Emily) has been in almost all my lectures from my first tutorial at Victoria, and while I try to avoid pigeonholeing I shall quote Tim Minchin and say that from that point onwards a hole has opening and has been slowly filling with birds ever since.

The lecture was on historical injustice, and how to address the problem of past wrongs. Emily decided that this was the perfectly venue to share her views on the Pakeha-Maori Waitangi issue with us all, and I have in turn decided that this blog in reply to her is going to be the venue for my own views. In no particalur order, some points she raised yesterday (paraphrased) and my take on them.

1) "Maori culture was better than ours and we should return to it." Obviously she phrased this better, but the gist was similar. Really? So "our" society hasn't improved on anything in the last 300 or so years? We would be better off without medicine, science, improved agriculture, electricity, the glasses on your face or the Mac you're taking notes on? From an environmental perspective we are of course worse off (she is a member of Greens@Vic) but that level of low environmental impact is not possible in any society the size of New Zealand today. Short of imposing birth regulations or culling large percentages of the population, plus foregoing all industry and most modern conveniences, I don't understand where you're coming from.

2) "It isn't fair to Maori to impose our foreign culture on them." 200 years ago, sure. That's culture shock. Now? Any New Zealander born today to Maori parents is still being born into the same culture I am. Either you're suggesting that culture is in some way hereditary or you believe that Maori people live in a totally different world to the rest of New Zealand. Which to me just sounds racist. I've heard similar sentiments from law lecturers as well; "our Western justice system is not suited to Maori traditional values" or even more damningly "Maori don't understand our justice system, as it is foreign to them." It is foreign to their ancestors, not to "them." We are born and grow up in the same society as each other, not those of our parents.

3) "Pakeha have been benefiting from Waitangi at the expense of Maori ever since the treaty was signed." I found this personally offensive. Because my skin is the same colour as yours, you think you know my family and how we have been exploiting people? My mother's family is Dutch. They immigrated during WWII to escape the Nazis, and my mother is one of nine. Throughout her childhood her family struggled on the verge of poverty, and it is only thanks to the then government's policy of providing aid to all those who need it, regardless of skin colour, that my mother received a good education and is now financially comfortable. Personally, have I benefitted from being Pakeha? No. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area largely devoid of racist attitudes. So the only impact my skin colour and ancestry have had on my life is making me ineligible for scholarships, requiring higher grades at university, and disqualifying me for a student allowance. And on that...

4) "Positive discrimination is necessarily to remedy the wrongs done to Maori by the government." Wrongs were done, yes. But they were done to generations long since gone. How does paying off their descendents make it right? The government is focussing on race instead of the real issues, like poverty and reduced access to education. An excellent example is law degrees. It is very true that statistically Maori are under-represented among Law graduates. But is that because they are Maori? The government (and Victoria!) seems to think so. Instead of looking at addressing inequalities for all those who suffer from them, the solution is instead to lower the requirements for a Maori student to graduate law. What does this mean for a Maori law student? No matter how hard they work, and how good their grades are, their peers will never know if they have graduated on their own merit or because of their skin colour. Maori law degrees are worth less because of this policy - except of course in statistical terms.

So what should we be doing? Admit the past faults of the government, yes. Attempt to address the issues in today's society that have resulted from Waitangi, yes. Blaming race for much broader issues? No. When a New Zealand citizen needs better access to education, the government should provide it. If they are providing equal education to all, then all students will have an equal footing and university courses will have that so-sought-after equal mix of races. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that Maori people are somehow less capable than Europeans, and I sincerely hope that THAT attitude has been dead for several decades.

Most importantly, we should not be preaching our self-righteous views on the us and them divide between Maori and Pakeha to a class full of people who from everything I have heard are more than sick of our rants. And if we stop doing that, then certain bloggers will stop writing passive-aggressive posts responding to said preaching. And get back to writing constructively, instead of ranting on about an incident that very few of their readers were present for. Thank you and goodnight.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks brother, but would you mind removing her name from the comment? I'm not gonna go around deleting what other people comment, but I'd rather not have an identifiable target of my wee rant haha.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Well, I think I figured out how that works... whoops.

  2. Just to make sure we're all on the same page... I do think it is atrocious that Maori are statistically hard done by, and I do acknowledge that this is largely because historically, the government of New Zealand has shamelessly exploited them. Even today some individuals working for the New Zealand government exhibit terrible attitudes towards Maori, which gives us that nasty trend for harsher sentencing in justice systems and increased police suspicion.

    However, Maori are NOT at a disadvantage directly because they are Maori, I am NOT benefitting at the expense of Maori because I am Pakeha, the solution is NOT "positive discrimination" indeed this does nothing BUT further disadvantage those who need the government's help in New Zealand.

  3. Based on a quick conversation I had today with a mutual acquaintance, I feel I must add another addendum to this. My intention with this post was in no way to single out a person to attack, and if anyone was offended by that then I apologise. What I do not apologise for is for attacking your views. If you hold views on any subject of interest, and you wish to openly proclaim those views in any public setting, then you cannot feel offended when people argue against you.

    I think you're wrong, and I will tell you that you are wrong for as long as I am convinced that I am right. That doesn't mean that I in any way disrespect you as a person, indeed I acknowledge that we both are ultimately after the same standards of equality. I simply think that your methods of achieving that equality and in particular your presentation of your views is incorrect and inconsiderate, and if you don't like that then suck it up. You have the choice of keeping your views to yourself and having them criticised by no-one, or making them open and in turn be open to criticism. And if you go beyond making them open and repeatedly interrupt disinterested lecture theatres to air your views, prepare for an equally public criticism.