Monday, March 26, 2012

Marc Alexander: The case against race-based rights - The Waitangi fish-hook.

To supporters of the ever increasing cash payouts from the treaty of Waitangi grievance industry, it means racial and social justice – a means of compensation for past and present discrimination supposedly borne from colonialism. To critics, it has only perpetuated the problem of discrimination while creating a host of new problems.

Philosophically, to show prejudice in favour of maori (whether in terms of rights to collect shellfish from the foreshore denied other citizens; specifically funded projects for health, education and so on centred on maori-centric world views; or even the statutory requirement to have maori seats on councils, ethics boards etc) contradicts the obvious dictum that you cannot do away with race-based discrimination by policies which promote it.

Another obvious difficulty is the idea that maori are considered to be either under-represented in terms of specified criteria such as top income cohorts, certain jobs and trades et cetera while over-represented in ill-health statistics, poor educational attainments, incarceration rates and the like. The first problem is that we now seem to affirm the idea that you are maori if you identify as being maori irrespective of lineage. Anyone can claim to be maori even if the link is genetically tenuous at best. The more unaccommodating snag is that the concept of under and over representation on a range of identified markers presupposes the idea of a right representation. So how many maori should we expect in prison? How many should we expect to attain PhD’s? To an ever growing army of maori activists and bureaucrats, it has come to mean proportional representation – where, irrespective of ability or merit, maori should be represented in tertiary institutions, workplaces, and on corporate boards, relative to their percentage in the local population.  What does this mean for all other ethnicities that have long fought for their positions by earning them?

Widening the door to preferential treatment and backed by legislation solely on the basis of race, inevitably leads to double standards and a ‘cultural’ interpretation of citizens’ rights. The notion that every Kiwi stands equal before the law is not so subtly undermined by the active re-engineering of rights, based on tribal affiliation or not, under the contradictory guise of ‘levelling the playing field’ and creating ‘equal opportunities for all’. Trouble is, in the real world, there is no ‘level playing field’. There never can be. In the real world, individuals are obviously not of equal intelligence, nor do they have equal aptitude, or values.  The policies and programs intended to somehow ‘correct’ the assumed inequities of those who identify themselves as maori are premised on faulty ideas doomed to failure. In short, they attribute these negative outcomes to antecedent causes (colonialism being the primary villain in our re-interpreted history) superimposed over the volition of individuals. In other words, the exercise of individual choice in taking advantage of opportunities presented loses its primacy under the cover of race as a determinant.  It is tempting to consider that, had there been positive outcomes for maori, whether or not colonialism would have been lauded for bringing them about and whether maori tribal groupings would have seen fit to be generous in repaying their perceived advantages to all non-maori? My guess is probably not – they would have righteously trotted out their skills and propensities for self-reliance as being the reason for their success.

My point is that if we value New Zealand as a democratic society, we must move beyond the artificial distinctions of race beloved by maori activists, non-maori academic apologists and politicians looking for a cause de jour. It is simply not possible to push for equality of opportunity for one group, by denying equal opportunity to another. Citizenship would then be of two classes: those who identify with being maori who would have certain rights that non-maori would be denied.  We will never end racism by promoting it – if that is what is being attempted. In fact quite the reverse, new grievances will be established as the natural consequence of prioritizing the perceived legislative needs of the few. Bad ideas, if left to flourish, will begat bad policies from which bad consequences will flow. We should abandon such nonsense and re-assert, (because we seem to have forgotten), that all people should be granted the right to have freedom of association and freedom of opportunity, under a government that is colour-blind; protecting individual’s private property rights and to punish those who infringe upon the rights of others. Anything less will simply ingrain a fundamental unfairness that will do more to promote racism and a new round of grievance to bequeath our next generation. 

Marc Alexander, a former Member of Parliament and author, has a degree in Political Science and is a qualified Chef.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For many decades, there has been no such thing as a discrete or separate "Maori" ethnic group.

Prior to the passage of the Electoral Amendment Act 1975, the legal definition of “Maori” for electoral purposes was “a person of the Maori race of New Zealand or a half-caste descendent thereof.”

After panicked complaints from its Maori MPs that soon nobody would be eligible for the Maori Roll, the then-Labour Government changed the second half of this definition to read “or any descendent of such a person.”

Under current electoral law, New Zealanders of Anglo-Maori descent can determine once every electoral cycle whether they wish to be on the Maori Roll or the General Roll. We thus have a legal definition of “Maori” that defies definition in the Courts because it is based solely on an individual’s periodic decision to identify as “Maori.”

All so-called “Maori” alive today are in fact of mixed Anglo-Maori descent. It would be virtually impossible to find a “Maori” who doesn’t possess more of the blood of the colonisers than that of the colonised.

"Maori" is thus today not a definable ethnic group, but an artificial creation of statute and a cultural identity sold to its part-Maori adherents by "entrepreneurs of ethnicity," and adopted for the psychic rewards of belonging to a supposedly "oppressed" people.

Writing in 1972, historian Joan Metge offers a compelling explanation as to why a subset of New Zealanders today might continue see themselves as “Maori:” "New Zealanders, both Maori and Pakeha, tend to identify others as 'Maori' if they 'look Maori,' that is if they have brown skin and Polynesian features."

Since the Maori phenotype tends to predominate as a determinant of appearance, those who are considerably less than half-Maori are often identified by others as "Maori" whether they like it or not.

We can theorise a strong likelihood that such individuals are likely to compensate for this psychic wound by aggressively embracing a collective "Maori" identity and seeking utu from the majority culture they feel shut out of.

Maori Party MP, Tariana Turia is a classic example. She never knew her father, a US Marine who fathered Tariana on her Maori mother during World War II, then disappeared into obscurity.

When Tariana Turia refers to European New Zealanders as "tauiwi" or "visitors" [with the unspoken connotation they are unwelcome and should leave}, she is actually referring to her own absent father, the ultimate "visitor": he came, saw, conquered ... and left.

This woman doesn't need a seat in Parliament to play out her issues with Father on the national stage -- but a comfortable couch in a psychologist's office -- for as long as it takes her to get well.