Karl du Frense on being called racist

Karl du Fresne responds to a Shelley who calls him a racist with an insightful piece:

Now, that word “racist”. I believe a racist is someone who thinks certain races are inherently superior to others and therefore entitled to rights not available to supposedly “inferior” races. That’s a meaning we can all agree on. But the moment you stretch the definition beyond that, the word can mean anything the user wants it to mean. In the contemporary New Zealand context, that means it can be applied to anyone who disagrees with you – for example, on issues such as 50-50 co-governance with iwi. But the people who throw the term “racist” around don’t realise that they have stripped the word of its potency. “Racist” should be the most offensive epithet imaginable, placing the accused person on a par with Adolf Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan. But the word is so overused as to have become meaningless, so Shelley’s wasting her breath there.

It has indeed become meaningless.

On a more personal level, there’s a lot about Maori culture that I respect and admire – for example, its emphasis on a communal rather than an individual ethos, from which I think we can all learn. I marvel (as the British army probably did in the 19th century) at the courage and resourcefulness of a warrior society defending its land against interlopers and I share the widely felt reverence for the generations of Maori soldiers who served with such distinction in our own armed forces. I am stirred by kapa haka and revere our many great Maori musicians. New Zealand’s bicultural heritage is a unique part of our national makeup that we should all be proud of (and I think most of us are. When the Springboks narrowly defeated a Maori side at Napier in 1921, a South African reporter was appalled that the predominantly Pakeha crowd cheered for “coloured men” playing against their fellow whites).

I would add to that and say I also appreciate the concepts from Te Ao Māori which are commonly used in early childhood education. I enjoy Ben talking about doing manaakitanga (kindness to others) and kaitaikitanga (stewardship).

On the down side, we should all be concerned at high rates of Maori imprisonment, illness, sub-standard housing and low educational attainment. These not only hurt Maori but diminish the country as a whole. Some activists talk as if such outcomes are the results of deliberate, structural racism that suits the interests of the dominant group, but I have yet to hear anyone explain how anyone, including the supposedly privileged class, benefits when such a significant segment of the population is struggling. It’s in everyone’s interests for Maori to do better; the question is how that might be achieved. Ostentatious virtue signalling, such as the use of te reo by broadcasters and journalists, won’t do it. Nor is it likely to be achieved by transferring power from democratic institutions to an unelected tribal elite that hasn’t historically shown much concern for urban Maori with no iwi affiliations.

Someone on the left made the point to me the other day that the belief that enriching tribal elites will benefit poor Maori families in South Auckland is the ultimate in neoliberal trickle down economics and that they are aghast so many on the left have signed up to it.

I think all New Zealanders should know more about the country’s pre-European history. There was another New Zealand (Aotearoa, if you prefer) that existed before the arrival of the Europeans; one that was still technically in the stone age but was strikingly advanced and sophisticated for all that. We know far too little about it – or indeed about how the first voyagers got here, which is a remarkable in itself.

It is sad that the new history curriculum almost totally ignores our pre-European history.

Speaking of “Aotearoa”, let’s have a referendum. That’s more honest than having the name insinuated into the language at the behest of a cultural elite too arrogant to put it to the test knowing there’s a very good chance it would be defeated. What can be more fundamental to a country’s identity than the name by which it’s known? Those who resist the idea of a referendum, preferring to impose the name without any mandate, are subverting democracy. (For the record, and not for the first time, I’m okay with Aotearoa just as long as the majority endorse it.)

A referendum is a good idea.

In teaching New Zealand history, we need to be honest about the circumstances in which Maori lost so much of their land, and we need to acknowledge that they were often the victims of rampant settler greed. (Two instances I’m personally familiar with, because I’ve written about them, are Lakes and Horowhenua, both shamefully and deceitfully taken from their rightful owners and subsequently subjected to shocking environmental degradation.) But we also need to acknowledge that Maori were sometimes betrayed by tribal leaders who sold their land from under them. We also need to acknowledge that pre-European Maori society was violent and cruel. Territory was taken by conquest and no mercy was shown to the losers, who were slaughtered, enslaved and cannibalised. Rekohu (the Moriori name for the Chathams) comes to mind.

Many wrongs were done, by many people.

We can agree that white supremacy was common – in fact the norm – in an earlier time when Europeans believed implicitly in the superiority of a culture that dominated the world. Do white supremacists exist still? Probably, although I don’t know any personally and I don’t believe they’re anything more than a tiny, pathetic minority whose attitudes appal most New Zealanders. Of far more consequence are the millions of New Zealanders who happily work, play sport and engage socially (which includes having sex) with people of Maori descent, and have done so for generations. The terrible danger is that this history of mutual goodwill will be undermined and may even eventually unravel as a result of the wedge being driven between the two main racial groups by activists who insist we are inherently different and that our rights and interests are in competition.

It is sad to see this mutual goodwill being trampled by woke activists.

Where we run into trouble is where the Maori activist agenda collides with democracy. isn’t a white supremacist invention imposed to keep minority groups firmly under the heel of their oppressor. On the contrary, it’s a system whereby every citizen’s vote – Maori, Pakeha, Pasifika, Chinese, Indian, whatever – carries the same weight. I believe absolutely in democracy because ultimately, everyone benefits from it and everyone has a say. It is the basis of every free and fair society in the world, and those who undermine it need to think very carefully about what form of government might replace it. I can’t think of any that would appeal to me – certainly not one that grants special rights, privileges and entitlements on the basis of ancestry. We have a name for that: feudalism. We were smart enough to abandon it several centuries ago.

I agree – we must reject feudalism.

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